Tag Archives: Wii

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

March 6, 2014

All images courtesy Nintendo

A quick glance at Nintendo’s lineup suggests a glut of the old-school platformer. The Wii U enjoys the riches of New Super Mario Bros. U, its spin-off New Super Luigi Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, and Sonic Lost World. The 3DS meanwhile has several upcoming games starring Yoshi and Kirby. Throw in third-party gems like Rayman Legends and you’ve got a donut bridge smorgasbord.

It all seems a bit much, doesn’t it? Who needs another game in a decades-old, overdone genre that simply reminds us that these characters in Super Smash Bros. actually came from other games?

The truth, of course, is more granular. A first-person shooter aficionado will be able to tell you the nuanced differences between a Call of Duty and a Battlefield; a fighting game pro may scoff at Street Fighter X Tekken in favour of Street Fighter 4.

The same can be said of action-adventure platformers, of which Nintendo has cornered the market. Every franchise has its own DNA, tickles a different itch and favours one sub-segment of the audience over another.

The latest in this barrage is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns by gamers’ darling Retro Studios.

The story begins with Donkey Kong celebrating his birthday with Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky. For whatever reason, he’s interrupted by an army of marauding penguins and walruses who channel X-Men’s Storm to cover all of DK Island in ice and hurl the Kong crew through the sky, landing them several districts away.

Your first shot of the island — covered in ice, blue-grey clouds swirling in the skies, raining down blizzard-strength storms — is quite the sight. It almost conjures the tonal shift that DKC 2‘s move to Crocodile Isle did back in 1995.

Surprisingly, the “tropical freeze” portion of the game doesn’t actually show up until several worlds in. In the meantime you’ll bounce through a number of neighbouring islands, passing through astonishingly beautiful vistas, subjugating the local fauna on the way towards reclaiming your rightful throne. You’re like a furry, 500-pound Daenerys Targaryen.



DKC: Tropical Freeze is Mega Man-hard. Like old-school, 1980s NES, throw-your-controller-at-the-wall hard. You will lose many lives. You will lose them in the same spot, over and over. Sometimes, and this might sound bad, you will tackle a challenge several times just to figure out what’s killing you in the first place.

DKC’s brand of platforming is much less forgiving than Nintendo’s other flagship series. In most Mario games, things start out easy. For most of the game you can probably cruise through without much trouble and the most difficult Golden Coins aren’t mandatory. Kirby games are known for their effervescent, forgiving nature as you bounce from one room to the next in a sort of controlled chaos.

Tropical Freeze doesn’t have time for that. From the very first level your precision, timing and patience are tested to the limit. Miss that jump by a few pixels and you’re dead. Jump on that enemy at just the wrong time and you’ll fall onto his spear instead. This game doesn’t mess around.

The upside of this is that the player enjoys an expanded arsenal of moves and abilities, so even if you’ve got a terribly narrow window of opportunity to pass the next obstacle, you never feel under-equipped to handle it. DK can jump, roll, pound the ground, climb vines, and yank items from the ground for various environmental effects.

Diddy Kong lends his rocket pack again, while Dixie uses her hair to give you a boost in the air, Yoshi-style. Cranky Kong does his best Scrooge McDuck impersonation by using his cane as a spring, giving you a higher jump and letting you bounce on top of spikes.


Tropical Freeze gives you a lot to work with, then, but it also expects a lot in the execution department. Controls seem to be mapped out to demand the utmost attention from the player. Holding onto a vine requires you to hold the R button, rather than grabbing onto it automatically as in the SNES games. Swimming levels give you a welcome amount of maneuverability, but an air meter that empties quickly means you’re always on the lookout for sparsely distributed air vents or bubbles.

Precision is the mantra instead of ease of use. Donkey Kong is a surgeon’s scalpel, as opposed to Kirby who bounces around like a Nerf ball.


Of course, this sounds absolutely terrible. Why would anyone want to put up with such demanding controls when you can bounce around grassy knolls as Super Mario?

Because of Tropical Freeze‘s levels, which have the power to charm and batter you at the same time. The “visit islands surrounding DK’s home” trope let the art designers get really crazy this time around; you’ll visit Scandinavian-like grasslands in one level and fly a rocket barrel over a landscape seemingly made entirely out of fruit (including grape juice rivers). In one case, ride the series’ trademark mine carts through a jungle covered in the flaming wrecks of cargo planes that I don’t believe for one second isn’t a weird reference to Uncharted.

The best single level that encapsulates both the beauty and rage of Tropical Freeze is probably Irate Eight. DK and Friends navigate a coral reef with Ecco the Dolphin-like grace, if it weren’t for the currents, spiked blowfish, spiked swordfish, mines, and debris made entirely out of spiky sea urchins.

Early on, a massive wall engraved with ancient symbols is pulverized by a gigantic squid with a mean expression on his sort-of face. The screen scrolls upward, dark black squid ink threatening to suffocate you if you’re not quick enough. And if you get past those harrowing segments you’ll have to deal with tentacles burrowing out of the coral reef, as his glassy eye stares at you through the terrain. It’s exciting, treacherous, and utterly punishing on the first dozen or so tries. But once you reach the end of the level – and the sweet relief of sunlight – you’ll exhale in relief, and laugh that you had faced off a world of terror, emerging triumphant.


This is to say nothing of the score, thanks in part to David Wise, the man responsible for the memorable soundtracks of the SNES DKC games. Sometimes mellow and other times intense, the music will make you want to stand up and dance on moment, and chill out on your basement sofa the next. The mix of ambiance and jazzy measures sounds like the soundtrack to Metroid Prime with a dash of Jazzpunk’s swing-dance bravado.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn’t a beginner’s platformer. It will wring the last drop of effort and desperation out of a player to reach the game’s end – to say nothing of the hoard of hidden puzzle pieces, secret exits, and secret levels. I’d caution against buying it as a first game for the kids’ Wii U, but given that I can’t seem to barrel through the original DKC for the Super Nintendo with the ease of my once nine-year-old self, maybe I’m underestimating our youth.

Nevertheless, this is not kids’ stuff. Its steep difficulty curve means it’s not for everyone – it doesn’t have that everyman’s quality and accessibility like a New Super Mario Bros. game. But it puts a new coat of paint on the old-school platformers that a generation of gamers lovingly gnashed over, with a far more satisfying conclusion.

Please Like Dork Shelf on Facebook

Cool Articles From Around the Web:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2 Review

April 12, 2013

While the simple elements remain faithful, do mysterious alterations to the Bit.Trip formula betray its uncanny predecessor? Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thought Bubble: The Wii U and the Trouble with Triple-A

November 20, 2012

The Wii U has finally arrived. Now that the first reviews are trickling in, we want to explore what the first crop of games tell us about the Wii U’s potential as a hardcore and mainstream gaming platform. Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Best of 2010: Games

By Dork Shelf
December 31, 2010

We here at the Shelf decided that there was no better way to ring in 2011 than by compiling a list (A list at the end of the year?! What a concept!) of our favourite games of 2010. In an industry regularly dominated by triple A titles and billion dollar publishers, this past year proved to be a breakthrough of sorts for indie gaming. This is not to say that there weren’t great blockbuster games this year – there were plenty – or that indie games weren’t a forced to be reckoned with in years past. 2010 merely showed us all that good games are good games, period. Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Epic Mickey Review

December 22, 2010

Warren Spector’s crack at the Mickey mythos is as interesting as it is weird in his anticipated and ambitious take on the mouse, Epic Mickey. It’s a strange direction for both the cherished cartoon and the respected designer, but it’s clear that the two forces have found a comfortable middle ground for creation. Be that as it may, is Epic Mickey as successful as its starry eyes wish for? Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Super Mario All-Stars Wii Review

December 21, 2010

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. (which was released way back on September 15, 1985, making this just shy of three months late, if you care), Nintendo has re-released Super Mario All-Stars for the Nintendo Wii, in a lavish limited edition, 2-disc package. Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review

December 4, 2010

In the past, Kirby has tilted and tumbled, pinballed, air rode and whatever the heck dream coursing is. To say Kirby has gone under some heavy reimagining for a new title isn’t exactly out of the ordinary, as history shows that almost every other cute little entry in the series is off the beaten path. The pink, fluffy whatsit is as flexible as he is collapsible. So how does a franchise with a history of reinvention, reinvent itself? Well, the folks at HAL cleverly decided to attack the problem at its roots with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, reassembling Kirby’s platforming origins with a radically different approach and changing nearly everything except how ungodly adorable it is. Is this newly knit creation a gorgeous weave? Or will it unravel and alienate fans? Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Donkey Kong Country Returns Preview

November 22, 2010

At last month’s Nintendo Holiday Preview event, we got to try out the final build of Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii. At the beginning of our play session, we had 47 lives. By the end of it, we had a big fat Game Over. Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Shaun White Skateboarding Impressions

October 8, 2010

Shaun White and Ubisoft have made a favourable pairing in the past, as both the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 and separate Wii versions of Shaun White Snowboarding received mostly positive reviews last year. Past success bodes well for the upcoming Shaun White Skateboarding, and the PS3 version was playable at the Sony Holiday Preview Event in Toronto earlier this week. Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Epic Mickey
Cinematic Trailer

August 23, 2010

Disney Interactive recently unveiled the intro cinematic for the upcoming Epic Mickey video game. The game is being developed by respected game designer Warren Spector (Sytem Shock, Deus Ex) and his Junction Point Studios. Epic Mickey puts the player in … Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Fragile Dreams Review

May 13, 2010

Last time I reviewed Metro 2033, a Ukrainian made glimpse into the nuclear fallout and submerged societies. This time I’m looking at Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, a Japanese glimpse at a young boy traversing a barren world … Continue reading

Tags: , , , ,

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review

By Joel Minty
March 4, 2010

Looking for a game where bloody assassin massacres and cutesy kitten playtime are equal priorities? No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is one of the biggest, and strangest, releases for the Nintendo Wii in the first quarter of 2010. Its … Continue reading

Tags: , , , , ,

New Super Mario Bros. Wii Review

By Joel Minty
November 19, 2009

Don’t let ME to tell you kids what to like, with your Robert Pattinsons, your iTwitp3pods, and your rock ‘n’ roll noise music, but years before New Super Mario Bros. Wii there was a game called Super Mario Bros for … Continue reading

Tags: , , , ,

Muramasa: The Demon Blade Review

October 24, 2009

Zack Kotzer of the arts and culture zine Steel Bananas joins us for a guest review of the Wii sidescroller Muramasa: The Demon Blade. It’s hibernation over the summer worried Wii owners, but creative third party titles have once again … Continue reading

Tags: , , , ,

Review: Bit.Trip Core

By Dork Shelf
August 3, 2009

Bit.Trip Core, the second in Gaijin Games’ Bit.Trip series, is a rhythm game recently released for the Wii. It combines the scrolling notes of Guitar Hero and old-school twitch action games to great effect, presenting a challenging game in a … Continue reading

Tags: , , ,

E3 Roundup: Day Two

June 2, 2009

Day Two of the Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing.  Today saw Nintendo and Sony hold their annual E3 Press Conferences, and it was a big day for both companies.  There were some huge game announcements, new footage from … Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

E3 Roundup: Day One

June 1, 2009

The Electronic Entertainment Expo—E3 kicked off with a bang in Los Angeles today.  Microsoft got the ball rolling with their press conference this morning, and they did not disappoint.  There were major game and peripheral announcements aplenty, as well as … Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wii Emulator Makes Nintendo Titles Hi-Def

March 28, 2009

With high definition gaming from Nintendo looking increasingly unlikely in this current console generation, some intrepid designers have created a work around. The Wii and GameCube emulator Dolphin allows users to play legally (or illegally) copied Wii and GameCube games on … Continue reading

Tags: , , , , , , ,