Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is one of the most surprisingly difficult games I’ve played in a long time. It doesn’t take long for the difficulty to increase and it will test even seasoned gamers’ patience. The developers pull out every trick in the book to force the player into making mistakes, and if you’re not the type of gamer who can handle mastery of game mechanics then this is not the game for you. For others, this is a superlative platformer, one filled with clever design and beautiful artistry.
The player takes control of Donkey Kong and must run, jump, barrel roll and slap the ground through over 50 beautiful and wickedly designed levels. Mr. Kong will traverse through jungle, beach, safari, underwater and (the obligatory) icy levels. In single player mode, the player can break open specially marked barrels to release a friend (Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, Cranky Kong) which gives an additional two hearts in the life meter and special powers. Diddy has a jet pack that lets both Donkey and Diddy float in the air, Dixie has a similar thing where her hair twirls around like a helicopter and Cranky Kong has a pogo jump with his walking stick allowing Donkey to jump higher. In two player co-op mode, naturally each player will handle one character.
What makes Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze so special is in the layout of the levels and how it tests the player. The developers show they are truly at the top of the game. No two levels really play alike and each one tests different skills. The player needs to really pay attention to everything on the screen and make not just one jump, but two, three, four jumps in a row. By mid game, there’s two or three enemies on the screen, platforms and hanging ropes all testing the player’s mastery of game mechanics and timing. The player has to constantly keep one eye on Donkey Kong with another eye on other elements on the screen. Not only that but the game consistently lulls the player into a false sense of confidence, making the player make silly mistakes time and time again. I died a lot in this game. Yet the game still feels truly fair to the skilled player and this is a sign of great design.
There are six worlds in total and at the end of every world, Donkey Kong will engage in a drawn out battle against a boss character before he can move on. This is no ‘three hit’ Super Mario world type boss. You’re going to have to hit him three times just for him to change tactics or change into a superior form, and it may take three or four form changes for the boss to be defeated. Every time he changes it up, Donkey Kong will have to move faster with and become more accurate with his jumping. The last boss especially takes time and mastery to beat.
There’s still plenty to do after the main boss is beaten, and the player can go back and collect all the KONG letters and puzzle pieces throughout the level. Doing so will unlock hidden levels that are even more difficult than the normal ones. There’s also a ‘hard’ difficulty level that unlocks after completing every level in the game. This mode caters for speed run type players who go above and beyond normal skills and really need that extra challenge. There’s no checkpoints and players are given one heart only, meaning one hit or one fall will send you back to the start.
Overall, Donkey Kong is a great game, but I can only recommend it to seasoned gamers who are willing to get beat hard and learn and master the game. It might just be too difficult and frustrating for casual players. For others, go play Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, one of Wii U’s great games.
Score: 8 ripe bananas out of 10