The Wii U’s treasure trove of first-party games are making a delightful comeback on the Switch. From Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Pokken Tournament DX to Bayonetta and the soon-to-be third port of Hyrule Warriors, Switch gamers are benefiting in big ways when it comes to choice. Gone are the lengthy gaming droughts from the painful, almost haunting, days suffered at the hands of the Wii U; now, Switch owners can expect third-party releases to prop up those periods of inactivity from Nintendo. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the most recent critically-acclaimed Donkey Kong titles is back for some banana-slinging, vine-swinging, toe-teetering handheld action.
We’re returning to the icy shores of Tropical Freeze four years after it was released on the Wii U. With the same storyline, Donkey Kong and his smaller buddies – Diddy, Dixie and Cranky – return to warfare after their beloved archipelago is invaded by the Snowmads; a group of cold climate villains with a penchant for Viking theatrics. As you evade the pitfalls and death traps of Tropical Freeze’s six islands, you’ll relive the inspiring jungle beats of former Rare composer, David Wise. Not only does the music lift your sprits after several failed attempts on a particularly difficult level, it also helps to keep players in time to the platform rhythm. But for those who have experienced the highs (and lows) of Tropical Freeze on the Wii U, is it worth reinvesting in the Switch port if you’re a DK veteran?
With the Switch’s technology, loading times between the world map and levels are significantly faster. While there are still a few issues on the loading screens, such as framerate drops and stuttering, these are now few and far between. Of course, with the Switch’s portability, DK fans can now take the game anywhere and play at any time in either single player or co-op – all without the waste of the Wii U gamepad’s ‘always-on’ screen. Aside from the overall playability feeling smoother, this is – perhaps – the end of the line for series veterans. For Retro Studios and Nintendo, Tropical Freeze on the Switch is all about accessibility.
As a series, Donkey Kong has always retained its difficult, often treacherous, level terrain. On the Game Boy, Donkey Kong Land II and III were a master class in the adventure platform genre. Once you lost your lives and saw that Game Over screen for the first time, you just knew it wouldn’t be your last. Over the years, the series has been challenged by titles such as Super Meat Boy, N+ and Cuphead, all of which earn players bragging rights once completed. While original mode from the Wii U version is still playable in Tropical Freeze, there’s a new easy mode that changes the feel of Donkey Kong altogether.
Island resident and Kong family member, Funky Kong, features as a playable character in Tropical Freeze on the Switch. Sporting some super cool shades, he uses his surfboard to hover across pitfalls and land without injury on spikes. Not only can he breathe underwater, Funky Kong can also perform infinite corkscrews or rolls and has the ability to double jump. Choosing to play as Funky Kong also enables players to breeze through levels on five hearts, compared to just two in the original mode.
Having played the first two worlds on the game’s original difficulty and in Funky Kong mode, the differences are quite staggering. Shopping also becomes cheaper in Funky Kong mode, too. Red balloons and extra hearts cost a paltry one or two banana coins, while green and blue balloons can be bought in bundles for five coins. Plus, you get to take five items into a level, rather than three in original mode, as well as switch out your inventory within a level. Fortunately, the new easier mode can be played with either Donkey Kong or Funky Kong, depending on the player’s preference. Should you opt for Donkey Kong, you’ll be able to take advantage of the shop’s bargains, whilst (somewhat) retaining the usual difficulty with just one extra heart. Players will be able to switch between the two Kong’s before or after levels too, so there’s an extra reason to play through levels twice; once to complete it, the second to find its collectibles and alternative routes. Seems like Funky Kong’s the new Kirby, with shades.
As far as portability goes, Tropical Freeze looks good on the Switch. It’s not quite as polished and pixel-perfect as newer titles in undocked mode, but it does the job. After playing two boss fights in docked and undocked mode, it’s certainly easier to play (and lose less lives) on the bigger screen. That being said, it’s probably better in the hands of Generation Z who are more likely to sense a razor-sharp feather coming near and react quicker with their deft fingers. And while we’ve yet to play co-operative mode on the Switch in handheld, let’s just say co-op mode in docked is quite the show. You may just go bananas.
A copy of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.