Welcome to Wii U week, where Dan and Nate wax poetic about their favorite failure of a console.
Well, no it probably isn’t. But this fucker gives SNES leviathans Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest a run for their bananas (you found that reference apPEELing, amirite? No? K, bye). In fact, those are probably the only DK titles I’d place in front of Tropical Freeze. It’s a 2D, side-scrolling, platformer at its finest and that’s the way DK works best. My apologies to the Donkey Kong 64 crowd but I never really got the appeal. DK, like Castlevania just doesn’t make the transformation from 2D to 3D as well as Mario or Zelda. Whatever. Fight me! Throw whatever barrels you can at me and I’ll dodge them! Getting that obvious, meta joke out there in the first paragraph, folks!
The Donkey Kong franchise is amongst my favorites, as it should be for any Nintendo Homer. Rare was one of the greatest developers the video game industry ever saw and along with the DK trilogy, it birthed Banjo Kazooie, Perfect Dark, GoldenEye, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. That’s some goddamn masterful titles right there! Knowing that Rare would no longer be involved with DK’s development by the time the Wii came about, I tempered my expectations when Donkey Kong Country Returns hit, since it’s a modern game and all, and it turned out to be great. And then Tropical Freeze was released four year later, and it was better. But why?
Mainly, this game does not hold your hand. Yes, it dispenses entirely too many extra lives as all the DK games do, but I’m all for, what in this case, is essentially unlimited continues so long as that difficulty level is classic and perfect. And my fuck, is it ever that. You know that sweet spot of difficulty in video games where you just BARELY feel that your death is entirely your fault? That’s the zone I love to be in with games. Can you just look at this level, titled Bopopolis?
Shit is haaaaard. But it’s earned when you succeed or fail because the controls are just so fluid and responsive. You’re also asked to be strategic in how you approach each level’s design as you have three sidekick characters to choose from: Diddy, who boasts a jet pack to keep you elevated for a short amount of time, Dixie (my favorite), who is able to lift you off the ground with her hair and give an invaluable extra lift upward before her power runs out, and Cranky, who more or less rips off the famous DuckTales move with his cane.
This is possibly the best game the Wii U gave us. Nintendo knew not to fuck up one of its most important titles and produced a game that seamlessly blended tight gameplay, high difficulty, gorgeous, varying level design and perfect player control. The gamepad itself did not contribute anything specialized or unique with its functionality, nor did it take away from the experience. It’s merely serviceable. I’ve heard from some people that looking at the gamepad instead of the television helped during particularly hard stretches, but I never really found that to be the case.
Moreover, to speak to the Wii U as a whole, the gamepad itself might rank at the bottom of all the Nintendo controllers. It was daring. It had balls. But it lacked any real resonance with me, and I don’t have a lot of confidence that it will stand the test of time like Nintendo’s other controllers have.
One gripe that I’ll put forth from Tropical Freeze is that the boss battles are formulaic and patterned, as are most boss battles. But many of them (six in total) are not especially interesting in those patterns. It’s a forgivable shortcoming, as the levels are huge and littered with collectibles (KONG letters and puzzle pieces) and bonus rooms to discover. It’s classic yet refreshing. And that’s what I expect of Nintendo.