Ending For Donkey Kong Country 3 : Dixie Kong”S Double, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kongs Double

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Every once in a long while, a game rewards you for lingering in its levels and hunting for every little detail the designers have hidden away. If that sounds appealing, and you’re up for the challenges of a truly old-school platformer, Nintendo’s new Switch port of the Wii U game Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze should be on your must-try list when it’s released on May 4.

But if you’re thinking of buying this just for kids to play, you might want to think twice.

What you’ll like

A solid game, tweaked

This sequel to the 1994 SNES classic Donkey Kong Country wasn’t warmly received when it debuted for the Wii U in 2014: Reviewers loved the visuals and music, but criticized everything from the bosses and checkpoints to the pacing. Interestingly, a fair number of people (including GamesBeat reviews editor Mike Minotti) felt that it was just the wrong game at the time for the shaky Wii U platform.

Above: Funky rides a surfboard through levels, and is invulnerable to spikes.

In this mode, the surfboard-wielding Funky Kong becomes a playable character, possessing more hearts (your life meter), better jumping ability, and invulnerability to spikes. Thanks to Funky Kong, some of the game’s trickiest, old-school parts become easier for kids. But as the game goes on, jump timing and pattern memorization become more important, challenges that Funky doesn’t make easy in the typical sense of the word. Retro compensates for that by letting kids choose to skip to the next level after losing several lives, which will happen frequently.

Above: Incredible artwork masks a decidedly traditional platform game that has all the benefits of old school design.

Tropical Freeze replaces Donkey Kong Country’s prerendered characters and backgrounds with full 3D models, but generally keeps the camera locked into a 2D-style, side-scrolling perspective. As you control Donkey Kong, assisted by temporary jump- and life-enhancing comrades Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong, the core challenge is to hop from one surface to the next, using additional buttons to climb things and pound surfaces. (Funky Kong plays without assistants.) If you’re OK at the game, you can just jump and climb through levels, but if you learn how to pound, pull, or break certain objects, you can unlock bonus points and items.

Above: Bonus stages can be found on every level, offering a shot at a hundred extra bananas, extra lives, and puzzle pieces.

Tropical Freeze has familiar elements from earlier games, such as underwater swimming stages, a near-invincible rhino to ride several times, and multiple mine cart areas. Power-up barrels scattered throughout levels let you pick between assistant Diddy, who lets you float after a jump; Dixie, who floats and lifts after a jump; and Cranky. The latter “old gorilla” character was added in a post-release patch to Tropical Freeze on Wii U, using his cane as a spring or as a slashing weapon in swimming stages. The companions have short life bars, so if you get hit twice, you lose their extra abilities.

Above: Some of the game’s details are obvious on a small screen; others, such as individual strands of gorilla hair and tiny background effects, are only apparent on a 1080p display.

The Wii U game was limited to a 720p resolution on Nintendo’s older hardware. This Switch port hits 1080p on a TV and, according to a third-party analysis, just below 720p on the handheld screen. It’s in no way evident that the game isn’t a full 720p in handheld mode, and — oddly, except when the game’s loading new stages — frame rates are smooth throughout handheld and docked gameplay. While it’s no longer stunning to see a game of this caliber running perfectly as a portable title, it’s still impressive.

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Above: Can you spot Donkey Kong in this fight against a gigantic expanding puffer fish?

Even so, the visual rewards of this game are tremendous — the levels just keep getting better and more colorful or interesting as you go on. Retro has crafted dozens of set pieces that more than hold their own against even Super Mario Odyssey, which is surprising given that Tropical Freeze is several years older.

Above: Boss encounters always begin with cinematics, including this polar bear losing a popsicle to hungry fish.

I loved the HD Rumble effects Retro added for the Switch — and there are so many instances where you can feel subtle and strong rumbles, such as pounding the ground, pulling out plugs, and boss encounters. But man, some of these rumbles make a lot of noise, particularly in Joy-Cons but also in Pro Controllers. Don’t expect to play Tropical Freeze in bed next to a light sleeper.

A sketchy two-player mode

The two-player mode disappointed me and my kids. It’s far too easy for one of the characters to go off-screen and get injured or taken out of the action. If the camera zoomed out more to accommodate two players, this wouldn’t be an issue, but I’d really call Tropical Freeze a single-player adventure with the option of an assistant (who might get upset or upset you).

Good, but sort of long-winded boss encounters

Above: The camera doesn’t frequently shift from a side scrolling perspective, but some vehicle rides are an exception.

Conclusion

I loved the Donkey Kong Country games from the very start, and though I haven’t been thrilled by every sequel over the years, Tropical Freeze includes virtually everything the series has done right. It’s fun to play, has a ton of levels, and wows the eyes and ears with great aesthetics. More important for a platformer, it offers exceptional replay value thanks to unlockable stages you’ll actually want to unlock. There are five islands to visit before you even get to the DK Island shown in the opening cinematics, and more to find thereafter, as well.

Tropical Freeze is not, however, a Super Mario Odyssey-style game for everyone. Despite the addition of Funky Mode, young kids might find the levels too difficult to fully play through without assistance, particularly as jumps become trickier. And the fact that a four-year-old game is being rereleased on the Switch with a higher price isn’t going to make parents — or potential double-dippers — particularly happy. Yes, it’s been updated, but not enough for a higher price.

Above: If the idea of learning how to use the Switch controllers to virtually zip line through the occasional stage sounds fun to you, you’re Tropical Freeze’s target gamer.

But if you consider old-school platformers like Donkey Kong Country to be pinnacles of a nearly forgotten art form, Tropical Freeze is a game you need to experience. Having played many subpar platform games over the years (including certain uninspired 2D Mario titles), it’s a joy to experience a game where the developers obviously had so much love for their levels and characters. Their passion shines through from beginning to end.

The only question is whether you have the necessary skill to explore everything without some Funky assistance.

Score: 89/100

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze comes out for Nintendo Switch on May 4. Nintendo sent us a code for this review.

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GamesBeat Summit 2021

#GBSummit returns with two days of content and networking designed for industry executives.

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