Donkey Kong is a gaming icon frozen in time. While Mario has launched himself into orbit and Samus has successfully blasted her way into a new dimension, Nintendo’s prime ape seems consigned to forever toil along the two-dimensional plane in the same platformers that made him a champion of the SNES era. After 20 years with few notable attempts at change, is there still mileage in another classic jungle expedition?
Surprisingly, it proves to be a difficult question to answer. While nostalgia plays a large part in the appeal of Retro Studio’s revamp of Rare’s classic Donkey Kong Country formula, there’s also a refreshingly considered pace to the way that Donkey Kong and his cohorts navigate the jungle climes. Less agile than Mario and without the slick cadence of Rayman, Donkey Kong’s lumbering stride promotes an altogether different playstyle. Rather than encouraging players to run to the other side of the screen in the quickest time possible to net a high score, the world invites fervent exploration to discover all its concealed treasures and bonus items buried among the vibrant greenery and icy peaks.
The lack of time limit on each stage is also a giveaway to this relaxed approach, as is the versatility of its expanded cast of chimps. Donkey can be accompanied by Diddy, Dixie or Cranky, each offering a different gameplay advantage to further reach unexplored areas of each stage. While beneficial in single-player, ironically this dampens the appeal of playing solo as Donkey – co-op multiplayer serving to highlight his limited capabilities.
Annoyances are also found in some mechanical shortcomings. While pace and rhythm aren’t relied upon to succeed, platforming is nevertheless hampered by counter-intuitive control prompts – tapping one button to gather speed and another to grab a vine – and often intrusive 3D camera gimmicks that detract from the on-screen action. Alongside staid and repetitive design choices with an overreliance on massaging the nostalgia glands, Tropical Freeze fails to break out of its titular icon’s heavy-footed gait and never quite manages to get into the swing of things.
Reviewed by Bryan Murray