It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Wii U game in possession of great critical acclaim, must be in want of a port. And cor ruddy blimey does Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze fall into line with that as well.
One of the more forgotten gems of 2014, if only for the fact that it was on Wii U, is also the titular Kong’s fifth entry in the mainline Donkey Kong Country series, and in my personal view, the best. But has bringing it to Nintendo Switch hampered its gameplay or overall potential? Obviously not, but it’s the only way I can think to segue into the preview.
Everything you’d expect to be here is here, as far as we can tell nothing has been changed or stripped out of the main game to make it more ‘child-friendly’ or less difficult. The very same balls-to-the-wall hardcore ape platforming you’d want to see is here just as you left it, only with an arguably better choice of controllers. TV mode is just like the original, with a crisp 1080p resolution, a super-solid 60fps, and dripping with additional colour thanks to the full RGB range. We noticed a dip in framerate at one point when discovering a secret, but when trying to replicate it we weren’t able to get anything but buttery smooth performance, so that’s very reassuring.
Portable mode is very much the same deal, only at a native 720p. Both modes also benefit greatly from an excellent amount of anti-aliasing; everything on screen is crisp and sharp, but saw-tooth edges are basically non-existent. To say this is a good-looking game is a gross understatement.
So it looks amazing, plays superbly, and is all around a tip-top port, but what about all this funky new gubbins Nintendo’s been bleating on about? Well, the biggest addition by far is that of Funky mode, a mode in which you’re able to play as Funky Kong himself should you wish to take the edge off the challenge. Funky Kong plays much like Donkey Kong only with a host of new abilities and a larger health bar, being able to take five hits instead of just two (or four when partnered with another Kong). He can roll indefinitely just as though he had a partner Kong with him at all times, gain a little bit of extra height by double jumping, slow his descent to a crawl by hovering with his surfboard (don’t think about it too much), breathe forever underwater thanks to a totally disregard of how snorkels actually work, and even stand on spiked floors thanks once again to his trusty surfboard.
It’s quite the laundry list of new skills, and at first it may sound like it makes the entire game a total breeze, but that’s not entirely true. For example, hovering with Funky gives you incredibly limited horizontal movement, so if you fluff up a jump you might be able to save yourself, but by relying on it too much you could also put yourself in more trouble than if you were playing with the Donk. Also don’t discount pits, there’s not an awful lot that can save you from them. Or mistiming barrel blasts. Or just not hitting the buttons. Where Funky does make things much easier however is in the collectibles. Otherwise out-of-reach KONG letters or puzzle pieces can often be grabbed with ease by Funky using his double jump.
He absolutely makes the game easier, there’s no doubt about it, but he doesn’t make the game straight-up easy. What’s more when you start a save file you’re asked whether you want to play in Funky Mode or Classic Mode, and that decision is final. Should you want a purely classic experience you can do so with absolutely no interruption by the bodacious baboon-relation. What’s more if Funky Kong is too making things too easy you can switch to playing Donkey Kong at any time provided you’re not mid-level. Doing this still gives Donkey Kong a bonus of an additional heart as well, so it’s not jumping from one extreme to the other.
It’s absolutely the right move by Nintendo to add this mode; the original game was incredible, but very, very tough. What’s more, the inclusion of Funky outside of making things easier also makes it possible to complete levels more quickly in Time Trial mode, meaning a whole new potential avenue of play for speedrunners. It’s also just fun to be able to play through levels you know as a new character, but if you’re adamant that you don’t want any noob stuff invading your ultra-hardcore 2D platformer about giant apes collecting bananas from penguins, you can just stick to Classic mode.
The only other notable inclusion aside from the previously mentioned funkiness is HD Rumble, which admittedly we didn’t notice when playing in TV mode at first. Rather than using Super Mario Odyssey’s policy of making everything and anything vibrate the controllers, Tropical Freeze takes a more traditional, subtle approach. Most of the time you won’t feel anything, but when landing on platforms or blasting from barrels, you’ll get some lovely tactile feedback. The latter is a huge highlight, as it feels like a spring is going off in your hands and is all the more noticeable in handheld mode. It’s a bit of a shame there’s nothing else really new given the price point of the game and the fact that it’s a port, but apart from that it’s difficult to find any complaints at all.
In short, this Switch version of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a holotype for how ports should be handled. Everything is just as you remember it, the gameplay hasn’t been affected in the slightest outside of Funky mode, and that little extra bit of spit and polish coupled with faster loading times just makes it an ever-so-slightly sweeter way to play the game. If you’ve never played the game before there’s no better time to sup from these apey waters.
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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze lands on Nintendo Switch on 4th May. Will you be picking it up?