The Wii U is a platformer fan's paradise right now and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is only one of the console's exemplary titles. In my years of gaming, I've found that one hallmark of a truly great game is that its later levels are just as polished and entertaining as its beginning levels. I had the pleasure of completing Tropical Freeze this past weekend and I'm happy to report that the game delivers quality levels beyond the scope of the main game. Secret Seclusion, the unlockable world, rewards the player with a trio of difficult yet rewarding experiences for collecting all of the KONG letters in the main game and completing all six temple levels. So, for my inaugural edition of Level Lowdown, I've decided to focus on Rocket Rails, one of Secret Seclusion's unlockable delicacies.
What first struck me about Rocket Rails was the level of diversity contained within it. There are five distinct parts to this level, including both a mine cart and a rocket segment. You begin the level in a temple. Both Rocket Rails and Levitation Station (another Secret Seclusion level) carry a temple motif, which ties them to the temple levels that the player must complete before unlocking this hidden world. The temple is crawling with Snowmads--the villains of Tropical Freeze and essentially Retro's answer to the Kremlings (who I'm assuming Rare owns the rights to). The trick to clearing this segment is timing. Platforms are constantly shifting and/or collapsing if the player rests on them too long, and so its important to know where to move and when.
Eventually, the player reaches a blast barrel that propels them out of the temple and onto a mine cart. The key to clearing this section is avoidance. There are flying fish floating all over the track and the player prevails by either ducking or bouncing when appropriate. What's interesting about this section is that there are massive fish statutes in the background and, oh yeah, floating fish, which are present nowhere else in the game. It really adds to the mystique of Secret Seclusion that there's this area full of fish that can mysteriously fly. At some point, these fish must have been known to some race of creatures that built these statues and temples. But, given the fragmented nature of the track and the fact that the temple is crumbling, it appears that this species is long since gone and only the fish remain. The cart section ends by plummeting into an empty pool, which raises numerous unanswered questions about whether the fish have any connection to the pool. Then, its onto another blast barrel and into another temple.
The third section of this level is another temple and again there are Snowmads. Again, the focus is on timing. There are large falling blocks in the temple and the player must time their jumps and blast barrel ignitions so as to avoid taking damage. The player ultimately blasts out of the temple and into a rocket barrel, which begins the fourth part of the level. Here, avoidance is once again key so that the player does not take damage from rising and falling blocks or moving enemies.
The fifth and final section synthesizes the level's running themes for satisfying finish. As with the temple portions, timing is essential to the player's success. However, this part of the level takes place outside temple walls and instead of jumping from platform to platform, the player jumps from fish to fish. Solid ground becomes progressively sparse as the player pushes on until the grand finale when the player is tasked with timing four consecutive bounces off of floating fish. The lack of solid ground in this portion of the level adds to the atmosphere of this level. There may once have been a civilization here. But, it's been gone so long that it's impossible to navigate simply from point A to point B. Notably, the player is required to roll jump at one point from a sliver of solid rock to a floating fish, which emphasizes just how unfit this area is for any lifeform other than the fish.
Rocket Rails succeeds because it throws many different elements at the player, but still manages to tie them all together in a way that is both challenging and rewarding. Throw in a tinge of mystery added by the level's art and atmosphere and you've got yourself a truly great stage. Given how few players make it to the end of a video game, I'm always thankful when developers add in quality post-game content. Secret Seclusion, and especially Rocket Rails, is a huge compliment for anyone with the dedication to play the main game of Tropical Freeze through to completion. I've got a hunch that Nintendo is about to put the Donkey Kong franchise on ice for a bit and let Retro work on some other projects. So, those of you who are platformer or Donkey Kong fans owe it to yourselves to check this one out.
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