Review: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch)

Ice to see you again

When I saw that Donkey Kong Country was coming back in the form of Returns live at E3 so many years ago, I couldn’t hold back a cheer. It’s a series that meant a lot to me ever since Rare took up the mantle and brought Diddy Kong into this world, and Retro Studios did right by it.

It’s a feat, then, that Tropical Freeze is even better. Even when Nintendo charges $10 more for it for a re-release.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch [reviewed], Wii U)
Developer: Retro Studios / Monster Games / Nintendo SPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: May 4, 2018
MSRP: $59.99

Before we delve into the greater discussion about how the Switch port of Tropical Freeze maintains the original’s legacy with nominal upgrades, we need to talk about the price — because I’m sure many of you are foaming at the mouth right now.

Yes, this Tropical Freeze Switch port, which is mostly the same (more on that in a moment) four years later, is $60. That’s $10 more than the Wii U original. It’s weird, it’s bad, and it’s something Nintendo needs to refrain from doing in the future. Their strategy seems to be all over the place, as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with the season pass in tow was the same price as the original 8 on Wii U, and the same goes for Captain Toad, which will be $40 on Switch with some extras — the same price as the original. Whatever the case may be Tropical Freeze is an experiment, and you ultimately need to decide where your line in the sand is.

I’m a bit torn, but diving back into Tropical Freeze was much easier than I expected it to be. The faster Switch load times make that less of a chore to do, as does the ability to choose the new “Funky Mode” from the start. My heart did sink a bit once I realized that the latter was actually just “easy.” Funky is immune to most spikes (his surfboard cutely blocks them), he has five hearts instead of two (overkill), he can breath underwater, glide, and double-jump. Really, it’s more like “super easy mode.”

That’s not a bad thing! I really wish there was an option to play a more tempered less cheesy Funky, and swap to a separate easier difficulty setting at will. As it stands I think a lot of more hardcore players are going to try a few levels with Funky, get bored, and start a brand new file that doesn’t bear the mark of Funky’s board (yep, he brands your save file). That would be a worthwhile endeavor, as Tropical Freeze operates in 1080p60 in TV mode, the best way to experience the game to date (but hey, portable mode, sans any form of forced waggle, isn’t too shabby either).

This new classic still maintains its fantastic, ever-changing sense of level design, and the cast here is at their most adorable. This follow-up, with its absurd Snomad clan foe, has almost no business topping Returns, but it simply does in just about every regard. The nuances of each character play very nicely with the layout of each level (Cranky’s pogo stick, Diddy’s slight rocket boost, and Dixie’s glide all feel perfect), to the point where nearly each jump feels deliberately crafted. Once again you’re free to play Tropical Freeze the way you want, whether it’s running through each stage and stomping your way to the exit, or meticulously searching for every hidden portal or collectible.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a platformer that needs to be experienced by as many people as possible. Whether that’s through a $10 used version of the Nintendo Selects Wii U edition or this unfortunately priced Switch edition with skippable, but ultimately tame new content is up to you.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. It is not scored as it’s mostly the same as the Wii U edition.]

Chris Carter
Reviews Director, Co-EIC - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff!