Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Switch Review

May 17, 2018

When I think of my favourite 2D Platformers growing up, my mind always goes towards the likes of Super Mario and Sonic. They were fast paced, with responsive (for the time) controls and clean designs, the exact opposite of Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series. It wasn’t until Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze came to the WiiU that I put anything more than a fleeting moment into a Donkey Kong game and it was like nothing I’d played before. Movement was slower and more deliberate, levels were visually dynamic, the music was amazing, and I fell in love with it instantly. Now, that game I fell in love with has come to Nintendo Switch with a banana-bunch of new features and I’ve found myself falling in love once again.

Given that you’re controlling a big, heavy gorilla, it’s understandable that a hallmark of the Donkey Kong series is the more deliberate style of movement that underpins its platforming. You’re not a small and nimble Italian Plumber who can accelerate in an instant and turn on a dime. Instead, there’s a delay between moving your analog stick and your character moving, and you won’t stop instantly where you left off. It gives the game a uniqueness to its movement when compared to other platformers and helps to make the game supremely unforgiving. While that might sound like a bad thing, the unforgiving nature of Tropical Freeze’s momentum-based platforming is one of the best things about the game. You’re punished for rushing or pushing yourself too far, but it never feels cheap or frustrating. Instead, it feels incredibly rewarding, like you have conquered a great hurdle and have earnt your rewards. It’s an invigorating style that pulls you in unlike anything else.

That same slow and deliberate movement style also gives you time to stop and appreciate the best aspects of Tropical Freeze – the gorgeous environments and incredible music. Over time, many 2D platformers have begun to move towards cleaner, less cluttered art styles which prevent your focus from slipping from the actual platforming. Tropical Freeze couldn’t be any more different, with environments filled with masses of details that actively attract your attention. This can be something as simple as interesting plants in the background, to enemies in the background blowing into giant horns and causing air streams that blow you upwards. The music – aided by the compositions of none other than David Wise – moves from the entrancing, to the uplifting and onwards to the relaxing. The music flows through you as you play, pushing you onwards and always perfectly matching the visuals and spectacle on screen. While there have been no real changes to Tropical Freeze’s music or graphics (other than a resolution boost) for this Switch release, they sound and look just as amazing as they did in 2014.

The other big strength in Tropical Freeze comes in the form of its world and level design. Most platformers consist of a world filled with standard levels containing the same repeated styles of platforming, with the odd auto scrolling level to break the world up. Tropical Freeze takes a different path, filling its levels with varied platforming sections and using artistic design and vehicles to spice everything up. Any single level can be filled with a combination of ground, aerial and cannon platforming that keeps the surprises coming and makes sure you never lose interest as you play. Vehicle based levels and sections are fast and exhilarating, adding the odd taste of a style that is completely different to the rest of the game. The best part of the game’s levels, however, are the multi-stage boss battles at the end of each world. These combine pattern learning, platforming and light puzzle solving to create intricate battles to cap off each world. Their only drawback is that they’re long and have no checkpoints – which can be super annoying when you die in the final stages. Altogether, these separate parts come together to create a varied experience that remains exciting and surprising no matter how much you play.

While Tropical Freeze is largely the same game it was when it released for the WiiU in 2014, there is one important addition that completely changes the game – Funky Mode. Funky Mode changes certain aspects of the game, making it more approachable and somewhat more forgiving. All characters gain an extra heart, KONG letters are permanently collected upon first touch (instead of requiring all to be found in one run) and items from Funky’s shop are significantly cheaper. These changes make unlocking extras within the game easier and stop you dying from enemy hits quite as quickly, but the platforming itself remains just as platforming as ever if you’re playing as Donkey Kong. The other big change in Funky Mode is the ability to play as the ape himself, Funky Kong. Unlike Donkey Kong, who relies on other Kongs to supplement his own abilities in levels, Funky Kong goes it alone. Armed with his trusty surf board, Funky can roll endlessly, jump higher like Dixie Kong, glide like Diddy Kong and land on spikes like Cranky Kong. While he has 1 less heart than a Donkey Kong initiated Kong Combination, Funky is the ultimate destroyer of levels. At least, you’ll think that until you promptly overreach, fall into a hole and die. Herein lies the true brilliance of Funky Kong: while he adds crutches to assist with the platforming, he doesn’t circumnavigate the game’s inherent design principles like other Nintendo pity suits. Funky Mode and Funky Kong don’t leave you feeling like you’ve just cheated the system, they leave you feeling just as accomplished as you otherwise would have and that’s something I truly appreciate.

In reality, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Nintendo Switch is a rather barebones port of an excellent game. Funky Mode and Funky Kong are excellent additions to the game and the best accessibility measures in a game since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but they’re the only new things in the entire game. If you haven’t already played Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze before than you should definitely buy this, but if you have (like Jarrod did in 2014), there’s not much here to warrant a second purchase.


- Funky Mode is accessible without compromising the original vision
- Music and Graphics are just as fantastic as ever
- Platforming still feels incredibly satisfying


- No new content other than Funky Mode and Funky Kong
- Checkpoint-less boss battle can sometimes be frustrating

Overall Score: