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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

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There is something magical about Nintendo and how they can turn a standard platformer into something remarkable. I have played my fair share of platformers over the years and they mostly all have something in common. Levels seem to blend in with each other and the experience becomes tedious and dull. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze could have suffered the same fate but instead we have an exceptional platformer that manages to deliver a fresh new experience in every new level. Nothing is the same even if you are either grinding down a railway in your minecart or soaring through the air attached to a missile a few times throughout the game. 

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While there is very little story to the game other than a band of frozen-climate animals taking over the various islands that Donkey Kong and his friends call home, the game is all about its core feature, its great level design. Throughout the eight or so islands I explored, each of them delivered a wide range of challenges and visual marvels to take in. From the underwater caves where you get chased by a crazed, giant squid to the poisonous treetops where everything is out to kill you. It's all a wonderful adventure and not one level feels the same as the last. 

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It was my first time playing the game. I did not get around to it back when it released on the Wii U and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much detail has gone into bringing these levels to life. The game also stays true to the classic Donkey Kong series by delivering fast-paced and intense platforming action. Jumping across an icy cavern while trying to dodge falling ledges that would send you to your doom or running across a fruit juice conveyer belt while trying to dodge massive blades that could cut you to pieces. 

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Donkey Kong surely has its fair share of intense action and it works so well because it has been polished to perfection. Every stage plays out perfectly and if you die while trying to reach that vine while running away from a boulder it is probably because you did not grab it in time. Every level presented a new challenge and every new challenge took a few lives away before I accomplished it. That is to say I did not fail completely all the time, actually some stages I finished without a death but my hands were left sweaty after it all. 

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Tropical Freeze is around a 13-hour campaign given you just breeze through the stages without worrying about the hard-to-find collectables scattered throughout the area. Each stage has a set of puzzles pieces and a KONG letter collection to find and they are not easy at all. The KONG is not too bad but those darn puzzles pieces kept me up at night. I am normally a natural at finding things in video games. You see a small gap in the wall and you explore a way to get in there. Tropical Freeze has the same sort of system to find these puzzles pieces but if only all of them were that easy. Some are found by completing treasure rooms and collecting all 100 bananas before the timer runs out, and some are scattered across the level and hidden extremely well. 

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There was no worse feeling than thinking you are on a roll with 6/9 pieces until you get to the end and realize you missed a whole three puzzles. Dread filled me quite often knowing that I missed so much and the worst part about it is the fact that I truly had no idea where these extra pieces where. I explored everything and everywhere. I have to commend Nintendo for creating such a great hunt at these levels to find these puzzle pieces.

But the magic in the game is just how each level delivers a sense of scale and brings the world to life in more ways than one. We are talking about a two-dimensional platformer here and considering that, the levels are designed extremely well. From the African savannah to the frozen mountains that is home to the leader of this icy group of animals. Each of these islands is detailed and each level is brought to life by a stunning and catchy soundtrack and various background animations that make you feel as if you are exploring a part of an even bigger area. Be it the small islands in the background, animals jumping around in the trees or even the impending final boss fight that you can see throughout many of the final few stages leading up to it. They thought of it all. 

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Platforming also works and works well. You play as the one and only Donkey Kong but you get your friends to help you in the game too. During levels, you can pick up a barrel and either summon Cranky Kong, Dixie Kong, or Diddy Kong to aid you in your adventure. Like Donkey Kong, they also have two health bars but they can offer various modes of exploration. Diddy can hover downwards for a few seconds with his jetpack. Cranky can use his stick to bounce on spikes (just like Duck Tales), and Dixie can use her ponytail like a helicopter and fly up a few meters before dropping down again. 

Dixie was by far my go-to character whenever I had a chance to choose one as her ability to hover upwards and stay in the air not only saved my life from falling to my death but opened new ways to get to higher ledges and even made the treasure rooms much easier to explore. She was the only other character I used, to be honest, as the other ones just did not manage to make a beneficial impact as she did. 

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The Switch version also lets you play as Funky Kong which in a way acts as the "Assist Mode" for the game. Funky has all the abilities of the other apes in one but also has five heart bars making him stronger than the rest. This mode is made for the younger gamers and those who just want to experience the story and glory of the game without worrying about dying a lot. The only problem is that he is only playable in a separate game mode so if you feel like switching to him half-way through the game you cannot. You have to create a separate save file just to play the game with him. 

Of course, the game is fully playable in multiplayer with the second player taking the spot of an added ape. Multiplayer is hilariously frustrating as you both share the same lives and you will probably cause each other to die a couple of times. I could not stop laughing at times as the game's already-unforgiving gameplay is even harder with an added player on board to get in the way. It is one of those multiplayer games that you play with the knowledge that it will either make or break your relationship. 

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a fantastic port. It runs beautifully on the Switch both docked and in handheld mode but best of all it makes great use of the hardware to deliver one of the best platforming games in years. It is hard but every challenge is enjoyable as you explore the gorgeous stages and overcome the hardest obstacles. 

Available On: Nintendo Switch Release Date: 4 May 2018 | RRP : R749

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