Don­key Kong Coun­try: Trop­i­cal Freeze

EDGE - - PLAY - Pub­lisher Nin­tendo De­vel­oper Retro Stu­dios For­mat Wii U Re­lease Out now (JP), Fe­bru­ary 21

As­sum­ing that Mario is the gear that makes his worlds tick with clock­work pre­ci­sion, Don­key Kong is the prover­bial span­ner in the works. His ar­rival is the cat­a­lyst for a level to start crum­bling apart, his thump­ing en­trance enough to dis­lodge ev­ery­thing that holds these en­vi­ron­ments to­gether. And on the rare oc­ca­sions that ob­jects don’t dis­man­tle them­selves as he ap­proaches, DK will slam his mighty simian fists onto plat­forms to flip them, or roll up into a furry wreck­ing ball to smash through flimsy ob­struc­tions. The joy of most plat­form­ers comes from be­ing in con­trol, but Trop­i­cal Freeze is at its most po­tent when you’re out of it.

Part ob­sta­cle course, part de­mo­li­tion derby, the stages are a cu­ri­ous para­dox, at once pre­cisely crafted and wildly chaotic. And their set-pieces are, at times, ex­pertly or­ches­trated. One stage sees you at­tempt­ing to es­cape the clutches of a gi­ant oc­to­pus while an ad­vanc­ing wave of ink threat­ens to en­gulf you, while an­other has you squeez­ing a rocket bar­rel into a nar­row gap in­side a gi­ant rolling Edam. The tra­di­tional minecart stage is given an in­vig­o­rat­ing twist when DK is thrown from his ride, land­ing on a piece of wood shaped by buz­z­saw blades into a sub­sti­tute boat as you speed in and out of a rain-lashed sawmill.

These mo­ments are chore­ographed with the an­tic style of a Jackie Chan fight se­quence, Retro Stu­dios find­ing a sim­i­lar sweet spot where slap­stick chaos and im­mac­u­late tim­ing meet. Of course, the spec­ta­cle is re­liant on you hit­ting your marks, and with many mov­ing parts to con­sider, the cues can be easy to miss. So busy is the ac­tion and so fre­quent are the dis­trac­tions that oc­ca­sion­ally you’ll per­ish with­out know­ing how. You’ll need to pos­sess preter­nat­u­ral re­ac­tions or be ca­pa­ble of clair­voy­ance to pass some sec­tions first time, since plat­forms col­lapse with­out warn­ing and leaps of faith find pa­trolling en­e­mies wait­ing to spoil your land­ing. Trop­i­cal Freeze’s chal­lenge is stern but rea­son­able for the most part, yet there are mo­ments of frus­trat­ingly cheap de­sign.

It’s a shade tougher than its pre­de­ces­sor, though it’s also more for­giv­ing. Lives are plen­ti­ful enough that most play­ers will never see the Game Over screen, and you can equip up to three power-ups per stage, in­clud­ing a bal­loon that res­cues you from a fa­tal fall and a banana juice po­tion that nul­li­fies dam­age from the first hit you take. Minecarts and rocket bar­rels can now sur­vive an ex­tra col­li­sion, while each of your three part­ners can trig­ger a smart bomb, earn­ing you ex­tra lives, hearts or coins. Los­ing a part­ner is es­pe­cially painful, though. Not only will you lose the ex­tra air time you gain with Dixie or Diddy Kong – or the abil­ity to safely bounce on horned en­e­mies that comes with Cranky’s pogo-like cane – but you’ll be able to take only two shots be­fore dy­ing.

The lack of a Su­per Guide equiv­a­lent serves to high­light the dif­fer­ence in men­tal­ity be­tween DK and Mario. Fail in the Mush­room King­dom and you can call on the White Tanooki Suit to help you reach the next stage. If you’re strug­gling here, you’ll sim­ply have to per­se­vere. Two very dif­fer­ent kinds of aes­thetic plea­sure are your im­pe­tus to do so. There’s the sat­is­fac­tion of a smooth, flow­ing run, where you emerge from these dis­in­te­grat­ing gauntlets with­out so much as a strand of DK’s exquisitely mod­elled fur out of place. It’s not so much the joy of watch­ing a grace­ful gym­nast in ac­tion, but the knife-edge ten­sion of wit­ness­ing a stunt­man per­form­ing death-de­fy­ing feats. Be­yond that, there’s the sim­ple de­sire to see what vis­ual treats are in store. Retro has al­ways been one of Nin­tendo’s most tech­ni­cally ca­pa­ble part­ners and this is a hand­some game in­deed, its en­vi­ron­ments alive with colour and de­tail even as its stages progress with the me­chan­i­cal rigid­ity of a theme-park ride. A rhyth­mic sa­fari level sees plat­forms dance and sway to the beat of David Wise’s ex­cel­lent sound­track, while a swim through abyssal ru­ins sees translu­cent ten­drils draped across the screen and ar­cane mech­a­nisms il­lu­mi­nat­ing the dark­ness as DK corkscrews past. The cam­era, too, is un­usu­ally rest­less: it’s a side-scroller no longer by the time bar­rels are fir­ing you into the screen, and one minecart ride of­fers a se­lec­tion of rails to jump be­tween from a top-down view. Some of Trop­i­cal Freeze’s sim­pler plea­sures are dulled by fa­mil­iar­ity. When it’s not be­ing quite so slav­ish to the ideas of its 16bit an­tecedents, how­ever, it sings, such as in the fac­tory where fruit-pulp­ing blades spit up tem­po­rary plat­forms, or the joy­ous bounce through a level com­prised al­most ex­clu­sively of luridly coloured jelly cubes. The Snow­mads – Vik­ing pen­guins, wal­ruses and owls – are a more char­ac­ter­ful en­emy than the Krem­lings, while the bosses are beau­ti­fully an­i­mated and, with one frus­trat­ing ex­cep­tion, of­fer a pleas­ingly firm chal­lenge. Those who found 3D World’s later stages a test, how­ever, may wish Trop­i­cal Freeze’s bosses still sub­scribed to the three-strikes rule.

There’s a tac­til­ity that was miss­ing from Don­key Kong Coun­try Re­turns, though Trop­i­cal Freeze lacks the phys­i­cal­ity of Jun­gle Beat and its bongo con­trols, which are still a closer match for the pro­tag­o­nist’s abil­i­ties. EAD Tokyo cap­tured the ape’s brute strength but also the cu­ri­ous grace of his move­ments, which car­ried a cer­tain laid-back el­e­gance when strung to­gether. Here he’s an un­stop­pable force, a ru­n­away train whose mo­men­tum can be tricky to ar­rest. Dur­ing Trop­i­cal Freeze’s most ex­act­ing se­quences, you may yearn for Mario’s re­li­a­bil­ity, but the blud­geon­ing force of Retro’s pre­sen­ta­tion is enough to carry a pow­er­ful, if tra­di­tional, plat­former over the fin­ish line.

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