The new Donkey Kong game pulls off all the feats of a great platformer. It proves that gorillas can fly.
Like other games in the series, the controls in the latest installment, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” are simple. The gameplay follows the formula of the others — jump and swing your way through the level, from left to right, until you get to the end. Although it stays true to the conventions, from the get-go, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” immerses itself in action.
The game begins on Donkey Kong’s birthday. Everyone is there — Diddy Kong, Cranky Kong and Deedee Kong. Before them are cakes and bananas. Outside, it’s a gorgeous sunny day in the tropics. Yet, just as Donkey Kong is about to blow out his birthday candle, a snowflake puts it out. The crew goes outside only to find it is being invaded. The clouds storm, and drummers upon drummers beat the rhythm of war. The evil Snowmad King unleashes a blizzard with a mere blow on his magic horn. The Donkey Kong family is cast away. Their island, covered with ice, has fallen.
The story and cinematics for “Tropical Freeze” heighten the sense of adventure offered by this side-scrolling game. The other aspects of the game hold up to their promise. The enemies are animated, and the stages are colorful. The precise controls allow for split-second decisions. The cut-scenes on various levels change up the pace as well as the scale. For instance, the level might begin with the camera offering a panoramic view — which works well for puzzles — but ends in a close-up, wherein everything is crashing and burning and there’s no way knowing what’s going to happen next.
The game offers never-ending platforming delight. Each level has the gorilla in a red tie trekking left and right, solving puzzles, bashing enemies, swinging to great heights. Barrels scattered throughout the levels contain other members of the family, each with unique jumping and swimming abilities. Diddy Kong hovers with his jet pack. Deedee Kong propels with her ponytails. Cranky Kong bounces with his cane. While players can complete levels with Donkey Kong alone, pairing up with any of the others helps considerably given that, in this side-scroller, a few seconds of air often makes the difference between life and death.
The environments of “Tropical Freeze” vary in difficulty and originality. At first, players run through sunny beaches and leafy jungles, but by the end, they must cross a fortress of ice by jumping on the backs of flying enemies. In between, the gameplay is equally thrilling and serene. Some levels find Donkey Kong commanding a shoddy mine cart or strapped to an unwieldy rocket. In others, players will leap from tree to tree in burning savannas, dodge sharp edges in a fully mechanized fruit factory and swim across lost worlds shrouded in green light and mystery.
This side-scrolling game is unafraid to stay true to the conventions of the series. It’s also unafraid to pack a punch. To give you a sense of its difficulty, I died more than 50 times in the last world alone. Fortunately, each level contains several checkpoints, which are typically placed after a difficult part. Furthermore, there are shops owned by Funky Kong that sell special hearts and balloons that are helpful in tricky situations.
Though the game can be completed solo, there is also a two-player adventure mode and a ton of unlockables. Most levels are definitely worth replaying for the thrill alone. The music of “Tropical Freeze” is action-packed, somber and jazzy — concert-worthy. The entire game entertains from beginning to end.