Sparkling with life, ruined by the controls.
By now it shouldn't come as a surprise to no one but these new games don't really do the original Donkey Kong Country franchise its justice. The base games were the most spectacular experiences anyone could have in gaming, these new ones aren't exactly bad in the new style they've chosen, but the controls ruin it nevertheless.
At first it was the abysmal wiimote, then came the 3DS version, and we were certain the nightmare was real, unchanging. The problem with the controls were half addressed in this sequel, though the road still feels long and treacherous. There were two main problematic aspects, the fact you couldn't set the preferred method while maintaining the movement type and how loosy the mechanics were set.
The 3DS version of DKC Returns was especially horrendous, you either had to set the shoulder buttons to perform the roll or the front upper ones. Depending on which one you chose you could ONLY control with the analog stick or the D-pad. I had a really hard time with this since I would have chosen the D-pad over the analog stick but had to rethink my choice because using the shoulder buttons to run was too much of a hassle.
At least this time around you can choose the mode and the movement type. Something so basic that should have been mandatory on the Returns. Customized button-sets are rarely anything groundbreaking these days, Retro Studios should have little to no problems adding up. Still, they went ahead and added a whole new button to complexify a system so pure in its fundamental form.
Why someone would change the Super Nintendo DKC controls is beyond anyone's range of thought, it effectively is the climax of game mechanics in video-games. The momentum system worked so well that even Mario should have learned a thing or two about how to give full control over to the player without jeopardizing anything, at all.
Nintendo and Retro Studios didn't think so. I'm a little more inclined to think Nintendo had a say on this matter more than we want to admit because it might just sound natural to add another button and preserve newcomers from having a hard time dealing with a button that both attacks/rolls and runs. God forbid having to deal with an ill-fated roll press during the complex platforming within.
It doesn't really matter who thought it was a good idea, it's not. Another button not only resets the mindset from previous classics but also adds a whole new problem, it's another button to keep track of and it's a shoulder one. Shoulder buttons aren't exactly everyone's favorite and though it certainly changed a whole lot for the better when compared with the right/left buttons from the Super Nintendo era, it's still not the most comfortable set.
Dealing with a double working button shouldn't be a problem for anyone, the first three games did it proudly and nothing ever changed on how incredible they offered their control settings. The mechanics stand the test of time as much as the graphics, which is somewhat of an incredible feat to tell the truth. At least give us the option, that would be an ideal scenario.
I want to go out on a limb and say that this isn't even the worst problem, we could even deal with that if they kept the movement tight. Donkey Kong moves are so loose that it's a pain from start to finish. You get used to it like anything else, to a point you start counting on how imprecise the movements are and start regulating on your own.
The roll jump is way too powerful, leading to clumsy immediate momentum ending too soon to offer any depth in terms of maneuvering in mid-air. Gone are the days of perfectly timed off-sets from edges and welcome are the days of rocket blasting off from any jump roll you perform. Basically a wild card that in time will offer less and less dangers, but the ever-present nature of insecure controls is not something you can easily shake off.
The fact the game is not a walk in the park doesn't ease things up one tiny bit. Boss battles are especially long and cut in different little episodes. Basically you need to hit the boss three times in three different acts to beat it. They take a little bit too much to develop but it's clear that it's better polished than in the past.
From a technical standpoint this is absolutely flawless. From the design to the songs that accompany the adventure, everything works fantastically. The soundtrack is especially good because it marks the return of David Wise, the one and only Rare composer that has composed for the classic trilogy as well as other classics like Diddy Kong Racing and, more recently, the attempt to return to form from former Rare employees that produced Yooka-Laylee.
It's probably the best soundtrack in any game in at least a decade or so, it's that good. It not only features key tracks from the original but it also does it right. We often see newer versions of classic tunes that simply turn into tiring rehashes. Look at Mario 2D, so many old tunes that are overheard mixed with others that just sound uninspired. David Wise manages to make the soundtrack really feels like a bonus when unlocked in the music menu after beating levels.
The KONG letters count for completion and around the levels you must find pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each stage has a differing number of pieces, sometimes 5, sometimes 7, sometimes 9. The bonus rooms feature basic puzzles that revolve in getting 100 bananas, most of them are repeated during the game and aren't interesting at all.
You can buy items to make you life easier if you choose so. Stuff like extra defense for mine cart levels or extra hearts to endure stage are available. Since the reboot of the series you now have hearts bound to your character that work as life. When you break a buddy kong barrel you get double the life -- yours and the kong you're traveling with.
DKC Returns only had Diddy Kong and he was a secondary character, offering assistance to Donkey Kong making jumps and lasting longer in the air by using his jetpack, the same goes for this title. The good thing is that now not only Diddy Kong is available but also Dixie and Cranky Kong.
Dixie actually plays much like she did in DKC 2 with an added bonus, she is capable of flying a bit up in the air. This is extremely helpful to reach most places that tend to expect that little extra height from jumps. When you find a barrel most of the time it will keep scrolling between three initials (from Diddy, Dixie or Cranky) and whichever kong is picked up will come out of the blasted barrel. Sometimes only one kong is available, but only in specific locations where a determined kong ability is required.
The addition of Cranky Kong is kind of unexpected but it was well-implemented. He does a pretty singular type of jump, after pressing A you must press it again before reaching the ground to perform a cane jump. This jump is stronger than a regular jump -- similar to a boosted jump after jumping on an enemy -- and completely negates a thorn pit. You can basically keep jumping on thorn that would otherwise hurt donkey kong or any other partner.
Unfortunately only Rambi features as an animal buddy just like in Returns. I can only assume they will focus on different animals in a third installment of the series. It would be nice to see some of the ore famous ones like Enguarde the fish or Squitter the spider. I would love to see all of them in a future release but maybe they'd be disinclined to add some that were cut from sequels like the frog. Still, a Donkey Kong game without a wide array of animal buddies is never the appropriate approach.
Unlike what happened in games like Super Mario Bros. U the screen of the tablet controller is turned off based on what type of screening you wish to use. If you choose the TV you won't have to worry about wasting precious battery time on a secondary screen that adds absolutely nothing to what is already happening on the televisions set.
The story revolves around a group of arctic baddies that invade kong island during Donkey Kong's birthday, spreading the cold touch of its evil mastermind throughout the tropical paradise the kongs are used to. It's up to ou heroes to save the day. I know, a DKC shouldn't even have a story to begin with, but it just fits. Just think about the original when a stash of bananas was stolen, it was a good enough reason to embark on the most memorable adventure ever.
Since the overall graphical style was completely changed the aesthetics of the enemies were changed as well. It might take a little while to get used to them, some are quite bizarre, like oversized owls or viking-looking bears. The animation style was well designed and the bonus content containing the concept art for them are quite interesting to examine.
I might sound pessimist here but Donkey Kong Tropica Freeze is not without its problems. Anyone can easily overlook its problems especially if you don't nitpick. Still, it's a shame to see such a stupendous series not living up to its full potential. The DKC trilogy is one of the most solid pieces of gaming experience anyone can ever hope to play and the reboot games are simply good fun that could become marvelous if only they had better controls.