I actually enjoyed Donkey Kong Country Returns quite a bit. It was a really good, solid, challenging platform game, and I would even consider it one of the better games in the series. However, Retro Studios was able to take what they learned from it and created a sequel that improved upon it in every way. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the best pure platform games to come along in recent years, and for me, it easily stands toe-to-toe with Diddy’s Kong Quest as one of the best games in the series.
It’s hard to point to one specific thing about the game that makes it such a standout. I think it’s more the case that the overall polish and attention to detail rivals, and arguably surpasses, that of Nintendo’s own in-house developed games, which is no small feat. Intricate detail is something Retro is somewhat known for, even going back to Metroid Prime, but absolutely nothing in Tropical Freeze feels glazed over. Details I wouldn’t have even thought of, and might likely go unnoticed by many players, are packed into every corner of the game. Even DK’s real-time rendered fur makes me want to reach into my TV screen and pet him. Compare it to New Super Mario Bros U, which is a really good game, but feels a little cut-and-paste.
It’s kind of a shame, then, that the game seems to have gone a little overlooked. One reason for that is probably that the game missed its original holiday release date and came out a couple of months late. As I write this, it’s been out for less than a year, and with all of the attention going to Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U, Tropical Freeze has been a little bit forgotten. It didn’t help that the Wii U’s install base was so limited at the time. But in my opinion, Tropical Freeze really deserves to be one of the console’s bigger selling titles, or at least should get as much respect as its peers.
The only other thing I can say is that David Wise should always score DKC. After nearly two decades, the master returns to create a soundtrack that, in my opinion, not only rivals his own work on Diddy’s Kong Quest, but is some of the best work of his career. There are some new arrangements of classic tracks, but most of it is brand new, with nearly every single level getting an original composition. Those original tracks are vintage Dave Wise, and they’re everything I would’ve wanted in a new DKC score from him. I admit I’m a fanboy, but it’s the soundtrack of the year, for me.
So, after the original trilogy from the ’90s, one controversial 3D game, and two great modern installments, where can the series go from here? Only Nintendo knows for sure, but I have some speculations.
Will Retro Studios continue to work on it? Possibly. Shigeru Miyamoto made some comments this past year about Retro being capable of working on more than one project at a time, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean sacrificing a new Metroid Prime (or preferably something completely original). However, I think the series could also get handed off to Monster Games, who ported DKC Returns to the 3DS and assisted Retro with Tropical Freeze, so they’re kind of primed for it.
And as much I love 2D platform games, I wouldn’t mind seeing a new 3D take on the series, just to keep things fresh. It could be fully 3D like DK64, a fixed camera style like Super Mario 3D World, or maybe even a mix of 2D and 3D elements. But with Tropical Freeze representing almost a penultimate 2D DKC game, I think taking things in a new direction would be in order.
But what do I know? I look forward to whatever Nintendo has up its sleeves for the big guy.
For now, that wraps up the Kong-a-thon. It’s been fun revisiting the series and refreshing my thoughts on it. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!