Tony:The games at Nintendo’s New York Comic Con 2013 booth are due out this year, except for two. Sadly, one of these two was planned for this holiday but was delayed until February. That game was Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, the second iteration of Retro Studios' series of Donkey Kong Country games. In Tropical Freeze, the premise is about the Kongs (Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie), who must travel across a number of islands to get back to DK Island and fend of the Vikings who have invaded it. and I got to play through the demo’s later stage, 2-6 Cannon Canyon.
As one can guess from the name, this stage took place in a large canyon area filled with cannon barrels. As Nintendo has mentioned, the camera in Tropical Freeze shifts around the world, in this case changing around the barrels, allowing for more dynamic barrel blasts through the stage. I was launched looking down a waterfall, and another time the barrel was going to blast into the background amongst swinging explosives, which required me to time my exit just right or else BOOM! In fact, these roped explosive barrels appeared a lot in this stage, often requiring me to wait and run past them as they swung by. They also appeared regularly as I shot Donkey Kong though barrel after barrel. At one point, debris was falling onto the cannon barrel, so I had to line up my shot quickly or else it was goodbye Donkey Kong. Timing was everything in this stage.
Throughout the stage I could collect the usual items including banana tokens, KONG letters, and well-hidden puzzle pieces. One of these pieces was hidden behind a doorway into an extra mini-game room. This room was filled with bananas and platforms that would move from the background into the foreground and back again. In order to get the puzzle piece, I had to collect every banana before time ran out. Puzzle pieces could also be found around the swinging explosives or hidden just off the beaten path. All of this should sound familiar, as these were the typical hiding spots in Donkey Kong County Returns. Also like Returns, the stage ended with a roulette barrel, which would give Donkey the item showing when hit. Overall, the stage was challenging with a lot going on in it, and all of the hidden items in the stage made it enjoyable to explore outside the already difficult path.
If you have played Donkey Kong Country Returns, you already know how to play Tropical Freeze. I could roll with a shake of the remote, jump on bad guys to deal damage, and ground pound to open paths just like before. What appears to be gone is the blowing move; that move has been replaced with a new pluck motion which allows the Kongs to reveal hidden items and activate changes to the environment. The Kongs can also pick up and carry barrels, bombs, and unconscious enemies, perfect to throw and reveal new paths or puzzle rooms. I felt these mechanics combined could lead to some devious areas later into the game.
While the game has been improved graphically thanks to the HD hardware, Tropical Freeze still appeared to be graphically similar to DKC Returns. There have been some overall improvements such as more things happening on-screen, the shifting camera angles showing full 3D environments, and actual fur-shading on the Kongs to make them more detailed. Even though Tropical Freeze was visually pleasing and ran at a solid 60 frames-per-second, it did not really show that it was a true Wii U title graphically, and I hope that later stages of the title push the hardware more.
While it is still quite some time until Donkey Kong County Tropical Freeze comes out in February, I am already intrigued to see was new platforming elements Retro Studios adds to later stages as well as how much action they can fit onto the screen. I only hope they add unique environments and push the graphical prowess of the Wii U’s hardware. Look out for DKCTF in 2014.