E3 2013: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Hands-On Preview – The Ape is Back

Nintendo made sure that it had a good showing at E3 this year.  As Microsoft and Sony battled it out for console attention, it was all about the games for the big ‘N’ this year.  One such game was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U.  Having just reviewed Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on the 3DS, and still playing it to this day, I was in the mood for some ape-like madness.

The story behind Tropical Freeze has DK and friends trying to take back their home from Vikings who have taken over their tropical paradise.  It’s as simple as that.  Along the way you’ll team up with Diddy Kong, while Dixie Kong becomes a playable character should you choose something new.  Dixie adds some new gameplay elements as DK’s sidekick as her long blond hair adds some new jumping elements into the game.  Two-player drop in/drop out cooperative is back, but my time with the game at E3 was a single player experience as the other Wii-Remote was not synced at the time.  I played the game using a Wii-Remote/Nunchuk combo, but for those enquiring minds that want to know, you can play the game using the GamePad too (confirmed by Nintendo Staff at the game stations).

One of the first things I noticed when playing was how good this game looked.  Yes, it is a Donkey Kong game, but you just can’t help but notice the HD graphics.  From the vibrancy of the colours, the details in the level, itself, to DK’s, Diddy’s and Dixie’s fur, everything looks great.  You can tell that a lot of work has gone into the game and that it is just not a carry over from the DKC Returns Wii visuals, as this truly looks to be meant for the HD capable Wii U.

Picking up the controls was very easy and in no time I found myself ground pounding, jumping, and summersaulting with ease.  The Wii-Remote/Nunchuk combo was good and it was like I never left.  As I made my way through the level I came up to my first gameplay addition, swimming underwater.  This is a neat feature as it makes sense to have DK go below the waves now and then.  Of course the HD graphics carry over underwater, and the play mechanics blend in well with the already established controls from the previous game.  Your ground pound controls now allow you to speed up and twirl, taking out enemies as you do.  Given the “tropical” nature of DK’s latest outing the underwater levels add to the game and just make sense.

Another new gameplay mechanic is the addition of being able to grab onto and “pluck” certain items in the level.  I found some “plug like handles” that when pulled opened up new areas or new platforms for me to continue on in my adventure.  Again, a small feature but something that added to the DKC experience in a good way.

Something else that became evident during my demo was the dynamic camera that is now utilized throughout the game.  This is not just for the story cutscenes either as dynamic camera is utilized during actual gameplay.  This became very evident during a main barrel launching sequence about half way or so through the level.  The camera panned and swooped allowing me to make more accurate shots when shooting DK from barrel to barrel, and it added some added flair to the level as you saw things from different angles.   It was quite effective and added a more next-gen quality to this yet to be released DKC.

As I ventured through the demo level, which will be included in the game, I couldn’t help but notice how large it was.  It just kept going and going, and once I was done I was a bit taken back that it was as long as it was.  When I asked our Nintendo Canada representative if it all levels would be this long, he was not 100% sure given that the game is not done yet, but he did say the demo was part of the game, so this should say something.

And what would a DKC game be without end level bosses.  The boss level I got to play featured a Viking circus-like seal who had a team of evil penguins to help him out.  It was a long battle that was full of traditional platforming craziness including jumping on the boss, evading projectiles of some sort, and dodging minions and their own attacks.  It made for some pretty tense gameplay but was fun nonetheless.  If you’ve played Donkey Kong Country on the Wii or 3DS, then you should know what to expect.


For those that remember the hardcore-like difficulty of DKC Returns on the Wii, you should know that it will return in Tropical Freeze.  For those that don’t think the higher difficulty will be their cup of tea, there is the “easier” mode that is currently found in DKC Returns 3D on the 3DS, so you’ll be given an extra health heart and a few items to help you along the way.  This will allow both the hardcore and less hardcore to enjoy this game.

One final quick gameplay note, Tropical Freeze will include five islands with various environments to traverse, including forests, mountains, beaches, mine karts, underwater and frozen areas.  So there will be lots to explore and lots to do, putting your platforming skills to the test.

After my time with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze I have to say that I had fun, and fun in games is what is important.   At this stage in it’s development it looked good, played good, and adds a few new features that both fans of previous Donkey Kong games and fans of platform games alike should enjoy.  Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is set to launch this November and we hope to have more coverage as we get closer to the launch date.