The 2014 Wii U exclusive, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, is one of the best Nintendo games ever made. It’s a damn shame then, that it’s also one of their most unappreciated.
Back when Tropical Freeze was first revealed at E3 2013, the game received immediate backlash over the fact that Retro Studios opted to make another Donkey Kong title following 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns. Gamers – self-entitled lot that they are – were quick to write off the game and express their disappointment that Retro wasn’t working on Star Fox or Metroid (despite the fact that the studio had already made three Metroid titles at that point, as opposed to one in the DK series). Maybe it’s the fact that Donkey Kong Country Returns was great and the last Metroid game, Metroid: Other M, was the very definition of suck, but I know which series I wanted to see more of at that point.
I’ve come to expect the gaming community to act like a lot of childish brats though. It’s commonplace for them. What’s far worse is how it seems like many publications seemed to share that mentality, and were ready to pander to the misguided disappointment of gamers.
It’s true, Tropical Freeze got mostly great reviews when it was first released, but much like any Nintendo game that doesn’t star Mario, Link or Samus (the latter two of which I might argue don’t always deserve such profuse gushing), the game was quickly forgotten after its initial review scores were dished out.
When award season rolled around, the game was largely snubbed by virtually every publication. It won Best Platformer from GameTrailers, but that’s just about it. Even its phenomenal soundtrack (which I would say is the best video game soundtrack of at least the last five years) went unmentioned.
Simply put, I don’t get it. I know there are differences in opinions, but this is an instance where I simply don’t get it. I honestly think people’s wanting of a new Star Fox or Metroid game basically doomed Tropical Freeze from the start for many. Which is completely unfair.
Though Tropical Freeze has some minor issues (long load times, and somewhat repetitious bonus games), as a whole I think it rivals any sidescrolling platformer. It’s greatly challenging, but always fair, it looks wonderful, the aforementioned soundtrack is an all-time great, and every level boasts a level of creativity that rivals the best Mario platformers, with not a single one of them repeating their ideas. Returns was great in its own right, but Tropical Freeze stands as one of Nintendo’s best.
It baffles me to no end that I often see the game placed beneath mediocre titles like The Wonderful 101 on lists of best Wii U games. Hell, the ludicrous praise that so many people gave to Rayman Origins and Legends, which were good games in their own right, seems downright unwarranted when stacked against Tropical Freeze. Whereas Rayman’s recent titles are more about keeping momentum, there’s a lot more thinking involved when playing Tropical Freeze. I’ll take strategic and creative thinking over “run really fast” any day.
I’ve even heard some reviewers complain that Tropical Freeze is too hard, which I consider hypocritical, considering most of these same reviewers often rag on Nintendo games for being “too easy” while praising difficult indy titles like Super Meat Boy (which, while decent, feels a lot more unfair than DK ever did). You can’t cry foul that Nintendo games are too easy, and then complain when they make one that’s difficult. And why does it seem like indy games just get a free pass when it comes to difficulty?
In less than two years since its release, I’ve already beat Tropical Freeze on its standard difficulty three times, and am currently working on completing its hard mode for the second time. Every time I’ve replayed it, I’m taken back by the sheer creativity and attention to detail that went into it. I simply don’t get how the game became as ignored as it is.
I understand that not every game is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the fact that Tropical Freeze has so few accolades is downright head-scratching. I’d say it’s easily the best platformer since Super Mario Galaxy 2 (bettering even the fantastic Super Mario 3D World), and I’ve played few platformers that exude such a sense of love for the craft from its creators.
Not counting my own opinions, I don’t think the game was even nominated for any Game of the Year awards, and the fact that it didn’t win more awards for the platforming genre is absolutely shocking. And the absence of a mention for David Wise’s beautiful score? Deplorable.
The sad thing is, the rather lukewarm reception Tropical Freeze has received probably means we won’t be seeing a third entry in Retro’s take on Donkey Kong Country any time soon. Hell, Tropical Freeze may have even received some DLC if its praise made a bigger splash. Heaven knows I’d buy that DLC day one.
Unfortunately, I see Donkey Kong taking another extended hiatus now, and Tropical Freeze being relegated to a game almost solely appreciated by the series’ established fanbase. Hopefully its cult-like status will give it better recognition one day. But for now, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze remains one of Nintendo’s most overlooked treasures.
Because, y’know, it’s not Metroid.