Tag Archives: Nintendo Switch

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Switch) Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

When Retro Studios revealed Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze at E3 2013, it was received with a lukewarm reception. People were baffingly disappointed that the studio opted to create a second DKC title (apparently forgetting how good Donkey Kong Country Returns was), and were clamoring for the developer to return to the then-dormant Metroid franchise (apparently forgetting Retro already made three titles in that series). This immediately lead to unfair criticisms towards Tropical Freeze and, coupled with questionable marketing, a delayed launch, and the overall underperformance of the Wii U, Tropical Freeze failed to receive the mass-appreciation it truly deserved. It quickly became a cult classic for many, due to its pitch-perfect gameplay, impeccable level design, and God-tier soundtrack, but it never became the best-seller it should have been. Now, Tropical Freeze has been given a second chance on the Nintendo Switch, in hopes that it can finally find the audience it so rightfully deserves.

Although the core game is mostly unchanged from its release on the Wii U four years ago (save for some touch-ups with the graphics, and some new character animations), DKC: Tropical Freeze is more than worth another go on the Switch, as it remains one of the finest platformers ever made.

Being a follow-up to Donkey Kong Country Returns, Tropical Freeze adopts the basic blueprint of its predecessor. But while Returns was an excellent game in its own right, it often relied on falling back onto nostalgic memories of the original 1994 Donkey Kong Country on SNES. Tropical Freeze – being Retro’s second go at the series – was able to break free from the familiarity of Returns and craft an identity of its own for the series.

The story here is that a gang of vikings called the Snowmads (comprised of arctic animals like walruses and penguins) have invaded Donkey Kong Island. Doing their best Elsa impression, the Snowmads freeze the entire island and make themselves at home, banishing the Kongs in the process. But DK is not one to simply let it go, and he, along with Diddy, Dixie and good ol’ Cranky, set off on an adventure across multiple islands to take back their home from the Snowmads.

“Despite being a side-scroller, Tropical Freeze features dynamic camera angles during certain stages to change up the gameplay in unique ways.”

Of course, any semblance of plot is really just an excuse to get DK off his keister and into those platforming stages. It’s within its gameplay and level design that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze becomes a work of art.

The level design of Tropical Freeze is among the best you’ll ever find in a platformer (or any genre, for that matter). Every stage introduces new mechanics and gameplay elements, making every last level feel fresh and original. Tropical Freeze almost epitomizes a “you know what would be awesome” mentality…as in, it’s all too easy to imagine the folks at Retro Studios exclaiming “you know what would be awesome?” right before they pitched their ideas.

There are a few shared elements between stages, namely the collectible puzzle pieces and K-O-N-G letters that are hidden within them (the puzzle pieces unlocking extras such as concept art and music, while nabbing every K-O-N-G letter in every stage of a world unlocks that world’s secret temple stage). But there’s not a level in the entire game that falls back on recycling a level concept brought up earlier in the adventure. The level design of Tropical Freeze is an utter delight the whole way through.

“That is one big-ass polar bear.”

This is also true of the game’s boss fights. Though the old tradition of one boss per world means that such encounters are limited at six, each one of them provides a clever challenge that’s full of creativity.

Player’s primarily control Donkey Kong, of course. He still runs, jumps, rolls, pounds the ground, and throws barrels. This time around, he can also pluck certain objects from the ground, as well as pick up certain enemies to throw them at others. Along the way, DK can team up with the other Kongs who, in addition to granting the player two extra hit points, come with their own special abilities.

Diddy Kong, returning from DKCR, comes equipped with a jetpack, allowing DK to hover for a short time. Meanwhile, Cranky Kong makes his long-awaited debut as a playable character, and can use his cane as a pogo stick – Scrooge McDuck style – to not only jump higher, but also to allow DK to jump across surfaces and enemies he otherwise couldn’t (such as thorny brambles or enemies with spiked viking helmets). Dixie Kong, true to form, proves to be the most useful, however. With her helicopter-like hair, Dixie Kong not only gives DK a bit more air, but also increases the height of his jumps. When playing solo, the additional Kongs more or less serve as power-ups, but they are also readily available for a second player to select in the game’s co-op mode.

On the visual front, Tropical Freeze looks better than ever, which is no small feat, considering how great it already looked on the Wii U. The graphics may technically be the same, but it all looks sleeker and smoother than it did before. And perhaps best of all, the load times have been drastically reduced in this Switch release.

Then we have that epic soundtrack. The first two installments of Donkey Kong Country remain highly regarded for their music, though the third entry’s score, while still good, fell considerably short of its predecessors. Meanwhile, Returns’ soundtrack mainly relied on remixes of the first DKC’s soundtrack, which is great and all, but didn’t exactly help in giving the game an identity of its own.

With Tropical Freeze, however, Retro Studios managed to cook up a musical score that ascends to one of the all-time greats in the medium, and more than lives up to the first two installments. It should come as no surprise that the key ingredient to the soundtrack’s roaring success is the return of original series composer David Wise, who made a triumphant return with Tropical Freeze after an extended hiatus from scoring mainstream titles. Much like the first two SNES DKC titles, the score of Tropical Freeze manages to encompass a shocking amount of variety, all while building the atmosphere of the game’s world, and turning the simple story of a bunch of apes fighting walruses into something truly epic and beautiful. As far as gaming soundtracks go, Undertale might be Tropical Freeze’s only real competition for the title of best of the decade.

While Tropical Freeze served as a vast improvement over (the admittedly great) Donkey Kong Country Returns in nearly every regard – from level design to boss fights to music – there were, unfortunately, two aspects in which Tropical Freeze merely followed suit with its predecessor, as opposed to improving it.

The first are the bonus rooms scattered throughout the levels. While these bonus stages are fun in their own right, they are all simple variants of “collect all the bananas.” It’s not a major issue, but considering the variety of bonus stages housed in the DKC games back on the SNES, you kind of wish Retro Studios could have touched up on the repetition of the bonus rooms found in Returns with their second outing. The other blemish is that Rambi the Rhinoceros is once again the only Animal Buddy present in the adventure (unless we count Squawks, who can be purchased at Funky Kong’s shop and alerts players to nearby puzzle pieces). While riding on Rambi and bowling through enemies is fun, he only shows up on a handful of occasions, leaving you wanting more out of him, as well as a return of more Animal Buddies such as Enguarde or my man Squitter (or for Retro Studios to develop some Animal Buddies of their own).

“I wonder if Funky is out looking for inter-planetary visitor dudes. Wow, I just made THAT reference.”

It also has to be said that the only major addition to the Switch release of Tropical Freeze is its new “Funky Mode,” which serves as a beginner-friendly playstyle for those who find the core game too difficult. Essentially, it’s easy mode, with Funky boasting all of the abilities of the other Kongs, as well as having more hit points and unlimited oxygen when swimming. On one hand, I can appreciate the game having an easy mode. Given its often intense difficulty, providing an easier option for beginners might give Tropical Freeze a wider audience. But on the downside, it is kind of a shame that the new playable character has to be confined to it. Having Funky as a unique character with his own abilities in the core game might have been a nice twist on this modern classic, while the easy mode could have potentially given DK the extra benefits and such, thus separating it and the new character.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was not only my favorite game of 2014, but also one I can confidently say was my favorite in the entire Wii U library. It’s a platformer that easily ranks among the best of them, with sheer creativity and gameplay brilliance pouring out of every level. The fact that it was initially met to such a lukewarm reception was a damn shame, and played a part in Tropical Freeze becoming quite possibly the most underrated game in Nintendo’s history.

Now, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze can safely claim to be one of the very best games on the Nintendo Switch. Sure, the lack of variety in bonus stages and Animal Buddies is still a bit of a bummer, and the fact that Funky Mode is the only prominent addition to this second release can feel a little like a missed opportunity. But make no mistake about it, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze should rank among the best games Nintendo has ever made. And hopefully this time, more people will get to realize that.

 

9.5

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Kirby Star Allies Review

It can’t be stated enough that Kirby has always been the unsung hero of Nintendo. The pink, spherical star warrior has often been in the shadows of Mario, Zelda and Metroid, while quietly providing consistently entertaining and innovative experiences. So while Kirby may be relatively under the radar, he still deserves recognition for being one of Nintendo’s brightest stars. Kirby’s debut on the Nintendo Switch, Kirby Star Allies, continues the pink hero’s impressive resume. By combining elements from various titles from Kirby’s past, Star Allies provides a consistently fun experience that should rank as one of the highlights of the long-standing series.

Kirby Star Allies brings a traditional sidescrolling Kirby platformer to a home console for the first time since 2011’s Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Nintendo Wii. Like Return to Dreamland, Star Allies turns the Kirby experience into a multiplayer romp for up to four players. But while Return to Dreamland saw three additional players take control of Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and King Dedede, Star Allies takes a page out of fan-favorite Kirby Super Star’s playbook and allows Kirby to turn his standard enemies into partners (in addition to being able to copy their abilities). Waddle Dee, Meta Knight and Dedede are still available after certain points of the game, should players want to play as one of the series’ mainstays. But combining Return to Dreamland’s multiplayer setup with Super Star’s enemy-to-allies mechanic is Star Allies best hook.

Continuing in resurrecting elements from Kirby’s past, Star Allies also finds a means to bring in a sort of successor to Kirby 64’s ability-combining mechanic. Kirby can throw hearts at enemies to bring them to his side, and if Kirby’s team boasts the right combinations, they can work in tandem to create new powers.

“Ice + Rock = Curling. It’s science.”

Elemental abilities like fire, ice, water, spark and wind (available via the broom and bird abilities) can be added to weapon-based powers such as the sword, hammer, yo-yo, whip and ninja. Other powers can be combined for one-time special attacks (such as spark and water, which send electrified splashes at enemies for extra damage). And other powers still have unique combinations with each other, such as the ESP ability (returning from Planet Robobot) being able to join with the rock ability to perform geokinesis. It may be a little disappointing to know that not all of Kirby’s abilities can combine with each other in the same way they could in Kirby 64, but finding which abilities go together and what they produce still makes for a constantly surprising and fun experience in Star Allies.

Of course, there are a few new copy abilities thrown into the mix as well: Artist allows Kirby to attack with a paintbrush, as well as send sentient paintings and sculptures at foes. The spider abilities sees Kirby trapping enemies in webs, as well as providing trampoline-like webs for his friends to jump on. And the staff ability has Kirby walloping baddies with a bo staff. These new abilities join a host of recently returning and long-standing favorites, making for one of the most robust libraries of copy abilities Kirby has ever seen (as well as giving players two through four plenty of character options).

“Keep rollin’, rollin’ rollin’, rollin’!”

That’s really the core of Kirby Star Allies: working together as Kirby and his friends (who can be controlled by surprisingly competent AI when playing solo) to work as a team to gain new powers and to complete the game’s stages and solve its puzzles. There are even sections in which Kirby and company will join forces to create bridges, form a wall-climbing train, form a wall-breaking wheel, and piloting a star (for some shoot-em-up action).

“Move over, Ben Swolo.”

The experience is consistently fun and enjoyable, and will surely leave a big smile on your face. The level design and gimmicks are varied, and though the adventure may sound short on paper at only four worlds, these worlds differ greatly in the number of levels they house, with myriads of secret stages being tucked away in each, should you be able to find their switches hidden in the standard stages. Star Allies even breaks tradition by not saving a singular boss fight at the end of each world. Instead, a number of levels end with a boss fight, and although they aren’t particular difficult (the penultimate boss was the only one that killed me in the adventure mode), the game is pretty generous with how many of them it provides. The final boss, in particular, provides one of the grander set pieces in the series’ (and Nintendo’s) history.

The easy difficulty extends past the boss fights, and indeed the entire adventure mode is a bit of a breeze. That should be expected from Kirby games by this point, and isn’t really a bad thing on its own. However, while past Kirby games have offered a host of hidden collectibles to add an extra challenge for completionists, the only hidden trinkets of Star Allies are puzzle pieces, which only unlock pieces of art work that celebrate Kirby games of the past (a fine unlockable for anyone who appreciates such things like myself, but I’m not sure they’d be incentive enough for most players to go through the trouble of seeking them out). A few extra collectibles – such as the strangely absent music tracks of past titles – could have made for an additional challenge in exploration.

If it is a challenge you want though, Star Allies follows suit with the more recent Kirby titles in providing a host of post-game modes which add some extra difficulty. But perhaps in the future it might be a nice option to have a more difficult mode available from the get-go.

Still, it’s always hard to complain too much about Kirby. Not just because the adorable characters and colorful worlds make it all too easy to smile, but because they have always provided such strong, straightforward fun. And Star Allies is certainly no exception. The charming and creative gameplay of Star Allies is joined by some truly impressive visuals (my goodness, the water effects!) and, like most Kirby games, a beautiful musical score that will, sadly, probably become underappreciated (the game playfully uses orchestral pieces for most stages, whether original or remixed tunes, while the aforementioned secret stages pull a classic track right out of Kirby’s past).

Kirby Star Allies is perhaps not the most original Kirby title: utilizing elements from Return to Dreamland, Kirby 64 and Super Star (as well as the cancelled GameCube Kirby title). But it uses these bits and pieces to create something of a Frankenstein’s monster that provides one of Kirby’s most fun adventures, while also celebrating the series’ storied history. And frankly, Kirby’s is a history that doesn’t get celebrated nearly as much as it deserves.

 

8.5

10 Things I Want to See in Super Smash Bros. 5

Can you believe it? A new Super Smash Bros. is on the way to the Nintendo Switch this year! Man, we didn’t need to wait seven years this time!

Now, of course, is the time when fans start to express what they hope to see in the newest entry in Nintendo’s crossover super-franchise. And although I usually try to refrain from getting too hyped about a game with so little information to it, when it comes to Smash Bros. I have to have a little bit of fun.

Here are – in no real order – ten things I hope to see in Super Smash Bros’ outing on the Nintendo Switch. I may make a list of my most wanted characters at some point. But for now, here’s ten different ‘things.’ Some are things I’d like to see added, others are things I’d like subtracted. Either way… All aboard the hype train! Toot toot! Continue reading

Nintendo Switch: One Year Later

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the release of the Nintendo Switch. Geez, time sure does fly, doesn’t it?

And what a year it was. I’d say it was the best first year that any video game console has ever had! Switch launched with what is probably the best Zelda ever, and probably the second best launch game ever (sorry Link, but Super Mario World was a thing that happened). After that, it just kept coming with major releases: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Skyrim, Splatoon 2, ARMs, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Bayonetta 2, Pokken Tournament Deluxe, and the sublime Super Mario Odyssey.

Sure, some people like to point out that a number of those games are re-releases (as if that’s some kind of sin), but the fact of the matter is that’s a lot of big releases; and besides, the ones that were ports tended to be enhanced versions of their respective games (Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U was already the best Mario Kart, but the Deluxe edition made it one of the best Nintendo games ever). And let’s not forget the many indie games both new and old that have made residence on Nintendo’s hybrid system.

This has all helped the Nintendo Switch become a great success story, which is all the sweeter for the Big N considering the commercial failure of (the secretly pretty-darn good) Wii U. Nintendo’s fortunes have seemingly turned a complete 180, akin to what happened between the GameCube and the original Wii.

Here’s hoping that the Switch’s second year proves to be a repeat of its first. As it is, it already ranks as one of Nintendo’s best consoles.

Happy birthday, you little console/handheld thing, you!

Celeste Review

An inspirational climb to greater heights.

January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.

Continue reading

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Platform

Before I go any further, I’d like to acknowledge that, somehow, I haven’t given out an award for best platform in previous years. While I hope that, maybe someday, I can give some kind of retrospective of what I believe to be the best video game platforms throughout the years of my life, for now, let’s just retroactively award Best Platform for the previous years that Wizard Dojo has existed.

2014 Best Platform: Wii U: Yes, the Wii U. Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Smash Bros. and DKC: Tropical Freeze in the same year? 2014 was the year to be a Wii U owner.

2015 Best Platform: Playstation 4: Bloodborne alone was probably reason enough to ascend the PS4 to the top of the mountain in 2015, but it also featured other high profile greats as well.

2016 Best Platform: Playstation 4: Overwatch and Dark Souls 3 may have also been available on other platforms, but PS4 also had Uncharted 4. So it gets the edge.

Now with that out of the way, let’s get to 2017. In such a landmark year for video games, it seemed like just about every platform was a viable contender to be the best of the year. But, of course, I have to pick one.

 

Winner: Nintendo Switch

Has any video game console had as stellar of a first year as the Nintendo Switch? Right out the gate, it boasted what is probably the best Legend of Zelda game, and it quickly followed suit with other greats like ARMS and Splatoon 2, as well as a re-release of the exceptional Mario Kart 8, and the surprise of the year in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, before wrapping up the year with the phenomenal Super Mario Odyssey. To believe some people still try to use the whole Switch has no games “argument.” Seriously, when was the last time a console fired on all cylinders throughout its first year in the way the Switch did in 2017? Fingers crossed that the Switch’s sophomore year can replicate at least some of this consistency.

 

Runner-up: SNES Classic Edition

Runner-up: Playstation 4

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the glue that holds a game together. No matter how good a game’s story might be, no matter how much content a game tries to cram in, if the gameplay isn’t engaging, it’s all for naught. As such, naming the best gameplay of any given year is kind of a big deal.

There were certainly no shortage of fantastic games in 2017, but in the end, one had to be more fun to play than the rest.

 

Winner: Super Mario Odyssey

Come on! How could it not be Mario? Sure, there have been other series that have matched Mario’s playability on occasion (some more frequently than others), but there’s not been another series that has so consistently mastered the fine art of gameplay quite like Super Mario, and Odyssey is arguably the most fun entry in the series.

You can possess a T-rex for crying out loud! A freaking T-rex!

It’s not just that, though. Super Mario Odyssey reaches the heights it does because it has so many ideas constantly at play, end executes them so excellently. The aforementioned T-rex is just one of many creatures and objects Mario can “capture,” each one bringing with them their own gameplay. Then we have Mario himself, whose moves have never been so versatile, and possibly never so fluid to perform.

Super Mario Odyssey was largely touted as the spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine as a new “sandbox” entry in the series, and while that’s true to an extent, its design and gameplay feel just as influenced by Super Mario World and the Galaxy titles which – with all due respect to 64 and Sunshine – were on another level gameplay-wise.

Every kingdom of Odyssey is filled with countless things to do, and every last one of them are fun. Sandbox? No no no, Super Mario Odyssey is a toybox; giving you all the tools you need for the ultimate playtime.

Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Runner-up: Persona 5