Last week I had a chance to play several of the E3 lineup of games for the WiiU during a private press event at the Nintendo World Store here in New York City, where I also imbibed on free booze and flirted with half of the company’s marketing team. I was excited to jump into whatever landed in my hands first; I was actually hoping for some Mario Kart action (and Katie’s phone number) except it was sadly MIA, but I got my paws on the two standouts: Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Surprisingly, the game that sounds like a refreshing frozen beverage at an overpriced beach resort was the star of the show. People crowded around to play the new Kong quest, and as someone who didn’t play Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii my interest was piqued.
Looking back, the Donkey Kong Country series is a divisive one among Nintendo’s base, praised for its visual style and often panned for its mechanics. In spite of the love-hate dynamic it’s one of the most successful franchises in the company’s stable, backed by solid developers every step of the way. The trend continues with Tropical Freeze, with Retro Studios developing again for the series.
The 10-minute demo had many familiar elements: banana collecting, K-O-N-G spelling, balloon popping, rolling around and teaming up with Diddy Kong. The core elements are in place and very much refined, and Retro has clearly thrown in a lot of polish and dimension to take advantage of Nintendo’s first foray into 1080p. For example, when popping in and out of barrel courses, the level changes perspective and eventually shoots you out into a new direction. Enemies can be thrown into targets to reveal background pick-ups that are otherwise unreachable, and the swimming mechanic creates hilarious yet gorgeous 3D effects.
As is the case with the SNES entries, the music is outstanding. That could be because the composer for those old games, David Wise, has come back to score the whole shebang. Donkey Kong himself sounds a little different, and some of those classic sound effects never surfaced, but like most memorable side-scrollers, the music takes center stage on the audio line.
A neat addition to the platforming element is Diddy Kong’s latch-on jetpack boost, which helps the duo cross longer gaps and get out of the occasional overwhelming attack. Also returning to the series is Dixie Kong, who can take Diddy’s place, with her hair-whipping skills that make Will Smith’s daughter jealous.
Story isn’t that big of a deal, but the enemies are a band of invading ‘viking’ land and sea creatures such as penguins, sea lions and walruses. The Kong Klan has to reclaim Donkey Kong Island from those entitled assholes. That’s about all we know.
Most importantly, Tropical Freeze serves as a testament to the WiiU’s potential prowess — coming off of a terrible launch, Nintendo has to push out its strongest franchises now in order to cover lost ground. While Mario and Link have traditionally been tasked with that mission, it looks like DK will be waving his banana at the world in order to attract sales this holiday.