We have been playing a lot of the new Donkey Kong lately and both of us are loving every minute of it. There aren’t a lot of couch co-op games anymore so it’s always nice to find one that we can both enjoy. Here are some of my thoughts about the game:
The Good Stuff
The overall presentation is fantastic. Everything from the theme, the visuals, and the music is just top-notch. The frigid viking animals that show up to cause trouble are immensely more interesting than the little totem people in Donkey Kong Country Returns. I would like to see the return of the Kremlings and K. Rool but these guys are more than welcome for now. As I mentioned before, the music is just fantastic and easily one of my favorite parts. There is a nice mix of the classic DKC stuff along with some new pieces.
The gameplay is immediately familiar to anybody who has played the classic DKC games or Returns. You can roll to gain speed and take out baddies, jump on their heads, grab vines and barrels, and ground-pound. They seem to have gotten rid of the blowing mechanic from Returns but honestly I doubt anybody will miss it. You can also play the game completely waggle free with the gamepad or Wii U Pro controller. The forced waggle of the previous game was a major detraction. They also seemed to add back deeper water levels and mechanics, including a breath meter and and some new aquatic moves.
You now get some new partner options other than just Diddy Kong. Trixie Kong returns with her crazy useful hair. The mechanics of it have changed since the original games, however. Rather than acting as some kind of helicopter hover she instead twirls her hair around to add extra height to your jump. It kind of acts like a double jump or added boost to your jump. When underwater she spins her hair like a propeller which allows you to move faster with some steadier control, along with also helping you speed through water currents to find secret areas. Cranky Kong makes his gameplay debut and he is incredibly awesome. He is pretty much a straight up Scrooge McDuck ripoff and can use his cane to bounce around and on hazards which allows for some easier level traversal in some spots and access to some secrets only he can get to. Underwater he can whack enemies with his cane and he seems to be the only character who is able to KO sharks.
The cray minecart levels are back with a vengeance. They seem to be crazier than ever and show off new camera angles along with some new mechanics like horizontal track switching and even some log-ride levels that allow you to dive under water. The levels are fun, fast, and intense and I constantly feel propelled back to my childhood when Keen and I would wake up early before school and try to get past the latest cart level we were stuck on. The rocket barrel levels from Returns are also back and we seemed to have made the same mistake as last time in assuming you had to tap the button to gain altitude rather than hold it. It made for some incredibly difficult first attempts but they were also hilarious.
The world bosses are great and inventive along with also being incredibly long and difficult at times. This might turn off a lot of people but personally I love it. I was always a little bummed out by some of the bosses in these kinds of games (DKC, Mario, Etc) where they basically end after the third jump on the head and after maybe a minute of play. However these fights seem to be have several different phases and changing mechanics. It’s really great stuff.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
For some reason they decided to force first player to always be Donkey Kong. AGAIN. I can understand how it might be important that at least ONE person plays him but I see no reason why we can’t switch on the fly or even between levels. In the same vein as this, it’s also rather annoying that the second player is stuck playing as one of the three side characters without the ability to switch them out. In single-player you will find specifc DK, TK, and CK barrels that contain the extra characters but in co-op you have to choose and that is the only one you encounter. Some of the levels are totally designed for some of these side characters and it’s really annoying to go into one, find out that you are almost useless, and then have to quit out to the main menu to change characters. Maybe somebody knows a way to change this that we don’t and if you do I would love to hear it.
The co-op is fun an hectic but there are several sections where it seems you pretty much have to leave the action to one player. For example, on minecart levels you only get one cart. Both players still have to duck to avoid obstacles and both players can make the cart jump but unless you delegate that action to one person you are just going to screw yourself over. There are also parts in some levels that require you to jump on enemies to proceed or on falling platforms. It may be doable but it is also incredibly difficult to time your jumps so you both pounce on the same enemy at the same time and use the same amount of height to hit the NEXT enemy, etc. Usually Keen just has his character jump on my back at these parts and I just feel bad that we both can’t play through these sections. I suppose it does make it feel like the classic games that did lack simultaneous co-op but at least in those games you could tag out and let the other player take the lead.
We both really love the game even if there are a few quirks that annoy us. Tropical Freeze is fun, fast, difficult and often hilarious in unexpected ways. Both of us hope that DK keeps coming around, and we actually thought it would be pretty awesome if they made an open world DK collectathon again. Not everybody liked DK64 but I loved it and it would be awesome if Retro Studios made an attempt at it. After the next Metroid Prime, that is. Hint hint.