As we see the release of yet another Wii U title on the Nintendo Switch, it’s easy to just dismiss this version of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as just another port, despite it being a very good game. On the surface, this is the same great game from four years ago, but under the hood, we simply cannot ignore the stellar work that has accomplished with this port.
Comparing the performance on both systems, it seems that the Switch version has definitely seen significant upgrades, including very stable 60fps on both handheld and docked modes. It’s not quite a bananas to bananas comparison, but previous Donkey Kong Country port have often had to butt up against the limitations of the hardware they were heading to, with Donkey Kong Country Returns dropping to 30fps on 3DS from the 60fps on Wii. As such, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is much better suited to Switch and outperforms the original for a stable frame rate.
As for the visual output itself, while the handheld mode has a resolution lower than 720p – 1152×648 according to Digital Foundry – it still looks great thanks to the quality animation. The docked mode however displays at 1080p, a big jump from the 720p the Wii U could handle, and it looks fantastic. That said, the Wii U version of the game still holds up very well, with the art style doing a lot to overcome the console’s limitations.
This makes Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze’s use of lighting and its mid-level cutscenes really stand out. It may not be the most technically stunning game out there, but as far as 2D platformers are concerned, it goes the extra mile to include brilliant animation throughout.
But where Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Switch really excels compared to the original is in its loading times. They’re often significantly shorter in both docked and handheld modes compared to the original, though it’s worth noting that loading from the Wii U version’s disc may have been the cause for much of these loading times, even with some clever pre-loading tech. It’s a significant factor as this was one of the main criticisms our reviewer at the time had.
Another problem that was mentioned in our original review was the game’s difficulty, and I have to admit to running into a few issues when replaying it. That said, Nintendo have included “Funky Mode”, which allows players to control Funky Kong – the surfer Kong that makes the game perhaps a bit too easy. He has more health, can breathe underwater, and uses his surfboard to make a mockery out of spikes.
Even playing a level or two with him for this comparison, I felt somewhat dirty. However, the main purpose is to make a game that’s notoriously difficult more accessible to younger audiences, and Funky Kong absolutely ticks that box. You still get the platforming challenge and bottomless pits could still prove a nuisance, but it does so without compromising the rest of the game for those just looking for the original experience.
Some would dismiss this as yet another Wii U port to take advantage of that console’s catalogue and make a few quick bucks – taking the budget Nintendo Selects version off the Wii U eShop doesn’t help that feeling – but that’s overlooking that this is genuinely an upgrade in every sense. Once again, it’s important to remember that many of the 17 million Switch owners out there didn’t buy a Wii U and for them this will be the first time they can experience this great game.
Nintendo are once again demonstrating that the Switch’s library is only enriched by the inclusion of their previous console’s games, and that it wasn’t the games themselves that were the death knell for the Wii U. By improving the game as much as Retro Studios have done, the Switch version makes a great game an even more appealing prospect by addressing many of the issues of the original. My only hope is the next Donkey Kong Country title will feature the return of K.Rool!