#1 is another 2D platformer like Shovel Knight but instead of modernizing classic gameplay; the developers went with elevating 2D platforming to one of the most challenging games released this year. All the more impressive considering that this is a Wii-U title.
DKC Tropical Freeze by Retro Studios marks the third Donkey Kong Country game from the studio in the last few years. Nintendo has always been protective of their brands and it takes a lot for them to give the reigns to a different studio and Retro has definitely earned their keep here.
Like Shovel Knight, looking at why Tropical Freeze is such a great game is hard as 2D platformers are all about the gameplay and aren’t exactly the best for screenshot analysis. The level design present here is one of the finest examples of the genre with every level featuring challenging varied gameplay.
Even though Tropical Freeze definitely draws from older DKC titles, the unique touches that Retro adds makes it all their own. Unlike Super Mario 3D World which saved the hard stuff for the end, Tropical Freeze is demanding from the very start. Bonus items and rewards are always set up in the hardest places with the world map teasing hidden areas for you to discover.
Similar to Super Meat Boy, the challenge is figuring out the optimal path through each level and given your limited number of hit points can be difficult. To compensate, an expanded item shop has been added to give you extra lives, avoiding pit deaths and more. The game is so generous with lives that they become a non issue by the time you reach the end of the game.
But the big question is why it is #1 for me in 2014 when we compare it to other titles released. Tropical Freeze isn’t a brand new experience like This War of Mine or full of replayability like Dungeon of the Endless or even tell a great story like Blackwell Epiphany.
Instead, it is #1 by the fact that it is one of the best platformers I’ve played in a long time and the closest another game company has gotten to matching Nintendo’s level design. Each stage of Tropical Freeze features unique challenges tailored to the world and the variety of obstacles that they were able to implement while keeping things consistent is impressive.
Your move set is kept very basic through the game and the developers used that foundation to create some of the most varied levels I’ve seen from the genre. While each world does hold to a theme, the details of their challenges gives them a sense of personality that is usually reserved for the quality of Nintendo’s games.
Like with Nintendo and the Mario games, Retro Studios also has expert challenges hidden with them becoming available if you can beat the game. These special levels are some of the hardest in the game and will test anyone’s platforming ability. Each level is essentially a master level course with no checkpoints and requires the player to have mastered the game in order to stand a chance. And then there are the little touches like the animations of the Kongs, boss fights, music that fits the levels while paying homage to the classic games and more.
If you’re looking for a lesson on good 2D level design, DKC Tropical Freeze is an excellent example and one that definitely deserves more praise than it has gotten so far. And the degree of craftsmanship is what earns it the top spot for me this year. Very few developers are able to get close to that “Nintendo quality” of design and for Retro to nail it so much is amazing.
And with that, my top ten list for 2014 is finally done. 2015 is looking to be an interesting year as a lot of the kickstarted and early access games I’ve played are planning to be released and I can’t wait to see how they do and where they will place for 2015’s list.