When a Nintendo Switch port of 2014's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was announced early this year, I was glad to learn the world would get another chance to experience one of the previous console generation's best 2D platforming games. When the reveal also unveiled the new "Funky Kong Mode" seemingly engineered for beginners, I thought "Oh, that's nice," and dismissed it as an Easy Mode option for very small kids.
After getting in some sweet hang time with Donkey Kong's surfer pal, however, I'm no longer dismissive of Funky Kong and his bag of tricks. While Funky's presence is indeed a big help for anyone who wants an easier time with what's ultimately still a difficult platformer, the hip '90s ape also moves to a rhythm that helps make ploughing through the game even more fun in 2018 than it was in 2014.
Funky Kong makes Tropical Freeze easy-going, but not necessarily easy. It's a nice balance if you're used to, say, the more laid-back challenge of a modern 2D Mario game.
The main reason Funky Kong is accessible is because he carries all the power of his Kong brethren in his far-out surfboard and in his big, muscly bro-arms. He's got the heft of Donkey Kong, the hovering capabilities of Diddy and Dixie Kong (though he loses horizontal momentum quickly), and the same double-jump and immunity to spikes as Cranky Kong. All Funky's talents are on-call whenever you need them: There's no need to stress out about breaking open specific Kong barrels, nor will you curse the day your mother was born every time you lose your partner-Kong outside of a two-player game. Funky even comes with an extra heart (he loves you that much) and he can breathe underwater indefinitely.
So that means the game plays itself, right? Nah. Funky Kong is no Golden Tanooki suit. I still found plenty of opportunities to cark it as Funky Kong, especially on levels where extra health is no substitute for good reflexes. Hello, mine cart levels. What's with Donkey Kong Country and mine cart levels? I'm beginning to believe if there's a Hell in the DK universe, it must involve a rickety mine cart ride that never ends.
Other things to keep in mind when you're playing as Funky McMonkey: You still need to move quickly when riding ziplines and grasping moving targets. Also, the momentum of all the Kongs' rolls doesn't work the same way as it does in the 16-bit games. That's valuable to keep in mind if you've committed one billion hours of Donkey Kong Country 2 to muscle-memory like certain game writers who will remain unnamed.
Another nice thing about playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze in Funky Kong mode is how the chiller (ha!) atmosphere gives you a chance to gain new appreciation for the game's graphics. Tropical Freeze's lush greens and freezing blues look lovely on the Switch's handheld mode, as well as in docked mode. But I missed a lot of personable touches the first time around, like how the penguin audience for the first boss' makeshift circus show sits in repurposed airplane seats that are lashed to tree boughs. Yes, Funky Kong effectively opened my eyes. I once was blind, but now I see.
(Quick digression: I'm over my earlier question about mine carts. What I really want to know is, why there are so many crashed airplanes on the game's opening world, Shipwreck Island? Why aren't there any bodies? Why—)
There comes a point in every Switch user's life—several points, actually—when they ask themselves "I had this on the Wii U. Do I need it on the Switch, too?" That's a "Yes" for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the same reason most good Wii U titles are worth re-buying on the Switch. Namely, Tropical Freeze is a great game that's only improved by its new portability option. But making Funky's acquaintance turned out to be a pleasant surprise I wasn't anticipating. The Bodacious Beast isn't necessarily in Tropical Freeze to hold your hand. He's there in case you want to re-experience a top-tier platformer at a challenge level slightly below "teeth-gnashing." Funky Kong is cool. You're cool. Tropical Freeze is cool. We're all cool.