Nintendo’s games of the decade: Donkey Kong Country Returns & Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country Returns & Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze David Wise would be 'delighted' to compose for another Donkey Kong

Today is the final day of the 2010s, an excellent chance for some reflection on the media we enjoyed the most over the decade. Nintendo has had a very strong 10 years with tons of games worth spotlighting. We have already focused on some of the greatest of the great, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. However, that work is nowhere near done — so, so many future classics came out over the last several years, including an excellent 2D platforming revival in Donkey Kong Country Returns and its sequel, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

At the beginning of the decade, the Donkey Kong Country franchise had been missing in action for nearly 15 years. At E3 2010, its fortune reversed when Nintendo pulled the curtain back on Retro Studios’ newest project. Before we knew it, Donkey Kong Country was right back in our lives with the aptly titled Donkey Kong Kong Country Returns, one of the Wii’s last great games with its late 2010 release. Boy, did it deliver everything fans had hoped for. Despite its absence from the two preceding console generations, the series was back, beating its chest and boasting incredible quality without missing a beat.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a fantastic platformer, and its follow-up in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is even better. Thanks to each of these games’ well-deserved success, the 25-year-old series exits the decade carrying more accolades and thousands more dedicated fans than when it entered. Together, these new titles brought back the challenging levels, groovy music, and infectious personality we had sorely missed, expertly recapturing the tightness, style, and swagger that made the earlier games in the series so good.

The new Donkey Kong Country games continued past series tradition by demanding skillful platforming from players through tough level design and loads of hidden secrets and challenges. The wide array of levels are incredible to explore and learn, from the haphazard, breakneck pace of mine cart levels to a few particularly contentious boss fights, or to those tense last few jumps of any of the many missions that just take so many lives to beat. Who could forget running rampant as Rambi or constantly cheating death in barrel rocket levels? Colorful, eye-popping environments and beautiful musical arrangements like Tropical Freeze’s “Windmill Hills” are the cherries on top of these overpowering doses of platforming perfection. 

Tropical Freeze deserves further, distinct praise for how much it perfected what Returns brought forward. The HD levels shone bright, the music was even better, and the level design, taking advantage of features like new characters, was polished until it was immaculate. While neither of these platformers are all too likely to be anyone’s Nintendo game of the decade, they are both absolutely wondrous titles that belong toward the top of any list, and Tropical Freeze is a viable contender for Nintendo’s best 2D platformer ever (though I contend that Donkey Kong Country 2 is better). They are two of several very high-quality games resting in the upper echelons of Nintendo’s 2010s catalog.

While it would have been nice to see Retro round out a trilogy before moving on from simian sidescrollers, two new excellent entries this decade is still something to celebrate. Thanks to later ports, the new titles ultimately appeared across the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, and Switch this decade — something that almost nobody could have earnestly predicted when that 15-year hiatus reached its darkest moments just before E3 2010. Even though Tropical Freeze is five years old at this point, the series still benefits from its momentum and can hopefully carry it into the 2020s with new Donkey Kong Country adventures, crafted by Retro Studios or someone else entirely.

Nick Pearson
I'm the Reviews Editor here at Nintendo Enthusiast, and I'm a major fan of all consoles and eras.