Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Low-Vision Accessibility
It’s a good platformer to be sure, but there are too many things that make it inaccessible for low vision players. It’s got a great assist mode for inexperienced players, but nothing helps in addressing the problems of excessive clutter.
Score6.4 out of 10
Originally released on the Wii U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze has received excellent reviews. The Switch version introduces a new “Funky Mode” that adds in several exciting assist features to allow more folks to play the game. But does that include visually impaired players?
About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eye strain if I have to focus too precisely for too long.
Visual Characteristics 2/10
(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)
I’ll start out by saying something nice. The lighting is wonderful and bright. The color palette is fun and helps give the environment character.
Beyond that, though, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze has numerous problems for visually impaired players. Tracking is really difficult, and clutter is absolutely everywhere. There aren’t really any helpful features to keep track of your character. The paths are often a similar shade of tan to the characters you control. The background is illustrated in stunning detail, but that detail makes it egregiously difficult to tell what is in the background and what is in the foreground.
The game is really creative in what it uses as platforms. Gone are the floating blocks and ledges found in Mario, instead replaced by platforms that make sense. Fitting with the jungle theme, Donkey Kong can jump on trees, leaves, windmills, and grass huts. The art is beautiful, but it comes with a severe trade-off that with so much context, it’s extremely difficult to understand what is and is not a platform in time to react.
To fix this, there really would need to be a comprehensive solution because the (still amazing) art style is so problematic. The background should be able to be muted or turned off — just like we see in the game Eagle Island. Platforms also would need to have highlighted outlines to make it clear what they are.
Accessibility Features 4/10
You can change the volume of the music and special effects independently. You can also choose between a couple of controller presets and turn on or off motion controls if you’re playing with joy-cons. There is an assist mode that I’ll talk about in the next section, and you can also play with two players so that someone else can help you.
The two-player mode has a good way of combating the problem of players getting too far apart and causing the screen to zoom out. If one player falls behind, they will warp to the other player in a few seconds. This could be a good feature to allow one player to play as the primary player, and another player to play for only those specific sections. It’s also great for parents who might want to play with their kids but know they might need to get up and answer a phone call. This way, your kid won’t have to restart when you leave.
Assist Modes 9.5/10
The assist mode in Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is called Funky Mode. Offered at the beginning of the game, players can either choose Funky Kong or Donkey Kong. When playing as Funky Kong, you can walk on spikes, receive an additional jump in midair, and can even slow your falls by holding the jump button. Funky can breathe underwater and roll infinitely, and rolling kills most enemies. He also gets five hearts. If you’re playing as Donkey Kong, but still in Funky Mode, you get three hearts.
Something that’s really nice about assist mode is that you can play as Funky Kong on any level and regularly switch to other characters with no indicator of if you played the level with Funky Kong or with Donkey Kong.
It’s a bit confusing but overall effective. You can’t switch between Funky Mode and Classic Mode, but within Funky Mode, you can choose if you want Donkey Kong (medium difficulty) or Funky Kong (low difficulty. In Classic Mode, Donkey Kong gets only two hearts compared to his three hearts in Funky Mode.
Additionally, in Funky Mode, items cost less, and some have more power. You can choose items even while in the middle of a level, and you can have more items at one time, compared to the standard mode. Some collectibles normally have to be collected as a set for them to save, but in Funky Mode, you can collect partial sets, meaning you can go back and pick the rest up later.
The only suggestions that could make the assist mode better, in my opinion, would be to allow players to individually select which assists are utilized instead of having the fairly confusing system as it is. Another small gripe is that if you want to play with a second player, you cannot both be Funky Kong. The other characters have one of Funky’s powers, but only he has all of them.
If all else fails and you die too many times on a level, the next level will automatically unlock. However, it does take about 7 deaths.
Non Visual Cues 5/10
Sound effects and haptic feedback are used well in Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, but like most games, they are only used to tell you what is already happening instead of warning you about upcoming hazards. However, if you’re playing as Funky Kong, the haptic feedback will help you figure out that you are standing on spikes.
Funky Kong is immune to the spikes, but he can only jump on them, not walk. Regardless of the character that you’re using, the haptic feedback helps to indicate when you’re standing on disappearing or bouncy platforms.
Decent Fonts 9/10
The fonts are all in bold sans-serif, as is typical with Nintendo. The title fonts are slightly stylized to look jungle-themed, but it’s not distracting and doesn’t impede readability. The fonts on the navigational instructions could be larger, but it’s not much of a problem because the navigation is pretty stand “B for Back” “A for Select” type stuff.
Necessity of Text 9/10
(The higher the rating, the less necessary the text is)
As this is a platformer, there’s very little reading necessary. It’s only menus and control instructions where reading is necessary. The menus are very friendly, especially if you use the built-in zoom feature on the Switch. The in-game hints to remind you of the controls are helpful, but the controls can also be memorized pretty easily, and there are helpful control keys in the menu that you can use the zoom function on to help you memorize the controls.
Handheld Play 8/10
There is no difference in handheld mode than docked mode, aside from the lower resolution of handheld mode, which takes more of a toll given how detailed the scenery is. Objects may look fuzzier than normal because the graphics are trying to show greater detail in a smaller number of pixels. Simpler platformers don’t try to give that much detail, so they end up looking cleaner.
Level of Precision Required 7/10
The precision required of you in Funky Mode is probably manageable for most players. The precision isn’t really the problem. The main problem is that it’s hard to recognize objects on screen but I wouldn’t exactly call that precision.
Hit boxes are not too tiny, but they also aren’t the most generous things in the world. With the addition of Funky Mode in Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, I think the precision required is fair.
Controls and Depth Perception 4/10
Controlling Donkey Kong feels excellent. It’s easy to judge how far he will travel with only a little experimentation. Funky Kong controls the same, except for that his fall can be slowed down by holding the jump button. You can control the forward momentum of the jump going into the jump, but you have very little lateral control of the fall when you’re falling slowly.
This can make platforming confusing, particularly with moving platforms. It’s easy to hold the jump button too long and miss a platform. It makes Funky Kong take time to learn, even though he’s supposed to be the easier character, which is why it would be really nice to be able to individually select the assists you’d like to use.
I’m also docking points in the depth perception category because the extreme clutter and lack of clarity around what is a platform means that it’s really hard to figure out how far you need to go to land on said platform.
Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment
I wouldn’t recommend Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze for anyone with any worse than 20/200. I absolutely would not recommend this game to someone who has recently lost vision given how difficult it is to recognize varying objects. To get the full experience of the game without excessive frustration,
I would probably guess you’d need somewhere in the 20/80 range. I can’t tell you specifically what level of vision you need to be able to play confidently because I certainly don’t have it.
Overall, I do not recommend this game. It’s a good platformer to be sure, but there are too many things that make it inaccessible for low vision players. It’s got a great assist mode for inexperienced players, but nothing helps in addressing the problems of excessive clutter. If you want a platformer, go with Mario.