Achievement Unlocked – Tropical Freedom

Recently it has been discovered that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has an achievement system buried inside the game, something that was never implemented in the final release. The Cutting Room Floor dived into the game’s coding and retrieved this list of achievements from a file relating to the Miiverse. As someone who has played this game to death I found this very interesting, and I’ve done pretty much all of those on my own. However, I’m writing this article to emphasise how glad I am they were removed. I’ve spent 120 hours on this masterpiece so far and I never expected that coming in, but the game continually impresses and engages me with new layers of depth. Would I have embraced the game’s design so much if there was an anti-fun tracker hovering over the screen? Probably not.

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The strongest ingredient in Tropical Freeze is the level design, and I said this in a billion different ways in my review last year. It is still the most impressively designed game I have ever played, period. I’m still impressed with how complex each level is and how much depth there is not in the backgrounds, but the gameplay itself. Since that review I’ve started tackling the Time Attack leaderboards and got most of the Gold Medals just because it’s so much fun. I’m nowhere near the top players in the world, but I’m satisfied simply by learning new routes in my favourite levels. I’ve also beaten Normal Mode in one sitting multiple times. There are so many different ways to play this game that every player is going to find something to do, but not every player is going to want to do everything. It sounds like I’m talking about an open world game right? Just a brilliantly designed platformer. For people who like exploring at their own pace, getting all the puzzle pieces will have you finding not just new nooks and crannies, but new ways to interact with the levels and tear them apart. After 3 Metroid Prime games, Retro Studios are pretty good at hiding things.

Before my dong expands from praising this game too much, let’s get back to the idea of achievements. For me the idea of having a billion medals dangling in front of my face stops it from being an exploration of the mind, and I start to feel like all these things have already happened. With a laundry list of things to do, it stops being a fun game I play to unwind. For a game as perfectly designed as Tropical Freeze, it does not need this. Want something to do? Play through Normal. Then play Hard. Then have a crack at Time Attack on your favourite levels. Maybe try and beat Normal in one sitting. Find the secrets. Figure out new ways to play levels like rolling under platforms or using a different Kong. There is SO MUCH natural curiosity in this game that achievements would rob players of the “wow!” feeling when they DISCOVER the challenges purposefully put into the game. This has been a key ingredient in the Tropical Punch I have returned to sip so many times. I do not need sugar added when it’s already inside the fruit.

One other reason is a problem I have with a few Wii U games. When games have Miiverse achievements it usually floods the whole community and puts a roadblock on discussion. Have a look at the Hyrule Warriors community for a perfect example of this, half the posts are just people mindlessly posting medals with the scripted line. Sure that is one way to use Miiverse and something we couldn’t previously do before, but I feel the Miiverse can be much more than that when people are engaging each other, asking questions and being creative. I also hate stamps because people just switch their brains off and spam them. I’m not saying everyone needs to be an artist or offer words of wisdom, but I would rather see an actual person’s post rather than spam.

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As it stands I think the game already does a good enough job tracking progress, here’s my 500% cleared World 1 with Normal + Hard + Blue KONG + Puzzle Pieces and Gold Medals all obtained and highlighted. If you look closely you’ll see I have a Shiny Gold on the boss fight which is an even better, hidden time. Will I go after all the Shiny Golds now? I’d like to say NO, but I said I wouldn’t Time Attack the game to begin with and welp. It happened. Not because the game dangled a carrot in my face, but simply from wanting to play the game every time I sat down. I am certainly not done with it.

This is just my own reaction to achievements, I know everybody is different. Some people need a list of things to do. Some people buy shitty Xbox games for the sole purpose of collecting Gamer Points, but do they really play games for the right reason? Is there a right reason? I’d like to hear what you guys think. At the end of the day they don’t change the gameplay, but I feel the structure and presentation of a game is something to consider as a potential way of alienating and overwhelming players. I’m glad Retro Studios and Nintendo made the right call with Tropical Freeze.

2 thoughts on “Achievement Unlocked – Tropical Freedom”

  1. Well said. Achievements are one of the “psychological predator” kinds of game design. It takes focus away from the game itself, and replaces it with some psychological need to complete as much of a list as possible. If a game has to manipulate you to get you to play it, then the game is weak. Like you said, truly well designed game is explored with genuine interest and curiosity.

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  2. I tend not to like achievements/trophies. Mostly because they contribute nothing to the actual game. Xenoblade handled them pretty well I thought as they gave you XP/Money for doing them. Also Batman: Arkham City gave you in-game rewards (mostly XP but still nice) with various achievements as well. Unfortunately those games are very much the exception.

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