Critique of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Women as Reward” videos

After a long absence, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency is back with another critique of the video game industry’s treatment of female characters, this time with her video “Women as Reward.” This is her longest video yet, and is supplemented by a second video, “Women as Reward – Special DLC Mini-Episode.”

In these videos, she’s critical of the way video games use women to reward players, both during the game and at the conclusion. Women’s bodies and sexuality are the rewards for a quest completed. Sarkeesian’s describes the videos this way:

This episode explores the numerous ways in which the Women as Reward trope manifests in video games. The trope occurs when women or women’s bodies are employed as rewards for player actions, a pattern which frames female bodies and sexuality as collectible or consumable and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. We then discuss how this trope both reflects and reinforces the pervasive, socially constructed mentality of male entitlement that operates in the background of our culture. [YouTube description of “Women as Reward”]

In the shorter, second video, Sarkeesian is critical of the way alternative, sexualized costumes can be purchased for female characters in the form of DLC (downloadable content).

While I agree with Sarkeesian more than usual in these two videos, her ideas aren’t free from criticism (something other bloggers seem to be forgetting).

If you want to watch her videos before reading on, here they are. I’ll see you in 42 minutes.

Areas of agreement

Sarkeesian describes many ways women’s bodies and sexuality are offered up as rewards for players: through unlockable (or purchasable) sexy costumes, through Easter eggs that reward players with sexual content, or as in-game mechanisms for rewarding a player after completing a mission, such as freed women who then seduce and sleep with male protagonists.

This trope has some overlap with Sarkeesian’s previous ideas about women as damsels in distress. She distinguishes between the two tropes:

While the Damsel in Distress trope uses women as a plot device to motivate male heroes, the Women as Reward trope presents women as a formalized reward mechanism, meaning that the reward is coded into the game system itself. The result of this incentive structure is that access to women’s bodies, women’s affection or women’s sexuality is reduced to a simple equation that guarantees delivery as long as the correct set of inputs are entered into the system.

Personally, I don’t play many mature games, and the ones I do play tend to be mature because of violence and war themes, not sexual content. I’m not interested in sleeping with digital women, not because I see that as sexist, but it feels inauthentic to pursue “fake” relationships in place of real relationships.

I don’t care to unlock or download sexualized costumes for female characters, such as the numerous bikini costumes in games like Dead or Alive. But I also don’t like to download non-sexualized, even silly, alternate costumes either. I think game designers use costumes to inform our interpretation of a character’s background, history, and motivations: reskinning a character creates a mental stumbling block for me between what I see on the screen and who I “know” the character to “be.”

For example, Tina from Dead or Alive 5 wears some revealing outfits, no doubt about it. However, she has a history, in-game, of being a professional wrestler. If you’ve ever watched any professional wrestling, you know that the “divas” tend to wear very little clothing. And yet, so do the men (some of my favorite wrestlers like The Rock and Stone Cold wear black underwear and boots; pretty standard). Wrestling is, in part, a celebration of athletic bodies, and baggy, loose clothes can get in the way of the sport.

Thus, a costume like this seems appropriate for Tina’s character:

Tina from Dead or Alive 5, wearing American flag bra.

But a costume like this, one of the DLC “showstopper” costumes, seems inappropriate given her character:

Tina from Dead or Alive 5 wearing sheer sexy costume.

This isn’t to say that I think sexual content should be eliminated from a game. I think if a compelling, in-game reason for it exists, then I’m fine with it. The same goes, by the way, for violence. But sex for the sake of titillation, for rewarding the player? I can do without it.

“Presumed straight male players”

Sarkeesian’s argument—in all her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games videos—is that these video games are designed for male players:

The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable or as consumable, and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, women make up almost half of the video game playing audience. I can understand, a bit, this alienation women like Sarkeesian feel: I can’t think of too many games where men are the “dudes in distress”, where female players can have sex with male characters, or where men are sexualized in the same way women are.

Even if many of these games are made by men, and directed at boys and men, that doesn’t mean that all women are offended by sexualization of female characters. In fact, it seems like some women are actually empowered.

If you want myriad evidence, simply go to Google Images, Flickr, or other photo-sharing sites, type the name of your favorite sexualized female character (Lara Croft, Bayonetta, Chun-Li, Jill Valentine, etc., etc.,) followed by “cosplay” or “costume” and you’ll find hundreds, thousands of examples of women who dress up in the sexualized costumes that Sarkeesian and others condemn.

Go ahead and open a new tab right now. It’ll take you five seconds to find pictures like this:

Lara Croft cosplay

Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series; photo by menard_mickael

Bayonetta cosplay

Bayonetta from the Bayonetta series; photo by Vincent Milum Jr

Chun-Li cosplay

Chun-Li from the Street Fighter series; photo by Shelby Asistio

Kasume cosplay

Kasume from the Dead or Alive series; photo by Pikawil

Juliet Starling cosplay

Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw; photo by Pikawil

These kind of photos go on and on. I show these photos not to condemn or support the women who cosplay; it’s up to them if they want to dress like these characters, and it’s up to the reader to determine whether or not these costumes are acceptable.

My point, though, is that Sarkeesian’s “presumed straight male players” is itself a presumption. And it’s one that falls apart when a thinker engages with the wider context of video games, rather than focusing almost exclusively on what happens in a game (as Sarkeesian tends to do).

Sarkeesian’s critique doesn’t speak for all feminists, either. One line of feminist thinking says that women’s bodies should be liberated from the shackles of conformity. Some argue that woman don’t really have a freedom unless they use it.

Under this line of thinking, women who choose to dress in sexualized ways, women who choose to be proud of their bodies, women who choose to wear what they want—critics be damned—should be praised, respected, and honored. This is the philosophy behind the Free the Nipple campaign, which wants to destigmatize female toplessness (specifically, the prohibition against seeing a woman’s nipple, when all other parts of the breast are more commonly seen, such as cleavage, side boob, under boob, and so on).

I realize the example of cosplay is only anecdotal evidence; certainly not all women find sexualization of female characters liberating. However, we’re talking about a lot of anecdotes here. Tens of thousands of fans cosplay at the dozens of anime, sci-fi, fantasy, and video game conventions each year. Not every woman dresses in sexy costumes, but some do. The weight of that evidence piles up, countering Sarkeesian’s narrative that these games were explicitly designed for male players and nobody else.

Male entitlement

Why does it matter if women are seen as rewards? What is Sarkeesian really talking about in these videos?

Her argument boils down to male entitlement:

The Women as Reward trope helps foster a sense of entitlement where players are encouraged to view women as something they’ve earned the right to by virtue of their gaming actions, skills or accomplishments.

She goes onto say:

By presenting sex as an end goal of men’s interactions or relationships with women, these games frame sexual encounters as challenges to be overcome.

This is a common argument from feminists, that society teaches men that they are entitled to women’s bodies. Sarkeesian isn’t against all sexual activity in video games, though I’m not sure she’s ever presented an example of sex that she’s satisfied with (she hints that perhaps the same-sex relationships in the Mass Effect series are okay). She’s against a certain kind of sexual activity:

By presenting sex as a goal and then presenting players with an award for accomplishing that goal, these achievements function as a form of trophyism. Simply put, trophyism is the tendency for men to view women as objects to be collected and displayed as status symbols of their sexual prowess or virility.

She then provides several examples of how male entitlement manifests as real-world behaviors:

We see [male entitlement] manifest whenever a man orders a woman to show him her “tits,” or makes demands during an online game that a woman send him nude or sexual photos. We see it in real-world spaces whenever men catcall women on the street. We see it whenever a man gropes a woman at an event or convention. We see it whenever a man expects sex in return for buying a woman dinner. At its most serious, male entitlement is the mentality that serves as the foundation for the epidemics of date rape and sexual assault in our society.

By now, Sarkeesian knows that her rhetoric is often interpreted as hatred against all males. She’s quick to say that this mindset doesn’t affect every male, but rather:

Male entitlement operates in the background of our culture; it’s a socially constructed mentality that is so deeply ingrained that it’s often invisible, operating as an unquestioned base assumption.

And this is where I part company, that male entitlement is unquestioned in our society. Really? This is a common argument that often goes unchallenged. Presented simply, feminists say, “Men are taught that they are studs because of their sexual prowess, whereas women are shamed and called sluts.”

But I’m not sure how true this is. I was never raised by my family to believe that men were entitled to women’s bodies. My friends weren’t raised that way. The media that I consume–cartoons, anime, sci-fi and fantasy, comics, video games–usually show healthy romantic relationships, show men caring for women and women caring for men.

In college, I got involved with Christian groups and found that in these communities, sexual prowess is greatly frowned upon. Men feel guilty when they take advantage of women. Men strive to “keep each other accountable,” and encourage one another to treat women with respect.

Male entitlement is certainly NOT an unchallenged assumption, at least here in America. If we’re talking about certain parts of the Middle East or other developing countries, that’s a different story. In those countries, men take advantage of women. But the gender issues in those countries are too difficult to sort out in this post. Additionally, Sarkeesian usually confines her critique of gender roles to American society, so we’ll stick with that focus.

Sarkeesian persuades, rather than educates

What this all boils down to, in Sarkeesian’s mind, is education. She makes her videos to educate her audience—hopefully men and video game developers—that there are problems in society that need to be changed. She says:

The good news is that because male entitlement is a learned attitude, it can, through education and conscious effort, be unlearned. And game systems are capable of being part of that transformative process.

As somebody who works in higher education and has taught students for many years, including on the topic of video games, I wholeheartedly agree that education is power. And I believe that video games, even games that weren’t explicitly designed for this purpose, can be educational. In fact, I think you can learn more about life from something like the Legend of Zelda than you can from a dedicated educational game.

I don’t doubt Sarkeesian’s intentions, and I know she’s doing what she thinks is right. She examines these issues thoroughly and her videos have great production values.

However, as a whole, I’m not sure she’s actually educating people. She’s persuading them, and there’s a difference.

The persuader gathers evidence, selectively, and makes a case for why their idea or plan is better than a different idea or plan. Persuasion plays a major role in our democracy. As somebody who used to write opinion articles (and perhaps still does on this blog) and who teaches opinion writing to students, I’ll be the first to extol the virtues of persuasion.

The educator, on the other hand, selects evidence that’s relevant for the issue under discussion, but they select ALL relevant evidence, not evidence from one side. They present multiple sides to the student of culture.

The educator takes the time to examine an issue in-depth, and their job is to distill the wider discussion so that an audience can understand the contours of the issue.

But their job doesn’t stop there. The educator then shows students different paths they can walk down, and encourages them to look into the issue further.

Sarkeesian is not educating us about how men should treat women, or how women should be portrayed in video games. She’s presenting a list of do’s and don’ts—mostly don’ts.

Show women as equally strong as men.

Don’t show women in risqué clothing.

Show men who save the world because of a sense of justice.

Don’t show men saving the world because a woman is waiting for him at the end.

Sarkeesian is a persuader. After studying her for two years now, this is the conclusion I’ve come to.

There’s a place for persuasion. And people respond to her with persuasive arguments.

That can be a good thing, if the other side engages in the debate. But Sarkeesian doesn’t engage. She puts her views out there, then doesn’t respond to others. She’s not interested in others’ opinions (comment sections remain closed on all her videos).

Don’t confuse her for an educator. She provides a list of morals and rules. Some of her rules are good, and I’ve agreed with her here and in the past.

But she doesn’t challenge you to study the issue on your own. She doesn’t challenge you to form your own opinion. And she doesn’t question her own assumptions.

Or if she does, she’s not showing you her educational process: only the end result of her education.

Game on,
~Dennis

3DS Review: Witch and Hero; an amazingly simple game

I’ve purchased games from the 3DS eShop several times over the past couple years. And every time I’m in the shop, I see the game “Witch and Hero.” Built on the 8-bit aesthetic, the game’s always attracted my attention. And for less than $3, it has to be worth a look, right? I saw the following trailer, then bought the game, knowing nothing else about it.

The game is simple, only taking about 5 hours to beat. I had a lot of fun with it!

Then I looked up the reviews for it. Hrmm, not so good.

This is my Witch and Hero Review; alternatively titled “Why you shouldn’t always let the majority opinion dictate your game choices.”

Let’s get it on!

“Retro” games

As somebody who grew up on the NES, the 8-bit style has always appealed to me: the visuals, the sound, and the gameplay. Naturally I see something like Witch and Hero and am immediately lured in. While many “retro” games take shortcuts and do things that were never done back in 1985, Witch and Hero feels authentic.

The pixel art is simple, the music is catchy, and the gameplay is straightforward and challenging.

And this is where the criticism comes from.

In WAH, the Witch has been turned to stone by Medusa, and the Hero wants to revive her. There are 20 levels, all single screens. The Witch stands in the middle, and monsters converge on her from the edges.

When they hit her enough times, she dies.

The goal, then, is to protect her until you defeat the Boss monster at the end of the level. Simple.

For some gamers, apparently too simple. You attack enemies by walking into them: that’s it! No hitting an attack button, no sword animation. You just bump into them. Each time you hit them, they take some damage, and you also take damage.

When your hit points run out, you are stunned for a few seconds until revived.

After the first few levels, you gain the ability to revive the witch temporarily. You collect Monster Blood, bring it to the Witch, and when her blood meter fills up, she comes to life.

She has two magic attacks: an area of effect wind attack, and a fireball attack that’s concentrated in one direction. You spin her in place with the L and R buttons to aim the fireball.

Outside of the battles, there’s a simple shop where you upgrade your magic, attack, defense, and speed.

Repetitive gameplay

WAH was knocked by others because of the simple gameplay, but also on the repetitiveness. Each level is the same thing: protect the Witch, kill monsters, try to survive, and kill the Boss.

The levels, however, are inconsistent in their difficulty. While I flew through the first few levels, soon I hit a wall. The monsters were too strong, and they kept killing the Witch! I had to level up, which involved playing levels over and over again, gaining more experience, and more treasure to buy upgrades.

After the first couple walls, I progressed very quickly through the next four or five levels. Then hit a wall.

Grind and repeat.

The final boss, Medusa, finally switches up the strategy and requires a different approach.

Nintendo Life ended their review by saying:

Even if a title tries to sell over-simplicity and crudity by adopting an 8-bit aesthetic, that doesn’t excuse lazy, unimaginative design and execution. This lacks strategy and skill, and is as mindless as they come; playing Witch & Hero feels like a chore, and it would be served better as a free PC flash game than a paid-for 3DS eShop release.

And Destructoid said:

Witch and Hero takes a simple, charming concept and somehow manages to make it repetitive, dry, and unfun. Given the price, you’re better off skipping this retro-centric experience in favor of the endless sea of classics on the 3DS eShop.

For me, the simplicity actually worked in the game’s favor! And here’s why.

What are you looking for in a game?

People play games for different reasons. For example, I love the story-driven, complicated Final Fantasy games. FF is one of my favorite series! But even I can’t stomach FF after FF. They take a lot emotional energy to play, a lot investment.

In between “serious” games with “depth,” I like to play simpler games.

And where I’m at right now with my gaming, at this moment, WAH was a short distraction, a snack between meals. It didn’t take me that many hours to complete: I had it finished in four days.

That’s the right amount of enjoyment for $2.50.

Sure, the game is simple, but so what? If I compare this to NES games, I actually had a lot more fun in these few hours than I had in tens of hours playing certain games as a kid. While the game involved some grinding, it was fair. It was manageable. It was doable.

This game feels like it could’ve existed on the NES. Now, in reality, that wouldn’t have worked, as this game has too many objects on the screen at once, something the NES never could’ve handled. WAH feels like a natural evolution of NES-era technology, similar to how Shovel Knight also bends some of the NES rules slightly to make a quality game.

You have to tell yourself the story

I thought the story behind WAH was delightfully charming. Most games have you start as low level heroes, progress through obstacles, and then defeat the final boss. WAH starts with the final boss, and the heroes get their butts kicked!

WAH is like a sequel, the second part of a two-part story. The Witch and the Hero set out together to restore the Witch’s body, defeat Medusa, and save the town.

Some of the levels give a tiny bit of story in the form of grammatically incorrect text screens, but most of the time, the story is nonexistent.

Or is it? The top screen of the 3DS shows a world map, so as I progressed from level to level, I imagined my heroes in the woods, crossing the desert, crossing the mountains, entering the caves, traipsing through the graveyard, struggling through the ice lands, until finally I got to Medusa’s realm.

When a game doesn’t provide a story for me, I often make up my own story. I did a similar thing when I tried beating Final Fantasy I with all white mages, if you recall.

Even though you play as the Hero (I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian would see WAH as another example of the damsel in distress trope), to me, the Witch felt more important. The monsters want to attack her, not me! Sure, the monsters kill me sometimes, but that’s only because I attack them and they defend themselves. I’m like a mosquito that they keep swatting away.

The Witch is powerful. The monsters want to destroy her, even though she’s already stone. The Witch is the actual hero of the game.

Hero is just the errand boy who collects the monster blood for her and drags her stone body across the world.

A game doesn’t need cinematics or paragraphs of text to tell a story. The story can be told through the gameplay.

After several hours, I got attached to these characters. I felt bad when the Witch got destroyed (over and over and over again). I felt like I was letting her down.

The final duel with Medusa has a fun twist, which I won’t spoil. But it further deepened the story that I’d already developed in my head.

If you’re looking for a cheap, fun diversion, I highly recommend Witch and Hero. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the game’s simplicity, I created some fun memories with this game, and I suspect these two characters will stick with me long after I close the 3DS.

Game on,
~Dennis

Top 24 Levels in Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Of all video game genres, the side-scrolling platformer is my favorite. And of all the platformers out there, the Donkey Kong Country series is by far the best designed.

Sure, the Mario series runs a close second. But I always found DKC more difficult, more atmospheric. It doesn’t always have the razzle-dazzle of Mario, the kookiness, the originality. DKC sticks with a couple ideas and does them well.

I love all five DKC games. In this post I’ll be discussing DKC Tropical Freeze for the Wii-U.

I come back to this game over and over again. When I’m bored, lonely, or just need a diversion, this game is there for me. I play it for an hour or so and all my cares drip away.

Not every level is good. But many of them are great.

Think of this post as a playlist. If I need 60-90 minutes of quality entertainment, fun all the way through, these are the levels I play. I don’t search for puzzle pieces, but if I find them I grab them. I don’t do the bonus levels, as I like listening to the stage music and not the zany bonus music. I don’t play all the levels on this playlist, but pick and choose between 75% of them.

Let me know if the comments what your favorite levels are! Videos courtesy of Zephiel810 and Easy2plaYFullHD.

Busted Bayou

As much as I love Tropical Freeze, the first world is underwhelming. However, Busted Bayou clearly stands above the rest.

The music is swinging, the graphics are alluring, and the use of shadows and dark space to conceal platforms and puzzles is ingenious.

This is a world I want to spend time in.

Discovering the hidden star in the leaves is one of my favorite memories from this game.

Windmill Hills

Before I played Tropical Freeze, I was getting jaded with the world designs in platformers. There’s always an ice world, fire world, water world, desert world, etc. World themes have gotten very cliche; DKC and Mario games are to blame for this.

Then I saw World 2 in Tropical Freeze. A German-themed world? That’s the best way I describe it to friends. Anybody think of this theme differently? The folk instruments, the windmills and bells, the beer steins–it’s all so different. And Windmill Hills nails it.

The music is so relaxing, and the juxtaposition between jungle apes and Germany is so strange.

This level has a great sense of scale, as you fly through the air and jump from windmill to windmill. This is my second favorite level in the game.

Mountain Mania

You can’t go wrong with the Rambi levels. Who doesn’t love running around breaking things?

If you aren’t searching for puzzle pieces, this level’s quick and exhilarating. Smashing rocks and smashing bells. That’s all you need in life.

Sawmill Thrill

DKC Returns and DKC Tropical Freeze are awesome games, don’t get me wrong. But by this point in the DKC franchise, the infamous mine cart level formula has gotten a little stale.

The mine cart levels in DKC and DKC2 are most memorable to me (did DKC3 even have them?), but those games actually use the mine carts only a couple times. They were memorable because of how sparse they were.

To Tropical Freeze’s credit, they did try to mix up the mine cart formula. Of the mine cart levels, Sawmill Thrill is the best.

The music is more akin to original DKC music, and there’s just something satisfying about switching from the mine cart to the sawed log boat.

Alpine Incline

Okay, the last level from World 2! If I don’t have a lot of time, I play Windmill Hills, followed by Alpine Incline.

The music’s a little dark, and the stage is a little scary. You jump from such high platforms with very little margin for error.

This level really gives me a sense of vertigo!

Bopopolis

I love the inclusion of the temple levels in the DKC Returns and Tropical Freeze. With no checkpoints, the levels are unforgiving.

However, they are a challenge. If I’m playing to relax, which is what this playlist of level is all about, I usually don’t turn to these levels. But if I had to pick one, Bopopolis would be it.

It’s so difficult to time the bops and jumps just right. But when you get it down, when you fly through the level with no errors, I get a sense of great accomplishment!

Grassland Groove

Picking a top level in Tropical Freeze is tough, but Grassland Groove has to be it.

We’ve seen jungle theme in DKC before: jungle is the primary theme! For some reason, though, we’ve never seen African theme.

World 3 is a real treat, just like World 2, in overturning expectations!

Grassland Groove has the best music and the best graphics of any level in the game. This level is fun and happy, celebratory even. The excessive fireworks are also a nice touch.

When you get to the end, stand on the balloons for a few seconds and let the music finish. The sun shines, and the crowd sings your praise. Can you end a level any better than this?

Frantic Fields

Frantic is right! Dust storms, tornadoes, flying water buffalo, this level has it all! It’s a Rambi level, so that automatically makes it good in my book.

But this Rambi level isn’t so much about smashing stuff, but dodging debris. The end section, when DK and Rambi are caught in a wind storm, jumping from rock to rock, is sublime.

Scorch ‘N’ Torch

As I said before, lots of platformers have obligatory fire or lava levels. The trope has been so overused that fire levels just don’t excite me anymore, even though fire is inherently exciting!

Scorch ‘N’ Torch changed my perceptions. Finally, a new take on the fire level!

The idea of branches and grass slowly burning the longer you stand in place is masterful. It forces you to keep jumping, to keep moving. It adds a little stress, but a good kind of stress.

You feel like the world is actually burning around you, that you have to escape, unlike most fire levels, where it seems inconceivable that a monkey could stand in the middle of a volcano and not feel the slightest discomfort (I’m looking at you DKC, Returns!).

Amiss Abyss

One major problem with DKC Returns: no water levels! I know many gamers hate water levels, but the water levels in the DKC series, especially the first one, were so epic, peaceful, and calm.

Now they’re returned in Tropical Freeze! My one criticism is that most of them have transitions between water and land parts, and usually the land part has different, more upbeat music than the water parts. I want to listen to the ambient water music the whole way through!

Amiss Abyss doesn’t disappoint in the music area. The new soundtrack is awesome, and the music doesn’t change on the land parts.

Plus, the black on blue shadow effort looks rad.

Irate Eight

If you’re noticing at theme on this list, I prefer the relaxing, atmospheric levels over the more chaotic ones. Irate Eight is an exception.

You’re constantly under pressure to keep moving. This is the hardest of the water levels, but the pounding classic DKC medley encourages you to keep fighting, keep pressing forward.

Even though I love swimming in real life, water is one of the scariest things to me. Being under so much dark water in this level, with stuff constantly flying at me, sets me on edge. But I like that feeling. And Irate Eight captures the horror of water so well.

Rockin’ Relics

Same music as Irate Eight, same effect of scaring the pants off me! The pounding rain, the rockin’ relics, the lightning flashes: very cool.

This level does have different musics for the water and land sections, which I’m usually annoyed with in Tropical Returns. However, this time the tracks on both land and sea are awesome, and the transition between them is much smoother.

Frosty Fruits

Okay, World 1 was a bit of a letdown, theme-wise. World 5 is even more so.

After the awesome new themes of Germany and Africa in Worlds 2 and 3, and the return of water levels in World 4, we are treated (get it?) to…fruit theme.

Fruit theme?!

DKC Returns had a secret bonus level that was fruit-themed. It was difficult, and quite silly. I was so surprised, then, to see Retro Studios double down on the fruit theme.

Because of the theme, I just can’t enjoy most of the levels in World 5.

Frosty Fruits is the CLEAR exception. The music is moody, the platforming is exciting, and the frosty theme actually transitions nicely to World 6. After all, this game is called Tropical Freeze.

Platform Problems

One more challenge temple level. Platform Problems is a little easier than Bopopolis, but no less satisfying to complete.

This level is so rickety: the platforms are constantly falling away. You have to think fast, and jump quick, if you want to make it out alive.

Homecoming Hijinx

We’re getting to the end of the game! World 6 blows all other worlds out of the water. This is how ice levels should be done.

What’s so ingenious about this world is that each of the 8 levels is reflective of one whole world from DKC Returns. It really feels like DK’s island has frozen over. The stakes are high. You want to save your homeland.

The first level in DKC Returns paid homage to the first level of DKC. Homecoming Hijinks pays homage to both.

The music sets the mood: this is a sad world. The snowmads have already won the war. They’ve settled in and made DK Island their home. All traces of the monkeys and their forest friends have been eliminated.

Now DK has to fight back!

Jungle theme has always been one of my least favorite video game world themes. But frozen jungle? That I can do.

Seashore War

I know I said Grassland Groove is my favorite level, and Windmill Hills is second, but some days, Seashore War tops both of them combined.

The music is forlorn. Is this really a war? The snowmad’s ships are everywhere, conquering the bay. And DK has to single-handedly take them out.

The water is freezing, so no more swimming. That’s fine. Water is an obstacle again. Water’s scary, like I said, and freezing water is especially scary.

I love all of the ships that DK has to pull up from the sea. Even though it makes no sense (video game physics, y’all), his strained grunts, against the backdrop of the melancholy music, makes you feel DK’s pain as he tears apart the snowmad fleet.

Aqueduct Assault

The third world of DKC Returns was Cave world. Not one of my favorite themes, but it had some sweet mine cart levels (better than Tropical Freeze). We return to the caves, not to race mine carts, but to climb across frozen, stone ruins.

Nearly every platform breaks away. These aqueducts have stood the test of time. They are ancient relics.

Unfortunately, the snowmads ruined them. Completing the level is bittersweet. Sure, DK liberated this part of the island from the snowmads. But at what cost? The remnants of some ancient civilization are reduced to dust and crumble.

Blurry Flurry

DKC Returns tried to mix up the gameplay by adding in rocket barrel levels. The music is a little too jazzy for my taste, but the rocket levels are a nice diversion from the mine cart levels.

If I had to pick one rocket barrel level from Tropical Freeze, Blurry Flurry is it. The final few seconds in the snowball make it all worth it.

Forest Folly

David Wise, original composer of DKC, returned to Tropical Freeze to contribute to the music. He really hit it out of the park on Forest Folly, as per his style.

The land is still frozen, and the music is strangely accepting of the devastation. By this point, DK has liberated half of his island. But the snow keeps coming, and the snowmads refuse to give up their stranglehold.

Giant totems are frozen, and the snowmads seem very comfortable with their new home.

DK has a sort of resignation to himself in this level. He’s getting sick of the snowmad’s crap, but he’s here to do a job, and he’ll finish the job, even if he’s alone.

Cliffside Slide

So it looks like I’m just favoriting every level in World 6 at this point!

Another shadow level, Cliffside Slide gets us away from the melancholy feelings of the previous levels and gets serious.

Snow is burying the island, and DK is mad. The snowmads know no rest from their wickedness. Now they’re destroying million year old dinosaur fossils.

DK can’t save everything. But maybe he can bury the snowmads in their own snow.

Frozen Frenzy

I always loved the factory levels in DKC. They seem like such a weird theme. Jungle animals in industrialized areas? What a perfect way to show the extent that DK’s home is conquered by outside forces!

True, the factories were already present in DKC Returns. The snowmads seem to have taken up residence in a factory DK previously destroyed.

How strange, then, that DK has to activate this factory before he can defeat the snowmads! Factories were always DK’s enemy. But the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

DK will turn on this polluting factory if that means getting the snowmads off his island.

Meltdown Mayhem

Fire levels are boring. But ice and fire levels? Amazing!

For some reason, 2D platformers usually don’t mix ice and fire themes, even though they naturally go together. You can’t get any more contrasting than ice and fire.

We return to the volcano from DKC Returns (really DKC2), but even the volcano is frozen! The snowmad’s reach has extended way too far.

Atop Rambi, DK will smash all the ice apart, returning the volcano to its natural state.

Is an active, boiling volcano safe? No. But in DK’s mind, an active volcano is a much more manageable, a much more predictable foe than the icy havoc of the snowmads.

Dynamite Dash

When I’m playing to relax, usually I finish my playthrough with Meltdown Mayhem. But if I’m not ready to put the controller down yet, I play the two World 6 bonus levels.

Dynamite Dash is another cave level. But this time you blow everything up.

And sometimes that’s enough.

Icicle Arsenal

Whereas the normal 8 levels in World 6 are frozen reskins of DKC Returns levels, Icicle Arsenal is original. The castle featured in this level didn’t appear in Returns.

It seems, then, that the snowmads have done more than just occupy DK Island. Now they are building their own castles, their own settlements.

And DK, once again, is here to tear them down.

Game on,
~Dennis