In a previous post, we examined how World 1 of Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze has a deep, rich, and layered story, accomplished largely through gameplay and not cutscenes. This game is a platformer, and platformers often don’t have much story going on during the levels.
But if you pay attention to the backgrounds, the enemy placements, the puzzles, and the objects you interact with, you’ll see that DKCTF has an intricate story about the clash of cultures and people groups trying to make a living on a tiny chain of tropical islands.
In this post we’ll look at the storytelling going on in World 2, Autumn Heights. This world is quite a departure from worlds we’ve seen in DKC past, even the past of most platforming games. Most platformer worlds have standard (even clichéd) themes like Fire, Water, Jungle, Rock, Ice, etc, and DKCTF has some of that as well.
World 2, as far as I can tell, is German-themed. Monkeys and European mountain architecture aren’t common combinations, so let’s get into this and see what this world has to offer!
The owl’s land
World 1, Lost Mangroves, had evidence of three competing cultures: an ancient monkey culture, a technological advanced culture that tried to invade the island but failed, and the nomadic culture of the Snowmads. From the opening in 2-1, Windmill Hills, we see that the culture of Autumn Heights is very different.
We see rats chopping wood, living in harmony with the birds. This island has established towns and finely crafted buildings. Whoever lives here has been here for a long time, and is thriving.
It’s apparent that this land is largely the domain of the owls. While the owls are technically Snowmads, I think Autumn Heights is their ancestral home. Perhaps they aligned with the penguins and walruses at a latter date. Maybe they even tipped Lord Fredrick off that the DK Island chain would be a good place to live.
It’s clear the owls have been here for generations. In the background you can see numerous owl statues carved from rock.
The mountains in the background are more than idyllic, green hills: we even see the hints of a giant owl bust carved into the mountainside.
Maybe the owls led the Snowmads here. Or maybe the Snowmads enslaved the owls, and forced themselves upon this wonderful land?
When we get to 2-2, Mountain Mania, we see more evidence that the owls live here. Many of the houses have perches right outside: these homes are meant for birds.
In this level, though, we see a new side of Donkey Kong: his antagonism for other cultures. The player rides Rambi the rhino through Mountain Mania, smashing everything that gets in his way.
Rambi destroys artwork like owl totems, probably carved decades ago, with no regard for the culture that created these works.
The happy, peaceful music is such a striking contrast to Donkey Kong’s cultural violence. Is Donkey Kong partially to blame for his suffering? Sure, his homeland was violently taken away from him, and he has every right to want it back. But does he have to destroy the owls in the process of getting home? Even though the owls are technically bad guys, and hurt DK when he touches them, they are passive as far as enemies go: they don’t seek out DK. They just fly in place until he finds them.
Toward the end of the level, Rambi stomps on a golden platform, summoning a barrel. DK shoots through the air and splits an owl mountain in two, releasing flying lava balls unto the owl’s home.
Leaf us alone, DK
In 2-3, Horn Top Hop, we get a deeper appreciation for the owl’s elegant culture. This level is littered with well-crafted horns. The owls just want to blow their horns, making music, sometimes even balancing leaves on the sound of their voice.
It’s in this level that we start to get a sense that the owls don’t want the penguins and walruses in their land. The Snowmads are screwing around in their horns, as if they are toys! The owls just want to blow those penguins out of there!
As DK progresses through Autumn Heights, he gets closer and closer to the giant owl mountain we saw in 2-1. At the end of 2-3, DK falls inside the greatest owl horn, an instrument likely capable of projecting music for miles around.
Even though the Snowmads have some presence on the island, just like the Lost Mangroves, they aren’t that successful in conquering it. In 2-4, Sawmill Thrill, we visit a lake, developed with numerous log structures. Do beavers live here? If so, where are they? Perhaps they are hiding in their lodges and dams, hoping the Snowmads will leave.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a beaver dam: we saw one back in 2-2 as well.
Maybe in Autumn Heights, the owls own the air and the mountains, and the rodents own the timber and waterways.
So far, we haven’t seen effects of the Snowmads’invasion like in the Lost Mangroves. There are no Snowmad crates, no barrels of fish, like in World 1. Perhaps the Snowmad fighting force was too devastated by the harsh environment of the Lost Mangroves to mount a serious offensive on Autumn Heights.
The rodents have a home, too
While Autumn Heights is mostly populated by the owls, the mice also have a strong presence, mostly underground. After Sawmill Thrill, in 2-A, Crumble Cavern, we see where the mice live. They live in the mines, storing their hordes of cheese.
As the level progresses, the cave gets sparser and sparser. There is a lot of open room here, but perhaps the caves are too cold, too murky, for the Snowmads.
In the next level, 2-B, Rodent Ruckus, DK stumbles upon the rodents’ cheese factory.
The rodents are a little sloppy with the transport of their cheese, but they are at least capable builders. DK’s destruction of their society is kept to a minimum. It seems as if he’s stumbled into these caves by accident (and even landed on a crazy rocket barrel!). He just wants to get out in one piece.
Though this is largely the home of the rodents, in several spots we seen owl totems and wooden carvings. Despite being such different animals (owls eat mice, after all) the two animals have learned to live in balance with one another. It’s a lesson DK could stand to learn himself.
Climbing up the mountain
By the time we get to 2-5, Alpine Incline, we’ve made significant progress up the side of the mountain. The penguins have a greater presence here than past Autumn Heights levels, though there still isn’t much evidence of a successful Snowmad occupation: no Snowmad crates or flags here.
The flying penguins (?) seem to enjoy the thin air; maybe at least some of the Snowmads can find a way to coexist with the owls.
The carved owl mountains are getting closer, and far more numerous. DK is inching closer to their capital.
In 2-6, Wing Ding, DK reaches the owl’s biggest city. The elegance of their architecture is amazing: DK even enters many of their buildings.
DK continues his campaign of cultural violence, smashing apart leaded glass windows and breaking the owl’s totems.
Once again, we simply see the owls flying in place; they aren’t pursuing Donkey Kong. It makes you wonder: is DK liberating the owls from the oppression of the penguins? Or maybe the owls simply tolerate the penguins because the penguins don’t break the owl’s things the way DK does. DK’s violence might, in a way, be working to unite the owls and penguins together. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
As in World 1, Autumn Heights is also home to a temple of the ancient monkeys, Bopopolis. The temple is decorated in monkey statues, though the Snowmads have hung their flags wherever they can.
As in the Lost Mangroves, it’s clear that Autumn Heights is a land of competing cultures. Even before the Snowmads arrived, there was competition between the owls, the rodents, and the monkeys. However, it appears as if the monkeys have been gone from this island for sometime. Their temple, Bopopolis, has survived, but it has no floor. This level contains 37 owls. The temple is a place of the air, and it has been repurposed as a home for the owls.
Maybe DK has some right to wage a war of aggression against the owls after all.
The monkeys and owls face off
DK and company finally make it to the owl’s hideout. DK blasts inside an owl mountain to face the owl leader.
Once inside, the owls smash a banana with a giant mallet, causing DK and friends to freak out. It’s clear the owls are trying to insult and intimidate Donkey Kong. Owls don’t eat bananas; and Tropical Freeze’s plot isn’t about DK retrieving his banana hoard, as in previous games. The owls are sick of DK’s destruction of their homeland, justified or not.
The mother owl has ice powers and uses them to attack DK. Presumably she got them from the Snowmads. The owls were fed up with DK’s violence and enlisted the help of the penguins. It appears in this final battle that the owls and the penguins have come to a mutual respect for each other.
DK defeats the owls, and prepares to leave Autumn Heights.
What does the next island, Bright Savannah, have in store for Donkey Kong?