Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is proof positive that 2D platformers still have a place in modern gaming. It is, quite simply, a superb platform title and a much needed one for the Wii U.
The return of Donkey Kong might not necessarily reinvigorate the sales performance of the Wii U, but it should. It is that good. And more.
Those that have lovingly played Donkey Kong Country games since their inception in SNES times will be heartened by the apparent familiarity of Tropical Freeze's gameplay and style. Graphically, things have been dramatically improved, in part thanks to a greater resolution to play with and also thanks to the Wii U's beefier dedicated chipsets.
Like with Super Mario 3D World, everything has been given more gloss are sharper cartoon effects. However, with a slightly different style being adopted by the retro development team, there is also more detail and, often, more visual wow moments.
For the first time, Donkey Kong and his ape chums look like they are genuinely covered in fur. Water shimmers like it should. Lighting effects help create depth on an otherwise (mostly) side-scrolling 2D-style presentation.
Audio too is bold and exciting too. A stunning musical score and clever, sometimes booming effects carry you along effectively, especially when you blast them out through a decent sound system with a subwoofer.
But it is the gameplay that really grabs you and rarely lets go. Tropical Freeze is a difficult but highly rewarding game in nigh-on every aspect.
DK Country on the Wii U can be played with one or two players co-operatively. In single-player, you travel across six worlds with a decent amount of variety in both visual and play styles along the way. You will have to employ the help of the entire Kong family, including Diddy and Dixie, and each have a different power that help you reach objectives and secrets in equal measure.
For example, Diddy has a jet pack strapped to his back, so when you have him with you it gives you the ability to hover for a short amount of time after jumping. Unlike many rival platform game heroes, Donkey Kong does not have a natural double jump capability so you will need the help of one of the other family members to get to harder to reach places. When you lose Diddy the game suddenly becomes much harder, just like the earlier Wii title.
The original Donkey Kong Country games always had extra helpers to see you through, but this is the first were we felt it was genuinely collaborative.
If you have a second player, they can take the place of one of the other members of the family, but it does make the game more difficult to play somewhat as they will be separate from you. They don’t ride on your back so you can’t combine powers. One bonus of this, however, is that with two of you to fight bosses or take out enemies you might find those sections a tad less taxing.
No monkeying around
Unlike Super Mario 3D World, we feel that Tropical Freeze is more geared around the single-player experience, therefore. And what an experience. There are plenty of bonuses and secrets to pick up along the way, and you are encouraged to find coins in order to buy items from the occasional shop on the mini-map. These will help, even giving you extra lives in the form of the franchise’s traditional red balloons.
And you’ll need them. Because as the game goes on, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze gets very difficult indeed. However, it only does so as your skill level, hopefully, improves. It’s not a case of making platforms one pixel further than in previous levels. You might have to be more aware of timing jumps to avoid beasties, or pegging it through the level as fast as possible.
Graphically, it might appeal to youngsters, but this is a love letter to hardcore gamers. And we love it back.
As a gameplay style, 2D platforming has been given major boosts by Ubisoft’s most recent Rayman games and a stack of indie titles, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze tops the lot in our eyes. It retains many of the essential elements from past glories in the franchise, but brings a number of new tricks to the party that are resounding hits. There are few, if any, misses.
Collaborative multiplayer might not be the main focus, but it’s an absolute hoot - primarily when you are both doing really badly. And the ramping up of the difficulty ensures that this is a game with that essential "just one more go" addictive quality.
It might not be the saviour of the Wii U, but if it does prove to be a swansong, it is a very worthy one. Nintendo proves time and again why it's a premier video game maker and Donkey Kong is back with a bang.