One could argue it's the machine that's started the giant's trend in recycling more and more of their older series instead of diversifying with new game experiences.
So, no real surprise that Donkey Kong returns, and although there's been four years since the ape reappeared on Wii, it doesn't feel like that when you play Kong's latest. The story is as forgettable as the last; Vikings have used magic to freeze Kong island, which obviously doesn't aid banana growth. So Donkey and Diddy Kong, joined by Dixie and Cranky Kong, go in search of bananas, gold coins, puzzle pieces and those responsible.
Design has been inspired again by the original SNES classic, keeping gameplay mainly on a 2D plain. Donkey Kong jumps and rolls as you'd expect; the precise control of before hasn't been tampered with. Instead, there's new additions.
By collecting barrels with his initials emblazoned on them, Donkey Kong is joined by one of three buddies who leap onto his back and add their special abilities to his repertoire. Diddy's jetpack allows for longer jumps, Dixie adds a little extra power to the leaps as well as a short term floating ability. The almost retired Cranky Kong is the funniest. He uses his walking cane as a pogo stick.
And there's plenty of hazards. Like its predecessor, Tropical Freeze offers a challenge to even seasoned platformer fans, though this time round the developer's eased in the difficulty spikes. The first world introduces all the different mechanics and allows you to experiment with them.
All changes however, as you enter world two. Don't be fooled by the colourful appearance; you're expected to get your platforming perfectly timed. Patience is needed here; you'll be repeating challenges over and over until you get things right.
The rewards are many. Every stage is crammed with secrets. Whether collecting banana bunches for gold coins or knocking loose a fragile floor to fall into a bonus area, you always have the impression that each level is hiding much more than what you spot on first play-through.
Unlike last time though, there are many more situations where you've no hope to respond in time to survive, and the only way to overcome the challenge is through repetition. It can slowly start to frustrate, and you could loose the desire to carry on. But it's a problem that's offset in several ways.
The most obvious is that you get an enormous amount of extra lives. The second is the addition of Funky Kong, who's product range offers such life-saving abilities as unique balloons that'll rescue DK out of a fatal plunge, or give him extra air when underwater - additions that replace Nintendo's traditional Super Guide solution to tricky level sections. The last helping hand is tag-team special moves where on-screen enemies can be turned into gold coins, gold hearts (providing more health) or balloons, depending on what partner you have.
None of these solutions reduces frustration however, and it'd have been much more effective if the developer had just paced the levels better to completely avoid the problem.
But frustration aside, each and every level in Tropical Freeze is a pleasure to play through. There's a great degree of creativity in the level design and look, to the extent you always want to see what the developer's going to surprise you with next. Enemies are similarly inspired, and while towards the latter end of the game there's some recycling, it's hard to suppress a smile when you encounter XL-versions of fire-snorting boars and viking penguins. Best of all are the end of world bosses, creative in their design and full of personality (though all have multiple attack stages that can prove frustrating to conquer).
Yet, despite great creativity and visuals, surprises and fine design, it's undeniable that we've seen this all before. When Nintendo and Retro Studios teased a new project, expectation was high. That it was revealed to be yet another Donkey Kong, with the same DNA of the Wii version, there was disappointment. It's just more of the same.
This feels like a Donkey Kong-shaped take on New Super Luigi U. despite the game's many qualities and entertainment value, you can't help feel disappointed that one of Nintendo's most talented developers have been stuck on a direct sequel.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an entertaining platform adventure that convinces you of its worth with beautiful visuals, plenty of personality and incredible challenge. But it also suffers from bad pacing, an an over-familarity for those that joined the simians on their Wii adventure. Still, it's more quality content for your Wii U - and as things are as they are currently, a new top quality title is still worth playing, despite not being a massive overhaul of past glories.
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