'Donkey Kong County: Tropical Freeze'
Reviews are our of four stars.
Nintendo's first-party developers seem to have one main goal: make old games feel like new again. Their latest entry, "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze," builds on the side-scrolling gameplay of the "Donkey Kong Country" series. Its visuals have received an upgrade with the Wii U hardware, but the game plays nearly identical to the Wii and 3DS's "Donkey Kong Country Returns" from 2010.
In "Tropical Freeze" ($49.99), which is being released Friday, Donkey Kong's peaceful island is under attack by a clan of cold weather animals called the Snowmads. The Snowmads have covered Donkey Kong's tropical island in cold, snowy weather. Not every level in "Tropical Freeze" is snow themed, however, which doesn't seem to gel with the story.
"Donkey Kong Country" games have never been known to push the boundaries of video-game narratives. Instead, they've always been about simple and challenging gameplay that puts the fun factor above all else.
The gameplay formula in "Tropical Breeze" is largely untouched from "Donkey Kong Country Returns." Donkey Kong jumps, rolls and has a ground pound ability that can stun enemies. In the latest game, the style of two-dimensional side-scrolling continues, but each level has bright 3D environments. Donkey Kong will occasionally be launched into the background or foreground, putting him on a new plane with new obstacles.
He starts out on his own but can find help from his friends if he finds them in barrels. Diddy Kong, Kranky Kong and Dixie Kong are all waiting to lend a hand with their unique abilities.
Diddy Kong allows Donkey to hover in mid-air thanks to his jump jets. Kranky allows the use of his cane, which can bounce over hazardous obstacles such as spikes. Dixie gives Donkey some extra altitude while jumping thanks to her ponytail helicopter.
Donkey Kong's cast of pals helps significantly during the later, harder levels. The levels, along with the world bosses, get incredibly challenging. "Tropical Freeze" toes the line between satisfying and frustrating.
Being a Wii U exclusive, the game could've benefited from features made possible with the second screen of the GamePad. Unfortunately, the second screen doesn't do anything when playing on a TV. The game can still be played on the GamePad when it's selected as the main screen.
"Tropical Freeze" takes roughly five hours to complete, but there's plenty more game to experience after the first completion. Collecting the "K," "O," "N" and "G" letters unlocks bonus levels in each world. In addition to these bonus stages, each stage has puzzle pieces that can be collected to unlock concept art.
The classic mine cart levels are back, as are the rocket barrel stages from "Donkey Kong Country Returns." "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze" is a top-tier offering for the Wii U, but it doesn't break the mold the way "Super Mario 3D World" did late last year and it fails to take advantage of the GamePad. This is a good game that missed opportunities to be great.
Max Parker covers video games for the Post-Gazette as The Game Guy. Follow him on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH.