The famous ape has returned to our screens once again. It’s a big deal. The arrival of Donkey Kong Country: Returns on the Wii brought with it the end of an 11-year drought since we last saw it on the N64. Move on four years and already we have a sequel. Is this the same old monkey business or does this HD sequel got some tricks up its sleeve?
While the story hasn’t made any substantial leaps (as in, swapping haunted drums as antagonists for a mixed-species Viking invasion force), the extra power of the Wii U has given Retro plenty of room to tell the tale. It’s told in literal leaps in ways that it’s Wii predecessor could only point and grunt at. Where Returns contented itself by showing how far you’ve traveled by simply placing elements of the levels way into the background, Tropical Freeze prefers to yank the camera along with you. This results in a first level that forgoes the usual flat plane of tutorials for a journey that takes you from the inside of a crashed airplane, into a decrepit warehouse that falls apart as you clomp through it, up a tree that suddenly takes root in a lagoon and finally onto a beach as the first adorable penguin footsoldiers make their landing.
Donkey Kong’s ability to gain suspiciously regular access to minecarts and jet-powered barrels also benefits the game once again. Dedicated levels such as Rodent Ruckus set rocket sections in dark, twisting caverns, or on-and-off rail stages such a Trunk Twister, which grabs the camera from its side-on perch and corkscrews you down another giant tree, into a half pipe and over a submarine. It’s ridiculous and the only place you’ll ever find this mixture of insane platformer perfection is on the Wii U. It’s a means to a ludicrous spectacle and the series’ traditional unforgiving difficulty. The best moments come when you realise it’s doing just that. A series of levels in the game’s third world – set in a Savannah ripped straight from the gaudiest of nature documentaries – has you almost rhythm-platforming through a level literally brought alive (I’m talking dancing trees) by the background music. It’s not Mario-like innovations but classic platforming I’ve last experienced in primary school (I’m showing my age right?).
Thankfully there are other improvements outside of the glorious settings. DK’s once-tiny pool of jump, roll, and ‘play invisible drums’ has increased a little for Tropical Freeze. He can now swing on ropes and swim. Freeing everyone from the chittering creep that is Diddy Kong are two more members of the clan. Dixie and Cranky. Diddy still offers a sputtering hover jump, but Dixie ads some height to it using her trademark ponytail. Cranky on the other hand recently visited Scrooge McDuck and now uses his cane as a pogo stick that offers a less-controlled leap with a pay-off that is higher. It should also be said that it’s nowhere near as easy as Duck Tales when navigating your way past deadly spikes as you have to press down on the D-Pad for each and ever jump.
Another new addition alongside the partners is the Kong-Pow move, a smart bomb that kills every enemy on-screen once you’ve built up enough power on the Kong-Pow gauge. In return it leaves collectibles, dependent on which character you had along for the ride. Dixie offers Golden Hearts which adds extra health points to your maximum of two hearts (represented in gold), Diddy spawns Life balloons and Cranky Kong provides you with Banana coins, which can be spent in the shop. The shop, now run by the terrifyingly unfashionable Funky Kong, offers a huge number of items that makes life as an ape-hero that bit easier. Don’t forget, the difficulty in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the bastard of all bastards – n00bs should not apply.
It’s perhaps the difficulty for veterans alike that makes this such a daunting task. If you have the reflexes of a knee jerk you’ll still have a hard time defeating what’s thrown at you on-screen. If you lack the skills it’s very likely that you’ll just about hate every aspect of this game as you won’t make it past world three, but hang in there and the boss battles alone will have you grinning from ear to ear. Tropical Freeze is on like Donkey Kong if you think you have the skills. If that’s not a challenge I don’t know what is.