'Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze' (REVIEW)

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U) is the latest in the great ape's platforming adventures, out on Friday.

The Pitch:

"Control the Kongs as they leap, run and roll through action-packed stages on a quest to reclaim Donkey Kong Island from the marauding Snowmads! Use each character’s unique moves to explore every corner of all six islands, unearth special items and even hidden exits!"


Platformers have been around longer than almost any other type of video game. And while the genre has splintered and recombined into a thousand different forms and types since then, from 3D adventure games like Tomb Raider to ultra-simplified mobile titles like Canabalt, the core popularity of jumping on platforms with little cartoon characters - even in their original, retro form - remains intact.

And it's still a creatively vital genre, too - look at the ecstatically received Rayman Legends, Super Mario 3D World and Tearaway for evidence.

The tension at the heart of the genre, though, is obvious. When you're basing your game on a mechanic arguably perfected in the mid-1980s you'll need some new ideas - but you don't want to change everything and lose the essence of what made this type of game fun in the first place. The temptation might be to just put an HD sheen on an old game and hope nobody notices - something Nintendo has done more than once in the lifetime of the Wii U. Or try something entirely new - like the recent Sonic Lost World did in places - but risk failure.

DKC: Tropical Freeze

'Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze', Nintendo's new Wii U platformer, is a good example of how those tensions can work both for you and against you. With more than a debt to the original SNES squillion-selling game, and the more recent Wii 'DKC Returns', it's a total genre platformer, which retains pretty much everything you may already know from the Donkey Kong series. It's 2D, and difficult, and goes left to right, and as such it occasionally seems overly familiar and a little bit dull.

That said, developer Retro are willing to throw in both new ideas and a new sense of graphical polish and mechanical tightening to keep things feeling fresh. And the result is that you'll be pleasantly surprised far more often during the game than you would have any right to expect.

There's about 12-15 hours of game here, with six themed islands to explore and dozens of levels, boss monsters and secrets to tackle. Each stage is a mix of path-finding, reactions-based jumps and challenges, combat and puzzle solving, but with a totally different sense of weight and momentum to the movement than you'll be used to from Mario and Rayman games. There are also two new smaller members of the Kong family to help Donkey Kong get through the levels, each with their own special abilities, and chances for less expert players to buy items to help them through. It's less well judged in multiplayer, where the deliberate nature of the levels starts to fall apart. But that's only an occasional issue.

Obviously, as you can tell from the footage, the game also looks fantastic, with the HD graphics shining on Nintendo's upgraded console and the constantly moving camera swinging and zooming at set moments to give players the best view of the brilliantly realised scenery.

This is a game which uses stunning design, inventive ideas and graphical polish to turn what could have been a fairly retread into something which feels more like a genuine masterwork. The downside is just that there's very little here you won't have seen before - or at least that you won't believe you haven't seen before. There's little attempt to use the Nintendo gamepad for anything beyond off-TV play, and no spectacularly imaginative deviations from the Donkey Kong formula. The loading times are egregious, some of the story elements are dull and the enemies are generic.

You can't say this is anything other than a totally gorgeous, fun and engaging platformer. It's just, that's all it is.