Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Score - 8.7 / 10
Tropical Freeze, a captivating execution of the classic side-scrolling platformer, entirely vindicates the Texas based developer’s decision.
Ever since it first graced the Super Nintendo Entertainment System 20 years ago, the Country series has garnered its own vociferous band of followers who place it above Mario in the Nintendo canon. The comparison is understandable, yet ultimately arbitrary. Although Country has always lacked the Mario games’ inventive mechanics and diverse universe, it is the franchise of choice for those who relish a quintessentially tough old school challenge.
Tropical Freeze continues this proud tradition. Retro Studios displays an innate understanding of the beats and tides integral to the genre. Each level is designed to promote impetus as the eponymous primate gambols through a spectrum of worlds. With themes such as fire, ice and jungle, the locales are generic in concept, but never in execution.
Controlled using the left thumbstick and two buttons, DK rolls, jumps, swings and swim, platforms and bridges crumble under his heft. This sense of volatility to the world makes a necessity out of momentum, as the action assumes a frantic choreography which, though never graceful, is always exciting. Timing is essential to success and although the difference between that and failure can often be measured in millimetres, nailing an especially challenging jump or sequence is immensely gratifying.
Importantly, the developer - creators of last year’s 3DS version of Donkey Kong Returns - appreciates the age-old Nintendo practice of using winsome visuals to conceal a game of fiendish difficulty. Tropical Freeze is as tough as granite in places and it is not unusual to replay the same section a half dozen times before finally, the penny drops and you master the correct rhythm to progress.
Aesthetically, the graphics are pleasing without ever threatening to become spectacular, yet in full swing - excuse the pun - the entire package comes together, as fluid animations combine with imaginative and detailed backdrops. A special mention should go to the on-rails sections where DK fires out of one barrel to another, revealing the rich environments in three dimensions.
The real star of the show, however, is the soundtrack by David Wise, the man who, as Rare’s in-house composer, embodied the spirit and tone of the SNES original. His return to the series is both a paean to that work and a lush, imaginative suite that improve upon it. Like the best gaming soundtracks, the audio responds to the environment (diving in and out of water in an early level provides a lovely introduction to this feature).
Those gamers still grappling with Mario’s latest - or who subscribe to the belief that aficionados of the Italian plumber cannot enjoy Donkey Kong - should not be discouraged from picking up Tropical Freeze. It may not be a classic platformer in the mould of Super Mario 3D World, but it is a different and complementary game with a blistering tempo all of its own.