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'Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze' Wii U review: A heartwarming experience

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Feeze

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When Retro Studios resurrected the Donkey Kong Country franchise for the Nintendo Wii in 2010, it was a moment of celebration for gamers as one of the most acclaimed 2D platform series of all-time made a triumphant return. Despite the high praise Donkey Kong Country Returns received for its amazingly well-crafted game design, not everyone was excited when Retro Studios announced that its first Wii U title would be Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, a sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns.

If you weren’t thrilled by the initial announcement, you should start getting excited because Tropical Freeze is the best 2D platformer available for Wii U.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has a cast of characters that longtime Donkey Kong fans will welcome. With Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong making their predictable return, the dynamic duo has new companions to help assist them on their second adventure as Dixie Kong and the ever loveable Cranky Kong join in on the fun.

You along with this quirky quartet will travel across six islands, all of which have been invaded by The Snomads. All six islands are teeming with Snomad minions, mostly made up of Viking-inspired penguins or walrus. Every world concludes in a memorable and imaginative boss encounter.

Similar to that of Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro has opted to keep Tropical Freeze true to the core ideas introduced by the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy. You will gather K-O-N-G letters and collect puzzle pieces, find hidden exits to secret stages and discover bonus rooms placed carefully throughout every stage.

The game may be using ideas established from the SNES trilogy and DKC Returns, but new additions and brilliant level design make Tropical Freeze an engaging and fresh take on these classic DKC ideas.

Thanks to the power of the Wii U, Retro is able to emphasize certain aspects of Tropical Freeze to create a more exhilarating experience by using dynamic camera angles to amplify specific action sequences. The mine cart and long-distance barrel blasting sections shift from 2D to a 3D angle to create excitement and visual astonishment. We only wish that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze had a 3D Mode option available for 3D TVs.

Another key addition introduced in Tropical Freeze is the special move fittingly named Kong POW. It will take 100 bananas to fill up the Kong POW meter, but you will need to be paired with partner in order to use this technique. When triggered, the Kong POW is a screen-clearing attack that will reward the player with perks reliant on the partner you have with you at the time. When partnered with Diddy Kong, for example, all enemies on the screen will turn to Extra Life balloons.

The most impressive aspect of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the fantastic level design. There isn’t a single lackluster stage to be found in this well-made game, but there are many outstanding ones. Each stage is more impressive than the last and every world introduces new surprises that make the game experience a remarkable one. Whether you are platforming, swimming, or piloting a rocket barrel, the stages offer a nice balance of challenge and difficulty. There are a few stages in the latter half of the game that may prove to be a bit frustrating, but they aren’t as tedious as the late-game stages of DKC: Returns.

To accompany the brilliant level design are lovely visuals and an astonishing soundtrack. Tropical Freeze is a beautiful game to see in motion as the backgrounds burst with life and the attention to detail given to each level is breathtaking. Each stage feels active thanks to the energetic surrounding environment. Donkey Kong and friends are also rendered wonderfully with fluid animation and fluffy looking fur.

The bosses of Donkey Kong Country Returns were mostly forgettable, but that is not the case with Tropical Freeze. These are some unique boss battles that require the player to memorize patterns to avoid damage and to exploit a momentary opening to unleash an attack.

Don’t be surprised to die several times on the bosses of Tropical Freeze before figuring out the pattern to achieve victory.

Those familiar with the SNES Donkey Kong Country trilogy often make reference to the brilliant soundtrack, which was composed by David Wise. Though the musical score of Returns was good, it pales in comparison to the soundtrack featured in Tropical Freeze. Marking the return of David Wise, the tracks of Tropical Freeze convey emotion through a musical ambiance that perfectly suits the stage it is representing.

Listen to sample of the Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze soundtrack here.

For better or worse, the Wii U GamePad doesn’t serve much a purpose in Tropical Freeze. The only real use of the GamePad screen is for Off-TV Play. Those who prefer to play on the GamePad screen will find that the game looks lovely on it. We did many Time Attack runs using Off-TV Play because the game scales wonderfully to the smaller screen.

It is worth noting that load may range between 10-15 seconds, depending the level.

Running through the game’s six worlds won’t take too much time, lasting around 10-12 hours. However, there is a lot of content offered in each stage, be it hidden stages, collectibles, or secret rooms. To collect everything and truly 100% complete the title will take considerably more time as hidden paths and puzzle pieces are scattered throughout every stage and will take patience to find them all.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is yet another first-rate title from the folks at Retro Studios. Packed with content, co-op play, amazing levels, and likely the best game soundtrack of 2014, there are plenty of reasons to love this game and it gives people an even stronger reason to own a Wii U.

(Editor’s Note: A digital code of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was provided by Nintendo for review purposes. Tropical Freeze will be available for Nintendo Wii U on Friday, Feb. 21.)

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