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REVIEW: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

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  • Nintendo Wii U / Rated E / $49.99 / released February 2014
  • OFFICIAL SITE: donkeykong.nintendo.com
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

Donkey Kong and three of his pals stand against an invasion of viking animals in “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,” available now for Nintendo Wii U.

The vikings are trying to colonize the Kong’s country, although what sad turn of events led them to this aggression is never discussed. Instead, you get a series of lush, impressive levels as Donkey Kong travels through fruit factories and roller coasters on his quest to repel the wintry invasion.

The game is beautiful to watch and a blast to explore. The background ballet of windmills and blades and giant watermelons creates rhythmic dioramas that require flawless reflexes to navigate.

Tropical Freeze” is a serious challenge. The delicate balance of dodging hazards and jumping across pits will burn through your lives. Happily, you have plenty of support for your trial-and-error exploration. Each level has multiple checkpoints, and since the game saves your progress, if you run out of lives you are never more than one level behind. Moreover, “Tropical Freeze” has an optional item shop for assisting your adventure. Banana coins collected during play can be used to buy extra life hearts and other helping hands.

Unfortunately, you can’t trust these items 100% of the time. The balloon that will save you when you fall into a pit will not apply if that pit was filled with lava, for example. You’ll need to be smart with how you use these items, so as not to waste your banana coins.

But you have to wonder why “Tropical Freeze” bothers with the tight fist on Donkey Kong’s lives when it could just let you keep playing. The item shop gives you much-appreciated options, but it’s no substitute for a game that would dispense entirely with counting lives and making you sit through GAME OVER screens.

However, for every teeth-grinding level slog (read: the lengthy, nasty boss fights), there’s plenty more where you straight-up enjoy the ride. “Tropical Freeze” particularly shines in the handful of levels where DK has to pilot a runaway mine cart or a rocket-propelled barrel. These levels are enjoyable enough that you do not mind the repeated failures as you develop the finesse needed for posting a particularly amazing time attack score.

One important-but-weird warning: “Tropical Freeze” asks you to choose between playing the game on the TV or the Wii U GamePad. Unlike many Wii U games, whichever screen is not in use goes blank. This is a strange decision on Nintendo’s part, but do not be surprised when you settle in for some off-TV play and the game almost literally turns your TV off.

Nintendo should be proud of the mix of difficulty and accessibility found in “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.” When you nail a particularly rough challenge, you truly feel like the King of Kong.

This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.