'Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze'

From: Nintendo

Rated: E

Who's it for: Fans of platform games who aren't afraid of a real challenge

Console: Wii U

Grade: A

I blame "Super Mario Bros." for cementing my life in video games. Sure, I had played games since "Pong" was new, but "Super Mario Bros." showed me the variety and artistry a game could offer.

Over the years I've played nearly ever platform game that followed in Mario's overalls, and I consider myself a very skilled player. With that in mind, heed this warning: "Donkey Country: Tropical Freeze" kicked my butt.

I'm not saying this as a bad thing, nor do I claim to have lightning-quick reflexes. But for a player who blazed though both "New Super Mario Bros. Wii U" and "Super Mario 3D World" with few real problems (save those final bonus levels in the latter), this game posed a genuine challenge from start to finish.

Part of this stems from the game's feel. Donkey Kong is a huge, lumbering ape rather than a nimble little plumber. The designers have done a fantastic job capturing the character's weight and translating it to the controls.

Every jump, roll and ground-pound carries real weight and, in turn, translates to a challenge. Don't mistake this for poor controls because nothing could be further from the truth. It's just that Donkey Kong doesn't leap as far as you'd like, and his big ol' body makes for an easy target.

Fortunately, Donkey Kong has a few allies around to make his trek less burdensome.

Family members Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong pop up and ride on Donkey Kong's back, helping with a few tricks of their own, while adding two more hearts to your damage meter.

Diddy has his signature jet pack, which provides a few seconds of hover during jumps, while Dixie uses her ponytail as a propeller and provides a boost during jumps to hit higher platforms. Both of these make navigating tricky jumps easier, though Dixie seems to be the more useful of the two.

This game has the most gorgeous graphics yet on the Wii U, says the reviewer.
This game has the most gorgeous graphics yet on the Wii U, says the reviewer. (Courtesy photo / donkeykong.nintendo.com)

Cranky Kong offers a different kind of support, possessing the ability to bounce on his cane and avoid spike pits and other dangerous obstacles on the ground.

During particularly hectic times, you can fill up your KONG-Pow meter and unleash a special move with your partner, dealing a devastating blow against all of the enemies in the area. It's a great way to let out all that frustration.

Another way to curb the difficulty somewhat is to go shopping. Funky Kong has a store that sells everything from extra lives and special balloons that will keep you from falling into a bottomless chasm, to an extra heart container to carry into a level and barrels that will summon your family members (instead of you having to find them).

The shop increases the urgency to grab all of the coins you can while traversing the various worlds, because you never know when you'll need that one special item to get through a tricky level.

The game's six worlds feature the most beautiful graphics yet on the Wii U. Each one is meticulously designed and finely detailed, not to mention jam-packed with secrets.

You'll find yourself revisiting levels again and again to collect hidden puzzle pieces, letters and more, opening alternate paths and levels in the process.

While previous games in the series have offered eight worlds, fans shouldn't look at these six as a reduction as much as they are a consolidation.

The levels are quite lengthy and feature multiple checkpoints, sometimes even alternate paths. Boss battles also are longer and more challenging than the norm and are among the most brilliant points in the game.

The only thing that really didn't work for me was the co-operative multiplayer. Player No. 1 must always control Donkey Kong, while player No. 2 can choose among his three companions.

The coordination necessary between the two players makes the game even more difficult, where ideally it should make it easier. Furthermore, both players pull from the same limited pool of lives, which seem to go fast.

Ultimately, co-op was more frustrating than fun.

But, overall, the game shines. You will feel a true sense of accomplishment every time you traverse a challenge, and that will keep you coming back for more.