Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is yet another 2D-platformer making it’s home on the Wii U. Rather than getting lost in the shuffle, Tropical Freeze shines bright as an unique and challenging sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns.  Not only is it  one of the few games unafraid to present a challenge, it offers some of the greatest level variety I’ve seen in a platformer, next to the excellent Rayman Legends.  While it doesn't reinvent the wheel, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze provides solid platforming action and a challenging alternative to the surplus of Mario titles and other undifficult platformers found on the Wii U.

Like many Nintendo platformers, Tropical Freeze is a technically sound game.  Donkey and his friends control remarkably, and if you've played Returns you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.  With Gamepad and Pro controller support, I found it much easier to conquer difficult stretches of the game.  The Wii remote and nunchuk don’t control as well, and the finicky motion detection can lead into a few cheap deaths, but the option is there if you so prefer it.  Disappointingly, Tropical Freeze makes no meaningful use of the gamepad, leaving it blank when using a TV.  It does support Off-TV Play, but this is a triviality at this point in the Wii U’s lifespan.  Dixie and Cranky Kong also join the roster as playable characters.   Cranky Kong’s extended jump is tricky to get used to but rewarding.  Dixie, on the other hand, makes things a little too easy, and I prefered using Diddy Kong for a more pure experience.

While still retaining the same artistic style of Returns, Tropical Freeze makes great use of the Wii U’s  enhanced graphical capabilities, and the transition to HD truely shows.  Each of the game’s six worlds are located in common settings like jungles and mountains, but each divert themselves away from the source material just enough to remain unique.  One of my favorite aspects of this game is it’s tendency to throw new things at you, whether you are escaping a wildfire on the African plains or jumping on floating debris inside a tornado it seems that each level provides a drastically new experience from the next.  Each of the six worlds in Tropical Freeze are enjoyable,  but I felt that the game began to drag a bit toward the end, and this is most apparent in the ice themed world.  The intelligent level design and variety that made most of the game so enjoyable is noticeably absent, and because of this the game’s final moments felt like a slog.  Maybe the game was beginning to wear on me, but I felt that some of Tropical Freeze’s latter levels were less enjoyable than the rest.

What was enjoyable was the boss battles, which were quite possibly some of the best I’ve ever seen in not just a platformer, but in a game in general.  Each boss battle contains multiple phases, adopting new moves along the way, so quick thinking and careful planning are crucial in these battles.   Because of this, the boss battles in Tropical Freeze feel more organic and engaging than the “hit it three times to win” affairs.  These fights are also quite long, lasting up to ten to fifteen minutes, and with no checkpoints, some gamers may become frustrated upon dying and losing all of their progress.  I however, found these battles rewarding and in tune with the trademark difficulty of the series.

Speaking of difficulty, I actually thought that Tropical Freeze was easier than it’s predecessor, at least in the first few worlds.  The difficulty slowly increases as you progress, which I thought was a nice shift from Returns, which I thought was pretty challenging all the way through.  In short, if you’ve played Returns, Tropical Freeze won’t be too punishing, but still provides a decent challenge.  If you make an effort to collect all of the KONG letters, which are essential if you want to unlock the ridiculously hard KONG stages, keep in mind the game will be much harder.  Retro cleverly placed these goodies in the most dangerous of places, so don’t expect to collect them easily.

As with Returns, Co-op is more fun in theory than in practice.  While a partner is helpful for collecting hard to reach KONG letters and defeating bosses, but the camera does a poor job of tracking each player, choosing to only focus on Donkey Kong.  This coupled with the fact that on rocket barrel or minecart stages, you lose two lives per failure instead of one.  

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is a solid game, but doesn’t exactly do anything to change the platforming genre.  Some may be upset by this lack of innovation, but fans of Donkey Kong and hardcore platformers will find a lot to like in Tropical Freeze.  If you find yourself itching to play something other than Mario on your Wii U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is a great choice if you are looking for a quality platforming experience.