Platforms: Wii U
Developers: Retro Studios
I haven't been very nice about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical
Facepalm Freeze. Then again, I wasn't exactly too kind to Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, though the 3DS version admittedly seemed rather more fitting. But then, you know, that's a tech-limited portable console -- we expect lazy reboots from such pieces of equipment. The Wii game was a perfectly fine game, I suppose; fiendishly difficult as Donkey Kong Country games should be, and it made for a fairly harmless trip down memory lane. It did nothing new whilst somehow boasting that 2.5D archaic platforming was new, but it wasn't a bad game.
And now it has a nearly identical sibling, but with 3D camera angles and HD graphics.
Thing is, the Wii game arrived as a hilariously late swansong for Nintendo's albino , family-friendly console. It emerged after the crowds had been, played Wii Fit, and gone, appearing at about the same time that Nintendo decided to reinvent the Wii as a home for JRPGs. There was no pressure at all on that game. The same can't be said of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
The Wii U is in dire need of a kick up the backside, and yet another backwards-glancing 2.5D platformer that runs on creaking mechanics is not going to cut it. Fans who already own a Wii U and have played a Donkey Kong Country title before will go bananas (sorry) for this game because it's more of the same. We thought Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 were safe bets; this goes way beyond that.
Retro are a Big Name Studio, they've earned that title. So when we learned that at E3 we'd discover the nature of the super secret project upon which they'd been working, we allowed ourselves to get incredibly excited. This is, after all, the team who made Samus not only relevant again with Metroid Prime, but a pioneer once more too. With that in mind, it's difficult to not be disappointed that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Crush is so incredibly last-gen.
The level design is pretty good of course, the number of things to pick up and collect still encourages exploration. Tropical Freeze appears to be an easier proposition than Returns, but there were still a few death-defying moments, particularly on the obligatory mine cart level that cropped up in the set of five we were handed for the demo. There's tension to be had here, and platforming sections that require no small amount of dexterity. Co-op returns, allowing a second player to take control of Diddy, and we saw plenty of opportunities for teamwork given that the little chimp's jetpack can help both he and Doney Kong hover jump across wider gaps. Working in tandem to defeat enemies obviously pops up, and there are little levers to pull and switches to push now that open up secret areas.
Dixie Kong is apparently playable in this game, along with a fourth character yet to be announced, which should make gliding across gaps a little easier thanks to her powerful pigtails launching her higher into the air, but she was nowhere to be found in this build. We did run across a big seal boss, who proceeded to smack us into a halfpipe and then slid about the place, trying to chew our knees off. We jumped on his head a few times, he threw some fish and penguins at us, we jumped on his head a bit more, he got bored and wandered off and then so did we.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Crush is due for release this November, about a year or so after the Wii U's launch in this country, and the game seems to rather perfectly encapsulate its parent console. Here's a game that appears to lack anything meaningful (at £40-50) to separate it from its generational predecessor. There's no innovation here, at least not in anything that we saw. The big gimmick for this game is that there are 3D bits where you have to time DK barrel shots to avoid being crushed by falling trees. Oh, and occasionally, the camera will remind you that there's a z-axis. You can't take advantage of it, but it is there.
Seriously, Donkey Kong 64 has better next-gen credentials than this game. In fact, at this point, I'd actually prefer an HD reskin of that game than this 2.5D carousel of safe, brightly coloured mediocrity. But that's just me. If all you want out of your Wii U is an HD sequel to Donkey Kong Country Returns that plays, looks, and feels exactly the same as that game, then the development gods are smiling down upon you. If, like me, you were rather hoping that Nintendo and Retro might try something a little more forward-thinking (they've had enough time)...well...sorry.