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REVIEW: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Don't be fooled. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze might look like a kids' game, but in reality, it's a difficult, challenging monster of a thing - and it's all the better for it.

Everybody's favourite ape first hit gaming screens back in 1981, making Donkey Kong even older than Super Mario Bros.

His first outing was as the bad guy, but it didn't take long for Nintendo to realise the comic gorilla was a decent fellow at heart, letting him star in music games, racers, fighters and - of course - side-scrolling platformers like this one.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a Wii U exclusive, a direct sequel to the 2011 Wii exclusive Donkey Kong Country Returns. That said, there's not much of a storyline to carry over, but the controls are more than familiar.

This time around, Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong are celebrating Donkey's birthday - but his party is interrupted by a bunch of frozen vikings known as Snowmads, and all four are blown away to a far-off island. Your job, obviously, is to get them all home safely.

This is Donkey's fifth side-scrolling platform excursion, and it's his first in high-def - something Nintendo is more than happy to take advantage of.

The graphics are gorgeous - every single level in each of the six individual worlds has been done as a standalone showpiece. You'll play through storms and tornadoes, an underwater tomb, and even in the middle of what seems to be a raging bushfire - as well as the inevitable downhill minecart race!

Despite the fact that this one is on the Wii U, the developers have done nothing to take advantage of the second screen. This is actually a refreshing change - as much as I love having a map on the Wii U controller, I'm really not a fan of having that feature shoehorned in.

Tropical Freeze doesn't bother with any of that stuff. You can use the second screen for a bit of off-screen play, if you want to go play in a hammock or when someone else wants to watch tv, but other than that it just sits idle.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Regardless of which screen you choose to play it on, you'll need your wits about you.

The average male gorilla weighs somewhere around 500 pounds, or 250 kilograms. That's just a bit heavier than your average male plumber, so it's a nice detail that Donkey Kong feels heavier in-game than other platform heroes like Mario. Having the extra Kongs around to help out with jumping can be really handy.

Choose your companion carefully - Diddy has a barrel jetpack, Dixie can spin her ponytail into a propeller, while Cranky can use his cane as a sort of pogo stick - so each one can access areas and defeat enemies the others can't.

These companions will help you out in a couple of different ways. If you're playing solo, they'll tag along with you, bounce around and help out wherever the AI thinks they should.

But, if you want a little teamplay, they can be fully controlled by the second gamer, which actually addds quite a bit to the game. You'll get twice as many hearts - that is, twice as much health!

If you want to be a bit cheeky, fire up the second controller, and get your partner character to climb on Donkey Kong's back, even when you're just playing by yourself. Hey presto - double health plus the nifty jumping abilities - both things that come in pretty handy while you're playing.

...as I mentioned, this game is hard. If you're wondering why Tropical Freeze throws so many extra lives at you, it's because you'll chew through them like so much bubble gum.

You'll also pick up more by collecting the bananas dotted around the level (one life for every hundred), and you can spend your hard-earned coins on other bonuses like shields, balloons and extra friend-containing barrels.

There's more than a few nifty bonuses tucked away in each level, too - secrets are hidden in plain sight and you'll need to pay close attention to gather up all of the puzzle pieces, K-O-N-G letters and other bits and pieces stashed around the place.

Overall, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is wonderful - as long as you're the sort of person who can handle a little frustration. It doesn't necessarily get easier as you go along, but the sense of accomplishment you'll get after beating a particularly tricky level is second to none.

If you liked the challenge of games like Flappy Bird, didn't mind the number of deaths you racked up in Dark Souls and don't feel too awkward yelling at a cartoon monkey for falling off a cliff again, this is definitely one for you.

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