Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze preview: challenge accepted

Donkey Kong's had to deal with reptiles and Tiki critters in the past, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze marks the character's first encounter with climate change. But Retro Studios has done more with the next DKC than simply change the temperature. Tropical Freeze offers up a true HD experience, while also refining a lot of what made Donkey Kong Country Returns enjoyable. Shacknews went hands-on with four of Tropical Freeze's levels, all of which encapsulated a different aspect of the game. But whether I was swimming underwater or taking a ride on a mine cart, Tropical Freeze did a lot to improve the DKC experience while keeping it comfortably familiar. focalbox Many of Tropical Freeze's mechanics stay true to the traditional DKC formula, while adding some new ones like the ability to pull objects from the ground. Donkey Kong can pick up DK barrels to pick up his partner, only now the barrel will alternate between three sets of initials to either reveal Diddy, Dixie, or Cranky Kong. Each is useful in their own way in helping Donkey Kong get an edge with platforming and stay airborne slightly longer. Given the challenges I encountered in the two platforming levels, any assistance will be appreciated. Make no mistake, Tropical Freeze will not pull punches, if World 6-1 is any indication. Many of the level's platforms were unstable and collapsed under DK's weight. One area saw DK need to barrel through a plank of wood, resulting in the ceiling crashing down slowly. And many vine-filled walls would collapse after grabbing onto them for a certain amount of time. Add this to the entire stage being encapsulated in slippery ice and that's a safe indicator that Tropical Freeze will be tough-as-nails challenging. But when anyone thinks 'DKC' and 'hard,' they think of the signature mine cart levels, which make their return in Tropical Freeze, as well. This is where players will notice much of the work Retro Studios put into making the game a visual marvel. Though the level will always remain on a 2D plane, mine carts will make several turns throughout the level, culminating in a beautiful spiral around a mountaintop. DK will also have to avoid fallen airplanes, some of which will literally pop onto the screen at a moment's notice. Even as I kept crashing my cart into a wall, I couldn't help but appreciate how gorgeous the stage looked. Retro is also upping the ante with Tropical Freeze's boss battles. Straightforward sequences with three phases are out the window. The first world's boss, a Viking sea lion, had a simple attack pattern of sliding across the screen to start. But he soon tossed out several different moves, like tossing baddies from the foreground, sending out dive-bombing penguins, and barreling across the screen like a runaway log. By the time the boss hit his sixth different attack pattern, I could only say to myself, "There's still more?" Bosses look to be more complex in Tropical Freeze, which should be a welcome addition.

The first boss was no pushover, using a lot of attack patterns

Though my time with Tropical Freeze was short, I could find little to fault about it, other than it does feel like Retro is playing awfully safe. Many of what I saw could just as easily have fit into Donkey Kong Country Returns, but this could be the developer trying to push itself to its DK limit with true high-definition landscapes, cool visual effects, and online leaderboards. Tropical Freeze also feels less gimmicky, which can be attributed to the GamePad screen not being used at all. Interestingly, the GamePad itself does continue to play sound effects, in case you need an echo of that banana-collecting sound. It feels much more like a traditional DKC experience, right down to the brutally challenging difficulty. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze arrives on Wii on February 21.