Donkey Kong has changed over the years. He's gone from a pixilated ape standing atop steel girders to a tie-wearing cartoon hero riding mine carts. But no matter the changes, one thing remains the same for Nintendo's classic character -- he's difficult.
That's the distinct trait defining the games starring the burly simian. "Donkey Kong" titles have always been exceedingly hard. They punish players into submission. A normal session turns into a test of wills that demands endurance and meticulous feats of platforming. That's how the original was, and the subsequent sequels traced a similar path.
The latest incarnation, "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze," continues that tradition. The follow-up to 2010's "Donkey Kong Country Returns" resembles its predecessor -- with some improvements. The visuals are upgraded to lush high-definition. It carries over the core-level design concepts, including those annoying rocket barrel stages, but the sequel amps up the difficulty to thumb-numbing levels.
To help players, the developer, Retro Games, gives Donkey Kong more power-ups in the form of allies. Now instead of just Diddy Kong, who can extend the distance of a jump, players will find Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong at their disposal. Dixie lets the main ape jump higher, while Cranky uses his cane to jump atop enemies and spiked surfaces. Along with them, Funky Kong returns to sell power-ups for coins collected throughout each stage.
Players will need every advantage they can get, because "Tropical Freeze" is merciless. There's not much of a learning curve as it throws players right into a campaign to save Donkey Kong Island and its surrounding archipelago from a band of conquering Vikings. This time around, the game features inventive themed locales such as a juice factory and savanna, and in each of these worlds, the creators shows off their creativity.
While it's nice to look at, players will have to endure several challenging moments. Part of the reason for the difficulty is that levels are long and checkpoints are few and far between. That means if Donkey Kong dies, players will have to repeat an excruciatingly long section over and over again.
If a particular stage, such as Reckless Ride, is tough, they'll have to suffer through it. There's no super guide or special power-up to take them to the end. This is old-school gaming, where fans have to refine their skills, curse, complain or rage quit if things get upsetting (and they will).
With platformers like these, success lies in level design, and "Tropical Breeze" shows improvements and nice moments in some worlds. But for every good move, the team made equally bad choices in terms of camera angles and graphic style sacrificing playability for visual flair. These are missteps that can make a solid game unbearable.
Platform: Wii U