Reviewer’s Rating: ★★ 1/2
Donkey Kong: He jumps. He punches. He swings on vines and swims with sharks. He wears a monogrammed necktie.
He’s kind of boring.
Still, “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” (Nintendo, for the Wii U, $49.99) provides all the action that fans of the big galoot are probably looking for. As with its predecessor, 2010’s “Donkey Kong Country Returns,” you guide the gorilla across a series of two-dimensional landscapes, collecting bananas, jumping over pits and stomping on enemies. Every now and then you encounter barrels that blast DK across huge gaps, or mine carts that take him on a rickety roller-coaster ride. You can even hop on the back of a rhinoceros and rampage through the jungle.
A few members of the Kong family are here to help. Diddy Kong’s jet pack and Dixie Kong’s propeller-like ponytail help Donkey make longer jumps, while Cranky Kong’s cane transforms into a deadly pogo stick. If you let a second human control your sidekick, Diddy shoots peanuts, Dixie shoots bubble gum and Cranky throws his dentures.
The primary enemies are the “Snowmads,” a horde of walruses and penguins. Pillaging DK’s banana stash isn’t enough for these Viking wannabes — instead, they want to transform his home into frozen tundra.
DK’s journey takes him across six islands, beginning with your classic tropical paradise, Lost Mangroves. Each island is divided into about a half-dozen levels, which get chillier and more ominous until you return to Donkey Kong Island, which looks like Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in January.
Right from the start, though, players expecting a laid-back island vibe will discover that “Tropical Freeze” is hard. Some veterans will regard the difficulty as a throwback to the days when only the toughest players made it to the end of a game. Me, I found it frustrating, with the difficulty too often exacerbated by DK’s sluggish movement. If you’re used to the tight controls of Nintendo’s Super Mario games, steering this big, dumb gorilla around feels like a drag.
And then there are the wretched “boss battles” at the last stage of each island. The formula is way too familiar: dodge projectiles, jump on or throw things at the boss, rinse and repeat. It’s a formula that crosses the line between retro and archaic, and each time the tedium made me want to give up the game for good.
The non-boss levels are pretty, but the structure — keep moving to the right — doesn’t change much between levels, despite cosmetic differences. There are plenty of prizes to collect, as well as hidden bonus rooms and secret alternate routes, but all that loot wasn’t enough to make me want to replay levels I’d already defeated.
Nintendo has done its best to turn Donkey Kong into a marquee name since his switch from princess-kidnapping villain to banana-hoarding hero. And at times — like in 1999’s spectacular “Donkey Kong 64” — his island paradise has held the promise of becoming a fully realized world.
But the gorilla’s latest adventure, while competent, feels repetitious and uninspired. In an age when other lovable mascots — Rayman, Skylanders, DK’s old nemesis Mario — are bringing fresh ideas to the genre, “Tropical Freeze” is underripe.
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