Despite what Ant and Dec's family-friendly advert might have you believe, Donkey Kong Country Returns is not a game for mum and dad.
Although showing plenty of hallmarks of a game designed under the New Super Mario Bros. banner, Retro Studios' (Metroid Prime) platformer isn't the perfect title to entertain the family this Christmas. It's ruthlessly challenging, unapologetically relentless - and it's definitely designed for hardcore gamers. And that's exactly why we love it.
BARREL OF LAUGHS
Fans of Rare's Super Nintendo series will see the parallels instantly. DK's unique brand of 'hop-n-bop' platforming has you bouncing along the heads of baddies (now in the form of possessed voodoo drums, rather than crocs), screaming through the jungle in rollercoaster mine carts and doing your absolute best to collect every hidden secret - all whilst spelling out K-O-N-G and grabbing that illusive extra life balloon.
The soundtrack respects the past, too; featuring plenty of welcome remakes of Rare's tunes. Retro's even taken pointers from the excellent Jungle Beat, with plenty of physical moves that have you pounding the ground (naturally executed by thumping the Wii remote) and repeatedly punching bosses in the face.
It's a more impressive and skill-driven platformer than New Super Mario Bros., with worlds that deform and dynamically crumble around you with the press of a gorilla-punched button. But that's not to say it hasn't borrowed some of its Nintendo stable-mate's best bits.
Country Returns carries much of the incredible imagination found in New Super Mario Bros - and bar a few repetitions towards the end, no two levels have your simian pair swinging and bouncing in quite the same way.
In just the first hour you'll fly a rocket through the sky dodging cannon fire, ride a minecart through the jungle, avoid deadly tsunami waves behind cover on beach and scramble through a crumbling cave as a 40ft Octopus smashes and flails his tentacles all around the environment.
It's an impressive looking game with a beautiful art style, made to feel even more organic by the abundance of animated wildlife and the fact that the levels stretch all the way into the background. Retro constantly makes use of this space by barrel-blasting you towards the horizon onto nearby pirate ships, platforms and hidden bonus levels.
Boss design is as constantly surprising as it is bloody hard - which brings us back to our opening statement. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a hard game, especially towards the end.
In its last few stages, it's rare if at least one of the spread-apart, wafer-thin platforms doesn't instantly crumble and collapse beneath your feet.
QUITE A KONGQUEST
So, although the game's taken on some of NSMB's profound accessibility - co-op partners can 'spawn' via floating barrels, and the Super Guide is back to automatically guide troubled players through trickier levels - we can't see anyone other than skilled platform games players getting to the end of Wii's top Christmas offering.
Even the first boss took us more than a few attempts to beat - and we've been hammering this genre since we were still in our Alex Kidd nappies.
In addition, co-op isn't as fleshed out as in Mario's Wii classic, with two-players merely lowering the odds of survival, rather than presenting actual dual-challenge and fresh abilities.
Meanwhile, the single-player is 'nostalgic' in length - weighing in at about six hours with only secret levels and collectables to suck you back in.