That challenge is perfectly encapsulated by Tropical Freeze's boss fights: grueling, but never insurmountable. You might expend upwards of ten lives figuring out how to reach a single checkpoint or overcome a single patterned attack from a boss, but you'll collect 1-Up balloons like candy, softening the blow of each fatal learning experience. Tropical Freeze has a helpful item shop stocked with extra lives, additional hearts, and one-time life savers, but there aren't any permanent upgrades--just Band-Aid items to help mend the damages of a single level.
I played through the majority of the game using the Pro Controller, which felt comfortable even in the trickiest of platforming sections. But I have one minor quibble: Why can't I remap the controls to my liking? Tropical Freeze refuses to let you recreate a SNES controller layout with the D-pad, Y to roll, and B to jump; I was forced to use the joystick instead. Again, it's a trivial complaint, but it seems silly to make configuring a truly old-school control scheme impossible.
Unlike the generous New Mode in the 3DS port of Returns, DK and his cohorts can only survive a mere two hits in Tropical Freeze. You'd think this would make each stage feel like a treacherous slog, but it somehow has the opposite effect: Tropical Freeze forces you to improve at such a drastic pace that you have no choice but to get better. Soon enough, you'll be cruising past obstacles you once found overwhelming, and it feels pretty awesome when you feel your skill increasing with each level. If you're determined to collect every last puzzle piece and KONG letter, your journey won't end until you've achieved nothing less than platforming expertise.
Alas, this kind of exacting difficulty translates miserably in co-op play, which boils down to two kinds of experiences: a frantic circus of same-screen confusion, or the second player sacrificing almost all their agency by hopping on DK's back. The latter is nice for your lesser-skilled sibling or parent, letting them play along by shooting enemy-stunning projectiles. But true cooperative play is so discombobulating that it just doesn't feel worth it, especially in the later worlds.
The benefits of Tropical Freeze being on Wii U are subtle, but they're definite there. At first glance, Tropical Freeze looks like a slightly more polished version of Returns--which isn't a knock, because that game was gorgeous to begin with. But when you take the time to examine the smaller features, particularly when you're not the one playing, the graphics really start to shine, with impressive depth and detail to each backdrop. As for the GamePad, it might as well not exist. Tropical Freeze makes zero use of the second screen beyond off-TV play, though that in no way detracts from the experience.
Tropical Freeze is a bit like Cranky Kong himself: it expects and demands so much from you, but always with your best interests at heart. Those not looking for a challenge have virtually no reason to play this game--but frankly, it wasn't made with them in mind anyway. Tropical Freeze caters to players who derive fun from overcoming adversity, which the game offers in near endless supply. If you can fall down a pit 16 times and still eagerly drift down on your 17th balloon, this is the Donkey Kong you're looking for.