Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Sell your grannies! Re-mortgage your houses! The best Nintendo game of last year's E3 is here - but is all the chest-beating justified?
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat finally swung into stores not so long ago, peeling open hours of fun never thought possible with a pair of plastic bongos. Everyone's favourite red-tied gorilla has returned to the much-demanded, side-scrolling platform genre - and with him he brings a new way of control, with the DK Bongos. Never would we have guessed that bongos could make a platform game so much fun.
After we exposed Jungle Beat for the first time last year, at first look it seemed rather a simplified affair; using the pair of bongo drums, you move Kong around the gorgeous side-scrolling environments by taping the left drum to move him left, the right drum to move right. Hit both drums together to make him jump, and clap to create shockwaves that stun enemies, pop bubbles and so on.
This may seem tricky at first, after years of using a d-pad or analogue stick - but a well-defined learning curve assures that Jungle Beat never throws you into hot water too early. The array of demo movies shown between levels also clue you in on certain techniques and make sure you rack up alot more bananas on a second play-through.
The aim of the game is to run, jump and swing through each level collecting as many bananas as possible - either by picking them up from the ground, or by defeating enemies. Performing 'combos' (that is, for example, wall-jumping or vine-swinging without touching the ground) will multiply the number of bananas you bag. Once you touch the ground, your combo is over. As things progress, you'll learn lots of new techniques, like leaping between opposing walls, flying around on birds and so on - and all with simple bongo commands. It's just inspiring gameplay design.
Each 'Kingdom' contains two stages each about 5 minutes long. At the end of these stages you're faced with a mini-game where you have to drum as fast as you can to rack up bonus bananas, after which you will face off with one of the four main boss types. Your banana stash acts as your 'health', and you'll lose them, Sonic-style, when taking damage.
After defeating a boss enemy the bananas you've collected give you a ranking. Bronze is rewarded simply for completing the stage, Silver for collecting 400 bananas, Gold for 800 bananas and Platinum for a seemingly impossible 1200 bananas. These rankings are then used to unlock new stages in the game.
And just when you think you've beaten the final boss to the ground, a whole new set of levels are unlocked - requiring you to go back and replay a lot of earlier levels, in order to keep unlocking new ones. And that's when we really started to appreciate the thought that's gone into the level design; you need to use every trick in the book to squeeze out every last banana. Jumping off walls and swinging from monkey-nests to keep combos alive, which really is the key to collecting those crucial last few bananas which will get you the ranking you need. This NiGHTS-style scoring system always works superbly in titles like this.
The stages are extremely varied, presenting a very compelling and interesting gameplay experience. Through the course of the game, you'll swim in the ocean through sunken ships, ride a buffalo from a giant pursuing lizard though a snowy valley, practice your juggling combos in a dusty desert.
Somewhat conversely the bosses are limited in variety, but still interesting and fun to battle against. The four main boss types are Kong (a fist-fight where you dodge with a clap and punch with a drum-roll), Hog (A warthog who throws fruit at you), Roc (a bird holding an egg which you need to break) and tusk (a robotic elephant who shoots at you with his trunk-cannon. Obviously).
Each time you come up against these bosses they're a little bit harder and bring you a challenge to face in order to keep hold of your precious bananas. Soon we found ourselves hopelessly addicted to collecting every last banana, hopefully coming out of the boss fights unscathed in order to get those gold and (gulp) platinum rankings. Simply put, this is crack with bongos.
The only disappointing thing is that, like most comparable games these days, it's all over too quick. You'll probably extend the experience by having to stop, due to bongo-induced exhaustion - but the game could easily be finished in a day. While the style of the game is very much arcade, it still appeals to the sort of enthusiast player who's gonna go back to these stages, and collect every last banana and explore every last crevice.
If you're either kind of gamer, by all means this is the game for you. But if 90 hours of story-driven gameplay is more your bag, you'll probably get a limited - albeit extremely enjoyable - experience from Jungle Beat. Whataver the case, this is absolutely worthy of your attention.
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Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Direct feed gameplay footage (640x480, 1Mbps)
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
Showfloor gameplay footage (640x480, 1Mbps)