Review by SuperPhillip

"A Bongo Blast"

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is a racing game that's been a long time coming. Rare originally unveiled a title for Nintendo's at that time new console, the Gamecube, called Donkey Kong Racing. When Rare was purchased by Microsoft, the title turned into vaporware and was never talked of again. Fast-forward to the end of the Gamecube's life cycle, and Nintendo announced Donkey Kong Bongo Blast for the Nintendo Gamecube-- a title that would utilize the bongo peripheral used for four other titles: Donkey Konga 1-3 (3 is Japan only) and the criminally underrated Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. However, with the success of the Wii, Nintendo decided to move development of this title from the Gamecube to their new motion-sensing machine. Now with a new name and without the ability to use the bongo controller and new motion-sensing controls, does Donkey Kong have a new hit ripe for the taking, or is this racer a sour banana?

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast has DK and friends equipped with jets powered by bongos. This game is essentially a kart racer in lieu of the massively successful Mario Kart franchise. . Nonetheless, Barrel Blast is much more restrictive when you're racing. DK and others are always moving forward on a set track. Sure, you can move left or right, but back-tracking is never an option to the player. The game is controlled solely by the Wii remote/nunchuk combo. To gain speed, you're supposed to alternate moving between the Wii remote and nunchuk. Once you've reached maximum speed, all you need to do is shake the nunchuk to move left and waggle the Wii remote to glide right. It's as if you're banging imaginary bongos. Hit an obstacle such as a steel keg or get hammered by an item, and you'll need to alternate between both hands to speed up once again. Strike down both controllers at the same time to perform a jump. However, between alternating hands to speed up to pounding down both hands to jump, sometimes you'll accidentally register a jump when you don't mean to causing frustration.

Like Mario Kart there's seven other racers to contend with. Press the A button to initiate a punch to knock out other racers for a brief moment or to smash through wooden barrels. Another nod to Mario Kart-inspired racers are items. There's a wide array of them as well from laying a row of fiery bananas on your trail to sending out a purple bird named Quawks to mess with the player in first place. The AI will use these items to their advantage as well, so watch out.

The controls might appear simple just like the game mechanics themselves, but they're deceptively so. By collecting bananas spread around each track, you'll slowly build up your Wild Move gauge located on the right side of the screen. When it fills up, you can perform a Wild Move by holding down on the control stick of the nunchuk. This move allows you to jet faster than max speed while crashing past other racers and some course hazards. By slamming through a wooden barrel while in Wild Move mode you can extend the length of the move's duration. This means that if you keep propelling through wooden barrels you can prolong your Wild Move to extended periods of time. Players will most likely find some insane combos to blaze past and ahead of the racing pack. While your beginner mode is rather slow, the other two difficulties offer tighter competition and faster speeds.

The tracks themselves are all suspended above air. Players are confined to the insides of the track, and all they can do is move left or right to grab bananas and avoid other racers and obstacles such as TNT barrels, steel kegs, and items. Shortcuts come in the form of rocket barrels that send players to other parts of the track. Red barrels shoot the player out allowing them to perform mid-air poses (by shifting the Wii remote left, right, up, or down when prompted) to earn even more bananas. Additionally in some levels, your racer can open a box containing either Enguarde the swordfish (in underwater races) and Rambi the rhino (in land races). You'll then ride your animal for a short period of time, smacking away obstacles and other racers while being given a fast ride. While there are sixteen races in all, many of them borrow track pieces from other races. What I mean is that the underwater races will feel quite similar except for a few changes. While this might seem lame, well, that's because it pretty much is. Track locales range from the jungle of DK's home to an erupting volcano, to a shimmering sea, to an icy mountainside, to a sky-high temple.

Barrel Blast offers numerous modes to partake in including the standard circuit gameplay. At the end of each race you're awarded points depending on the place you received. Have the most points at the conclusion of a cup, and you're the victor. There's also Candy's Challenges where you'll need to complete a set of eight challenges to unlock the next level of eight. These challenges range from collecting a certain amount of bananas within a time limit to helping another racer get first place in a race. The levels of challenges get progressively more difficult, and even after you've completed them all (all 32 of them), you'll have the option to go back to beat your records. To round out the package there's your mandatory time trial mode and versus modes for up to three other players locally.

The cast of Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is wide as it totals to sixteen different racers-- eight Kongs (Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, Tiny Kong, etc.) and eight of the Kremling klan (Kriiter, Kip, Kalypso, Kludge, etc.). Each racer has their own stats from how fast they reach max speed to how long their boosts are. Of course, only a handful of racers are available at the beginning, but by completing cups and Candy's challenges you'll be set to unlock them all.

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is definitely a Gamecube game ported over to the Wii. However, it still beats the pants off of a vast assortment of Wii titles graphically. The tracks are colorful and vibrant, blur effects are a nice touch, and the characters and models are all crafted well. There's no sign of slowdown or framerate stutters, and for the most part you'll be able to keep up with the action.

The omission of the bongo controller is questionable, however. I feel that this title would have benefited from both control schemes. The price tag is another problem as well. It's a fifty dollar title at the game's launch which seems a little steep considering that the game isn't overly complex and the length of unlocking everything isn't very long.

DK's latest console outing may not set the gaming world on fire, but it's a fairly competent racing title. It might feel dumbed down especially to those coming in from racers with more depth, and the controls are decidedly something to get used to. Many will easily get frustrated with learning the controls, but for those who persevere there's a lot of fun to be had. Those complaining about how slow the game is have obviously not unlocked the easy to obtain difficulties offering speedier gameplay and closer races. For what this title sets out to do it's an enjoyable romp that Wii owners should at least give a chance.

The Recap:

Graphics: Colorful and vibrant, and it very much looks like a late-gen Gamecube game.

Gameplay: Race on a set path whilst using the controls to move left or right. Simple, but there's aggravation in jumping when you're simply wanting to pick up speed.

Sound: Cheery music on par with any kart racer.

Replay Value: There's enough content to warrant a look. No online is somewhat unacceptable for a title like this in this day and age, but local multiplayer is enjoyable for a little while.

Overall: 6.0/10 - Good. You just need to give it a chance.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/07, Updated 10/27/08

Game Release: Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast (US, 10/08/07)


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