Review by clarkisdark

"Beating the odds"

Donkey Kong may have found his initial fame in platformers, but he hasn't touched the genre for a long time now. Since the questionably tasteful Donkey Kong 64, the ape has only appeared in Nintendo mascot collaborative games like Mario Golf and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He did get an extra A attached to his name for the bongo-based rhythm game, Donkey Konga. And for once, Nintendo wants us to get our money's worth out of one of their devices -- in this case, the bongos -- and have released not only another Donkey Konga but a 2D platformer which uses the drums as a controller. Trust me on this one; it's reason to own a bongo.

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is surprising in its graphics. Most Nintendo games featuring kid-friendly mascots receive bright, smooth, but typically plain face lifts. Jungle Beat is the prettier of the bunch. The game may be 2D, but the presentation is brimming with fluid animation, quick framerates, fancy particle effects, and detailed backgrounds. Donkey Kong himself has never looked hairier, a big improvement over his cardboard fur in past entries. The fur effect doesn't match Conker: Live and Reloaded, but on the Gamecube, it's easily the best.

What little of the music and sound effects I was able to take in seemed to fit the game well. The potentially annoying monkey banter and enemy growling and generic but vibrant soundtrack are all undermined by the input of the player. Playing this game is noisy! All I could hear was myself clapping and pounding on the drums. That can't be helped.

Each level is somewhat straightforward and deceivingly bland. Basically, you run through a level, jump on stuff, dodge stuff, pick up stuff, and hit stuff. And that... encapsulates everything about the game. Sure, the basics are well-designed and somewhat fast-paced, but it really doesn't sound that enthralling until you've actually played it (with the bongos, of course). The levels are split into three sections, and the third section is always a boss battle. These range from Super Punch-Out spin-offs to "return the enemy's fire." Problem: there are only three types of bosses, and the game just cycles through these with a slightly increased difficulty each time. An engaging combo system keeps each play through the level fresh. The majority of combo points come from picking up bananas, but multipliers are also available by rebounding off a wall or something similar. As long as Donkey Kong doesn't touch the ground, the combo is still active, and some levels can be traversed almost entirely in the air. Racking up combo points is essential for several reasons, but the main draw is that combo points (referred to as "beats" in the game) act as Donkey Kong's life. When beats start racking up in the hundreds, the prospect of dying is obviously far off, but those valuable points can keep you from scoring a better medal.

As you can see, the core of the gameplay is actually quite simple. If it were played with an actual controller, it would receive little to no acclaim from anybody. But while Jungle Beat can be played with a standard GCN controller, the "real" controller is the DK bongo. With this, Jungle Beat becomes an engaging and unique experience. Donkey Kong moves left and right by tapping the corresponding drum pad. Hitting both pads at once causes DK to jump. Clapping will stun enemies, grab onto certain objects, and pick up nearby bananas. The left/right movement can seem a bit sluggish at times, and it will take you several tries before the rhythm finally clicks. It wasn't until I was nearly finished with the game when I started to appreciate and like the bongo setup. Using a GCN controller may seem like a quicker way to enjoy the game... but don't do it. Rather than having its own setup, the controller mimics the bongos, which means Jungle Beat is not suited to play with a regular controller.

Pounding on the drums serves two purposes: moving Donkey Kong and alleviating one's frustration. Jungle Beat is actually an easy game. The trick to beating it is mastering the quirky controls. As intuitive as the drums may be, it's really awkward to jump into a 2D platformer with a control system that feels way too foreign. Playing Jungle Beat also really hurts your hands. I can only play this in one hour intervals, because my hands become too sore. A lot of clapping is required, and after 30 minutes, I find it increasingly difficult to get my claps to register. It's not that the game has troubles recognizing a good clap, it's that I'm too worn out to give it a good clap.

Lasting Appeal:
Eighteen levels doesn't sound like much-- and it isn't. The levels do come in threes, and several levels are only opened after a certain number of medals have been earned. It's not easy earning a silver and gold medal on the later levels, so it will surely take some retries to get it all. Yet Jungle Beat ended way too soon. I wanted to see more levels and maybe some kind of two-player mode. Playing the levels again is fun, sure, because there's always incentive to achieve that "ultimate combo." Sadly, since the boss battles comprise the end of each level set, and these battles become more and more obnoxious the more you play, it kind of ruins the fun.

If you own Donkey Konga 1 and 2 but are still left feeling a little unsatisfied, Jungle Beat will give you the best reason to own the DK bongos. Seriously, I don't imagine anything else like this being released. Then again, I never expected a game like Jungle Beat to make the grade anyway, so who am I to say. The bongo controller idea is truly innovative and remarkably enjoyable, and Jungle Beat is a polished enough game to support the "gimmick" without fail. Well, okay, the game falters in a few places. It's definitely not something you can play in long intervals, and some of the obstacles are just a little too awkward when banging on a drum. Regardless, Jungle Beat is a charming experience. Play it.

+ Slick 2D design
+ Enjoyable combo system
+ Unique control scheme
-- A little too unique at times
-- Reused boss battles
-- Disappointing length

Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/02/05

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