Review by SneakTheSnake

"A Quest for Crests, to Be the Best"

Jungle Rhythm

Heads were turned during the development phases of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. During the unveiling of this unique platformer at E3 2004, players were astonished to see this new, innovative game, that, strangely enough, is entirely played via the DK Bongo peripheral, originally used for the Donkey Konga series. Running, jumping, and combat, in this game, are performed entirely by a set of plastic bongo drums. Developers touted it as a masterpiece, players were surprised beyond belief, and the media was pumped.

DK Jungle Beat was released enthusiastically in March of 2005 in the ‘States, and I remember its introduction rather well. I'd always been a fan of Nintendo, and as of late, their new styles of innovation have brought a lot to the gaming community. I tried the game out once, but didn't entirely get the gist of it. Also, some other factors made me a little skeptic.

Takao Shimizu and Yoshiaki Koizumi, the title's producer and director respectively, had a lot to say about the game in a February 2005 interview regarding the title and its upcoming release. Many of the characters were developed originally, and the Nintendo Tokyo team was given full creative liberties to redesign and rework the Donkey Kong universe. While Nintendo had more or less stuck to the Rare design of Donkey Kong since 1994, this design shows a lot more style and detail. Also, unlike other Donkey Kong games, which show at least part of a story, this iteration has no story. According to Koizumi, “The only thing Donkey Kong needs is to be the best, and become king of the jungle.”

Oversimplified controls? Reused boss designs? Simple, repetitive combat? An unusual combo system? Where is the rest of the DK Krew, or even K. Rool?

None of those particularly matter in this newest ape adventure. DK just wants to be king of the jungle, and that's all he has to do. As a sweet treat, it's a heck of a lot of fun being the best… for the most part.

Players accompany the star simian through an adventure that spans jungles, tundras, oceans, volcanoes, fortresses, and even realms beyond the stars. There is a lot to enjoy in Jungle Beat, despite its shortcomings.

Getting Donkey Kong Under Control

In order to be the king of the jungle, DK will have to best any foe and collect as many bananas as possible. To control our main character, players roll the bongo drums left and right to make him wander in each respective direction. Hitting both at the same time makes him jump, and making any percussive sound (clapping, snapping fingers, or just talking, for example) makes DK clap his large hands. Easily enough, that is all there is to it. It can be quite satisfying to grab hold of an enemy and fiercely beat it to a pulp by rolling aggressively on the bongo drums. Feeling the force of DK's mighty fists makes the game all the more immersing.

The hand clap that DK can perform helps grab bananas (which are essentially called beats), grab hold of enemies and items, or trigger changes in the environment. A change in the environment might include mushrooms sprouting from the ground, flowers blooming with beats, directional arrows flashing to show the way, and so on.

Controlling our main monkey is simple, yes, but that was Nintendo's goal. It might seem trite, but the whole scenario is definitely very original.

Agility, Ability

With such a conservative control scheme, DK is capable of quite a bit. Along with walking or running at quite a few different speeds, he also jumps high in the air, can be moved slightly left or right during freefall, and can pounce on enemies without restraint. Clinging and wall-jumping on horizontal surfaces, sliding up and down giant reeds, maneuvering in a giant bubble, and collecting hordes upon hordes of beats are all rather easy to do, and the response time for the bongos is usually spot-on. Perhaps I wasn't clapping close or loud enough, but I sometimes wasn't able to grab beats or wallop on bad guys when I wanted to, and I lost combos and damage that way.

Get Them Beats

As with nearly any Donkey Kong game, bananas are very important. In this game, collecting one hundred does not grant a free life, but the beats serve a much more important purpose. Not only is the total beat count DK's health meter, but is also his total score in a given stage. Players can collect beats by simply walking into them and collecting them, but clapping at them grants players many more points. Walking or falling into a cluster of beats and clapping in their vicinity allows DK to collect the entire cluster at once, garnering more points.

For example, DK finds a group of six beats in a cluster. Collecting the beats by simply walking into them grants DK simply six beats. Jumping, falling into or around the cluster, then clapping, grants DK twenty-one beats. Six plus five plus four. . . . plus one would equal twenty-one. The more beats, the better.

Collecting simultaneous beats is key for high scores in Jungle Beat. Stringing together a combo of beat collection can be difficult, but also rewarding to discover. So long as DK is airborne, underwater, or somehow not on solid ground, DK can collect beats and multiply and drastically increase his total score. Jumping off walls, grabbing onto helpful animals, beating multiple foes at once, using trampolines, and other events can sometimes prevent DK from ever touching the ground. The only way a combo is ever completely stopped is if DK touches the ground or is hurt by an enemy.

High beat scores reward DK with crests at the end of any given set of stages, or Kingdom. Simply besting a stage rewards players with a Bronze Crest, but up to Platinum can be earned by earning a score of 1200 beats or more. This is definitely quite a feat; of course, it's not necessary to earn even a Gold Crest to progress in the game, but for perfectionists and those who want to see the extra stages, collecting crests will become all the more important.

A Kingdom progresses rather linearly in DK: JB. After two stages (whose themes are always completely different from one another), DK is confronted by a menacing boss. These fall into different categories, and it seems that there are only a few different boss types: a strongman contest-type brawl with another ape, a bomb-spewing elephant, a menacing bird whose protected egg must be cracked and destroyed, or a large hog. Each boss has 500 beats of health, but their strategies and moves become faster and tougher as the game progresses. DK must bring his A-game if he wants to win.

At the end of each boss confrontation, DK offers his beats up to the Great Tree. Depending on the score, he will then be rewarded with however many crests he earned. The game is quite straightforward.

As if Playing with a Cool Controller Wasn't Enough

Animal friends help DK along the way by bringing him across stages, assisting in races, or even granting new beats. A ram helps along some alpine stages with long jumps and endurance runs, a parachute-type creature allows DK to descend or ascend easily and slowly through tough parts of the stage, and a skinny bird struggles but succeeds in taking Donkey Kong to new heights. These parts are more or less quite satisfying, though the bird's controls are rather difficult to get used to.

Hmm, Wow, He Has Fur…. But What Did He Say?

Jungle Beat looks wonderful. The style may take a little getting used to, but the environments are consistently radiant. I'll cover the character models first, though.

DK's model is quite a sight. Composed of a large amount of polygons, DK's body is lavish in detail and appeal. His sloping brow somehow complements his dark, glimmering eyes, and his satisfied, even aggressive grin takes up most of the lower part of his face. DK's short arms seem like nothing compared to his enormous hands, which are bout the size of his own face. He walks on stubby legs either a casual gait or a curious stride.

Also, he's capable of many facial expressions. When he sees a cluster of beats above him, he looks upward, grinning in anticipation and excitement. If an enemy does him wrong, he'll show it, and if DK wins whatever battle, he'll show his satisfaction.

What might look odd at first is Donkey Kong's thick fur coat. Even in the CGI television show, DK's skin was bold and muscular, showing no fur. In Jungle Beat, however, his coat is accentuated strongly. Small furs are all over his body, and it may look strange close up, but the body surface, in conjunction with the realistic movement, combine to make for a realistic Donkey Kong.

Other character models, of course, were not given as much attention as DK, but each have their charm. The strong ram runs through the tundra, the exaggerated proportions of the birds are charming, and the boss designs are rather innovative. Seeing the different types of Kongs throughout the Kingdoms can be a treat.

Level designs are simply phenominal here. Water sparkles and shimmers down the large jungle falls, balls of fire majestically erupt and float through the magma chambers, and even in the stages whose elements don't make sense (large worlds filled with suspended gelatin-type substances, for example, or an asteroid belt), the worlds look marvellous.

Lighting was also done well. Particularly in the “lava-themed” stages, the lighting and shading on DK can be seen quite well. Light reflects off his face, hands, and feet realistically as he approaches or walks away from a source of light. In regular stages, of course, the shading and so forth is accurate, but it takes a stage like “Magma Coliseum” to truly marvel at the game's lighting effects.

Music is important in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. More so than most other games, the music in this game in particular atmospherically sets the mood for a stage, and small musical interludes which play at certain times accentuate the action. Percussion is used liberally in this game, as, well, players control DK with a set of bongos. Players can tell, in songs like the level select, the jungle levels, and so on, that rhythmic tribal beats set the tone for the game. In races, derbies, mini-boss encounters, or ski-type events, the music changes to a more dramatic and fast-paced melody. Small touches are also in the music, which players may not even notice. While DK is sliding down a steep incline, for example, the musical scale is played downward on a xylophone, much like old cartoons.

Our primate pal still isn't much of a talker, but he and his friends grunt and yell to complement (or frustrate) the action. His voice sounds a lot like his quips in Donkey Kong 64 or Super Smash Bros. Melee, so the voice is accurate enough. Other sound effects fit in well to what might be going on, and none are particularly grating, except perhaps for the bird squawks. A trained ear might pick up a few sound effects from the newer Mario Kart titles, or that might just be me.

Downfalls in the Ape's Adventures

Unfortunately, Jungle Beat is a relatively short game, taking only about six hours tops to complete. For completionists out there, Platinum Crests are rather hard to nab, and beyond the actual “ending” of the game, there are several more stages to unlock and best. The innovation of the concept, in itself, almost saves it from its low replay value.

Like any game requiring a bit of skill, the reward and the true challenge comes from level memorization. Knowing exactly when to jump, where to glide, and what can be avoided comes from lots of practice, and this is the only way to earn the coveted Platinum Crests. For those who are completionists, this memorization and persistence is reward enough, but for impatient gamers who want high scores without much work, this game is not a good recommendation. This is not entirely a button-masher.

Also, during a good part of the action, a close-up of DK is shown along the lower left-hand screen. During parts where DK may be hard to see, this close-up shows us exactly what he's up to, and how and where he's moving. To some, this might be a nuisance, but when the camera pans closer to or away from DK to show a larger or smaller view, the close-up goes away. Strangely, if DK is interacting with an object (swinging on a reed, for example), only DK is shown and not the object. His hands, in the close-up, are swinging on nothing. The close-up might be a distraction if DK happens to be on the left side of the screen.

A few side-notes. The bongos are strongly recommended for the play of this game, but perhaps that should have gone without saying. The Gamecube controller can be used as a substitute, but that is almost like playing Dance Dance Revolution without a pad (though that might give players in advantage in DDR…. The point beating is that it takes away from the atmosphere and intended feel of the game). Be sure to clap loud enough for the microphone to sense it. Several times, I clapped too softly, and fell into a ditch, or got hurt by mosquitoes, or lost my beats / health in some other manner. Also, I recommend playing on a flat surface, or else the bongos may slip and fall from, say, someone's lap.

Now, Start on that Quest for Crests!

Certainly, this is one of the most original platformers in years, and one of the best of Nintendo's Gamecube. For platformer junkies or those who are into trying something new, try this one out. I would recommend it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/31/06

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