Games: Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat
System: Nintendo GameCube
Back when Donkey Konga was first announced to the public, it was quite interesting. A music game featuring bongos? Well, it worked for Namco’s Taiko No Tatsujin, so why not repeat it with a jungle theme? And the game was pretty good when all was said and done. Decent songs, new way to play…good, good game.
Then Nintendo announced that there would be another game that used the bongos, but it would be an action platformer: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. It’s here that I got a bit skeptical. A special controller for a music game was one thing, but using it for a platform game? How would it work? Would it be fun? Is Nintendo really losing it at their old age?
Of course no one has a fully informed opinion on ANY game unless they play it first hand. And so I did, reservations and all. Boy, was I surprised…
The game is really not all that story intensive, as the “Jungle Beat” concept is really the only point to the game. Sure there’s a small back-story to be found in the manual, but that’s about it. Essentially, a bunch of other Kong’s have invaded Donkey Kong’s turf, and good ol’ DK has to prove his “alpha maleness” and reclaim his throne as King of the Jungle. And to do that, he’s going to have to beat the ever-loving crap out of these guys.
Not much to go with, but at least it sets the premise of the game.
I gotta say, this title is one of the better-looking GameCube games out there, in my book. The levels are BEAUTIFUL, ranging from colorful tropical forests, to snowy ice caves, to the blistering innards of a volcano. And this isn’t even counting the severe oddball worlds you’ll encounter. (Trust me, you’ll know when you see them.) All stages and objects are rendered nearly perfectly, and serve as the perfect eye candy when progressing through each stage.
As an added bonus, there are no camera issues to speak of. It sticks on DK all the time, and only shifts angles when you perform a special stunt (or kick the crap out of a boss). True this IS a 2D game with 3D visuals, but at no time does anything happen where you can’t see what you’re doing, or lose DK on your screen. I sometimes have that problem with games like Viewtiful Joe, as the action-packed sequences distract me from my concentration. No such problems here.
As for DK himself? He’s the most detailed I’ve even seen him. Big and furry, he moves seamlessly to the beat of the drums. But the awesome thing is that compared to the enemies around him, he’s freakin’ miniscule. There are plenty of baddies and bosses that are easily double or triple DK’s size, which make for some impressive battles visually.
Overall, the sound left me a bit under whelmed. The music is pretty good, but considering the action that happens on screen, it sounds tame in comparison. It almost gets lost in the background as you perform all of DK’s tricks and combos. It’s nice, standard DK fare, but unfortunately, given the game’s genre, it just doesn’t seem to measure up as much.
What saves this category are awesome sounds and voices found within. I’m especially impressed with the new grunts and groans of DK himself, as Nintendo finally recorded some new sounds for him. He sounds the most alive I’ve ever heard him, dropping all the corny “COOL!” stuff in exchange for alpha-male howls to the sky. Consider me impressed here.
Nintendo’s public stance on “innovation over all else” is never clearer than the premise of this game: an action-platformer controlled by BONGOS of all things. It’s a gimmick, I will admit, but it’s a gimmick that works beyond my wildest dreams.
In any given stage, you’ll control Donkey Kong by banging on the bongos and clapping your hands. The left drum will move him left, while the right drum will move him right (duh). Hitting both will cause him to jump up. Clapping sends out a sound wave that will stun your enemies and let you collect far off bananas. The overall controls are spot on given their simplicity, and are PERFECT for this type of game.
Of course you can play with the regular GC controller…but then you’re missing the whole point of the game.
Speaking of bananas, collecting them is once again the goal of the game. The new twist is that each banana you collect adds to your health bar. But of course collecting bananas individually won’t get you anywhere. You’re going to need to collect bananas in special “combos” in order to achieve the high scores. For example, instead of just running though a pile of bananas, you jump over them and clap. You’ll collect all the bananas at once, AND gain extra points for each one in the chain. You can turn 8 separate bananas into 40 in an instant.
You’ll also increase your combo meter for every special stunt you do. You can perform stunts by doing certain special moves, like attack diving and back flips, or interacting with various objects within each stage, such as swinging from vines, launching yourself from walls and flowers, even grabbing birds to fly you to new locations. The higher the combo meter, the bigger the bonus when you collect bananas, but your combo will stop the second you touch the ground. The trick is to perform as many stunts in a row as humanly possible, and to keep your combo going as you traverse through each stage. It is possible to keep a combo going from start to end of certain stages, allowing you to earn MASSIVE amounts of points in the process. The game will even show you “tatsujin movies” (experts playing) where they show you clues on how to gain higher combos.
The game only contains a single player experience. No extra multi-player modes, no mini-games. And you know what? That’s all the game needs. I was skeptical at first when I started, as there were only four levels to begin with. My stomach sank a bit, thinking “Oh no! Is this going to be another short romp? Am I going to be done with this in a couple hours?” Then when I completed the first four levels, I unlocked another four. I sighed a breath of relief. Then I unlocked ANOTHER four levels. I was ecstatic. And after I thought I beat the game, I unlocked FOUR MORE LEVELS!!! The game just kept on giving!
After all is said and done, you’ll have access to 18 different levels. 16 contain three stages apiece (two regular and one boss), while the last two are 1-stage boss fights. That being said, there are FIFTY stages, with 18 of them boss fights. Yes, a Nintendo game that has an enormous amount of gameplay in a single-player mode. Take THAT, skeptics!
Anyway, as said before, each of the 16 main levels contains two main stages and a boss fight. The first two stages have you accumulate bananas, and end in some sort of banana collecting frenzy. The totals add up in the end, and become your health bar during the boss fight. You’ll face one of these four bosses: a giant bird, giant warthog, mechanical elephant, or stronger Kong. You’ll lose bananas off your total score if you’re hit, so it’s wise to dodge as much as possible. The awesome part is that if you’re able to stun the bosses, you’ll get the chance to smack them around a bit by bashing both drums. It actually feels like you’re beating the shit out of someone!
Boxing games eat your heart out.
The controls are easy to pick up, and the gameplay mechanics are like nothing I’ve played before. I can’t say anything bad about this category at all. The game is designed to be fun and engaging, and surpassed ALL my expectations in this area.
Given the sheer amount of stages, and the variety of said stages, you’ll definitely want to keep coming back to the game. For starters, when you complete a stage, you’ll get the opportunity to earn crests. Each stage has four to collect (bronze, silver, gold, platinum), and you’ll earn them based on your final banana total for each stage. Collecting them unlocks new stages for the game, and collecting them ALL nets you…a hearty pat on the back. Nothing too special, but the sense of accomplishment that you mastered a game with a weird control scheme should be enough.
Although after you earn all the crests, there’s not much else to do other than play for higher scores in each stage. Luckily, you can earn all the crests and STILL not fully combo each stage to the fullest. Some of the tatsujin videos shown during the game enormous combos set up already, including one that ended in over 3,000 bananas earned. That’s 2.5 times the amount you need for a Platinum Crest. So playing the game can still be highly rewarding.
Replay Value: 7.5/10
I will admit that the learning curve for the game is a small one. The controls are unique for an action game, but you’ll pick up the basics AT MOST by the end of day you first play it. By the same token, however, using the controls to keep your combos going is another story entirely. Any shmoe can muddle their way through a stage, but learning how to keep DK airborne for the majority of it are separate endeavors.
As far as going through each stage, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’ll never die. Ever. Yes, you CAN die by having your banana counter hit zero, but considering there are usually bananas to collect not too far into each level, losing them once the counter hits 50+ involves screwing up on a royal scale. You can also look forward to completing each level once and finishing with at least a Silver Crest. At no time did I ever screw up enough to not have fewer than 500 bananas at the end of a stage. It shouldn’t be a problem for you either.
Boss fights also tend to be on the easy side, and they’ll repeat four times. For example, there will be four times you’ll have to fight a pig boss, with each pig boss in succession gaining new or upgraded moves to use. They might get repetitive to you after a while as well, since there are only four classes of boss. And the two end bosses you face will be gigantic jokes, I’m sorry to say.
There is no other game like it on the market. There’s no other game that features a hero collect items and earn massive combos in such a manner, even WITH a bongo control scheme. There are only two games right now that use the bongo controllers, and one is a music game that looks like an infant’s rattle in comparison. Nintendo took something that Namco helped create, and created a game with play mechanics I’ve never seen before. It’s simple, fun, and personally rewarding. It’s games like these that convince me that when Nintendo develops a game in-house, they STILL GOT IT!
The game is addicting, but it hurts to be so addicting. It REALLY, REALLY HURTS.
Let me explain: In order to bang out this review (SHAMELESS PUN) in a timely manner, I had to play this game in much longer spurts than one should be playing this game. Was it fun? Yes. Did I honestly want to play more of it as I continued? YES!
Did my hands feel like two pounds of hamburger meat when I finally cleared the game with 100%? You better believe it.
Given the awesome things found in this game, you may find that you want to keep playing for hours on end. But be forewarned that this game is NOT designed to accommodate extremely long gameplay sessions. Your hands WILL get sore if you play for more than 45-60 minutes at a time. Big stupid me played for 2-3 hour spurts over the course of three days, and my hands ended up friggin’ numb for the next 2 days. (The things I do for you people…)
So in short, the game is addicting. Not in the “play all night and forget to sleep” way, but in the “play a little bit, looking forward to tomorrow’s progress” way. And in the long run, it helps stretch the replay value of the game a bit as well.
The main purchasers of this game will probably already own at least one pair of bongos, as well as Donkey Konga. Those gamers will look at Jungle Beat and probably think of it as a similar experience. Of course those gamers who end up renting or buying the game will quickly correct themselves in that respect, in the sense that Jungle Beat is NOTHING like Konga. In fact, the game is about 20 times BETTER than Konga.
Don’t get me wrong, I love music games. I really liked Konga as a first effort between Nintendo and Namco. But after Jungle Beat arrived, the reason to own a bongo controller changed dramatically. Now I’m patiently waiting for a Jungle Beat sequel to be announced rather than the upcoming Konga 2. It’s that fun.
So long story short, the game will mainly appeal to those who own the controller for it already, although there are bundles of this game with a set of bongos as well. Hopefully word-of-mouth and the neat commercial for the game will suffice further sales.
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe Nintendo wasn’t losing just the console wars, but a few steps in their game development. Several of their latest franchise titles were handed to other developers to handle recently, leaving Nintendo only as the publisher. Of course this has lead to mixed results. The Capcom Legend of Zelda titles were great, but games like Sega’s F-Zero GX and Namco’s Star Fox: Assault, although pretty good, seemed a little under whelming. (And don’t get me started on Fuse Entertainment’s Mario Pinball Land. Yikes.)
But along came DK Jungle Beat developed by Nintendo THEMSELVES. And wouldn’t you know it, this is one of the finest games ever to grace the GameCube. It provides an original experience with original gameplay mechanics. It throws the old Kremling bad guys out the window and replaces them with brand new enemies that are much more engaging. It doesn’t have a giant back-story, but doesn’t need one either. If this is what Nintendo was referring to when they claimed they wanted to “innovate” in their games rather than not, than I am fully looking forward to see what comes next from them, and not one of their team-ups.
Here’s a big thank you, Nintendo, for giving this tired old gamer a new experience in the sea of complacency.
Replay Value: 7.5/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Overall Score: 78.5/100
FINAL SCORE: 8.0 (GREAT!)