Review: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat New Play Control (Nintendo Wii)

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (New Play Control) (Wii)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 05/05/2009

Nintendo’s decision to release Gamecube remakes under a new label for only $30 is a welcome change over passing these games off as full new Wii releases. The third North American release in the “New Play Control” series is Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a 2D platform style game that plays like anything but a platformer. The Gamecube original required the DK Bongos to play, a peripheral that replaced a typical controller with 2 drums. DKJB on gamecube was a beautiful, original sleeper that presented a totally new play experience in a familiar package.

1. Modes/Story
Nintendo first party games are never known for compelling and deep storylines, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is no exception. Bananas have been stolen, apparently by mean kongs, so it’s up to Donkey to asset some monkeys to get all the bananas back. A story exists, but it doesn’t impact the gameplay much and could very easily have been omitted and not impacted the game experience.

The game modes in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat are straight forward as well. The single player game progresses Donkey through the various kingdoms, and then they can be replayed. There isn’t an online mode of any kind, although its tough to see how it would work besides an online leaderboard. Nintendo didn’t add much to the package over the Gamecube package, but what’s present is polished and strong.

Modes/Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics
Nintendo has been a primary keeper of the 2D flame in the late part of the decade, including major Mario, Wario and Donkey Kong games taking place without the need for the third dimension. For fans of 2D, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is one of the most polished and visually impressive games of this generation, especially considering its actually a last generation game.

Donkey Kong himself is super detailed and animated, with realistic fur and really smooth motion. He moves on a 2D plane through a variety of level layouts, each representing a different style. Most of the traditional video game locales are represented, including snow, forest, etc. All of the levels are rendered with a great attention to detail, and there are a surprising variety of them. Each of the animal helpers is different as well, with an accompanying gameplay style that adds to the total package.

In widecreen, it looks as good as almost any Wii game to date, with copious use of colors and explosion effects. There are a few instances of slowdown on particularly hectic sections with many enemies and bananas, but for the most part the game is silky smooth.

Graphics Rating: Great

3. Sound
Much like the sights and sounds of the Mario universe, the Donkey Kong universe has an established sound design that is consistent in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. The music is upbeat and rhythmic and provides a nice backdrop to each level. The sound effects are well done and expected, with all the requisite monkey and banana sounds you would expect.

Nothing surprising but nothing blowaway, the sound in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat played more of an importance in the Bongos-based Gamecube game, but does the job nicely for the New Play Control Wii version as well.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control & Gameplay
Unlike most games ported from Gamecube to Wii for control changes, the gameplay in DKJB is actually more typical and less experimental in its newer iteration. Movement has changed from Bongo hits to the Nunchuk analog stick, a mature design decision by Nintendo considering Donkey Kong Barrel Blast (the first Gamecube to Wii port of a Bongos game) was rendered nearly unplayable by mapping bongo hits to waggles.

Each kingdom has 2 regular stages and a boss stage. The regular levels are controlled by moving Donkey Kong with the analog stick and jumping with A, and attacking by a quick flick of the wrist. The attack is comprised of a sonic boom of some sort generated by Donkey Kong’s enormous ape strength. The wave attack has a variety of effects, from stunning enemies, to popping bubbles with bananas to grabbing onto monkeys for a boost across the level. Donkey can also do a wall jump and a ground pound.

Each kingdom has a focus on one new or unique gameplay technique that Donkey uses through most of the 2 levels before the boss. Some involve riding animal friends, and some involve Donkey himself manipulating the environment with sonic booms to collect bananas.

There isn’t as much reliance on timed jumps or killing enemies as much as there is stringing together banana collecting without hitting the ground. There are a variety of surfaces in the game that also count towards combos, including vines, bubbles, water and mid-air water-like blobs. The longer Donkey takes before hitting the ground, the higher the multiplier assigned to each banana collected. Some of most memorable parts of the game, such as riding the whale through the under water kingdown, involve long mid-air combos collecting large amounts of bananas at high speed. It’s almost like what you could imagine a high gloss 2D Sonic game.

A real highlight of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat are the boss battles. The amount of bananas collected in the first 2 levels of the kingdom make up Donkey’s energy in a one on one battle with a boss. There are several types of bosses that are repeated through the kingdoms, with a common theme of doing something to stun the boss, then rapidly waving the Wiimote and Nunchuk to mimic punching.

After each level is a brief minigame where Donkey has to grab extra bananas super fast by waving the wiimote and nunchuk as fast as possible.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability
The core game takes only about five hours to defeat straight through, so in itself it is a fairly short game. This is one of those games where the replayability is strictly based on how many times the player wants to replay each level to master it. This does add some value, but the game ends up feeling light.

Because the levels are so short, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a good candidate as one of the games in the library you can pop in at any time for a ten minute fix.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance
There are over a dozen kingdoms, each with three levels and some bonus levels, but all told Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a short game. It can be beaten in only a few hours of straight play, just passing each level and grabbing a few crests.

The challenge in DKJB is in the replay, collecting more bananas each time through a kingdom to get higher crests and earn more rewards. The game is easy to play through, but has a surprisingly deep system of combo bonuses – the longer DK stays in the air, the higher the multiplier for collecting each banana goes. Each level can be mastered such that a maximum number of bananas are earned, and getting more than 1000 on any kingdom will grab the most difficult crest.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality
At first glance, its easy to categorize Donkey Kong Jungle Beat as a 2D action platofmer and spiritual successor to the Donkey Kong Country series. However, past the graphical presentation and Donkey Kong universe, DKJB has little in common with the SNES trilogy. The gameplay relies less on traditional platform jumping and baddy bopping and more on unique new ways to traverse the 2D levels. There are animal friends similar to the DKC series, but they are new for DKJB. Each kingdom opens up a new gameplay style and for the most part, all are effective. One negative is the bubble that rotates to the left and right and is controlled by slight waggles.

It’s somewhat ironic that in being ported to the Wii, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat actually loses some of its originality and charm. The Gamecube game was an entirely new take on a 2D platformer – controlling walking with the beat of drums. That element is removed in the Wiimake, although it speaks to the quality of the level design that even with newly mapped controls, the control scheme feels fresh and works well.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness
Despite having played through the game before on Gamecube, I found Donkey Kong Jungle Beat even more compelling the second time around. The first time I had to make sure no one was around when I whipped out the bongos, so my typical late night gaming wasn’t possible. For the new Wii Control version, once I started, I ended up finishing the game quickly, and eager to go back and string together higher banana totals and more crests.

However, the addictiveness is somewhat short-lived, as even a week later there wasn’t much to go back to. It’s a short burst of amazing level design and stunning 2D graphics, and an excellent to a library, but not something anyone is likely to play for more than a few weeks.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor
With the lull in Nintendo First Party releases, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat might get more attention than at other times in the year. It is a polished, highly playable and accessible game that should appeal to a wide base of fans. It’s fun to play, easy to progress and has a layer for diehards to master.

It’s hard to predict the Wii market, but with a reduced price, marquee characters and strong graphics and gameplay, it could be a sleeper hit.

Appeal Rating: Good

10. Miscellaneous
One of the best parts of the New Play Control series from Nintendo is the reverseable Box art. The default art has a thick and heavy white border, but once it’s turned inside out, it has a normal Wii-style full bleed cover with Wii tab on the top right. It’s these little touches in the presentation that continues to set Nintendo first party games above the field.

The Wii continues to be a treasure trove for Nintendo 2D fans, with Super Paper Mario, Wario Shake It and now Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. I sometimes wish Nintendo would do yearly updates of these games – imagine 20, 50 or 100 fresh levels with these amazing 2D graphics every year! Can’t they just get some interns to throw some levels together? But that would probably just result in the games being worse. I digress.

The boss battles in DKJB are especially fun – one could envision an entire Kong Boxing title built around some of the gameplay in the boss battles.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores

Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Great
Sound: Good
Control & Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Classic

Short Attention Span Summary
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a great example of the type of game Nintnedo can produce for Wii without huge development costs. 2D can look amazing, even compared with the HD systems, and there seems to be more flexibility with gameplay styles in 2D than there is in 3D. Be warned, the game is short, and while it’s fun to go back and earn crests and get bananas, even that has a limited shelf life. It’s hard not to recommend Donkey Kong Jungle Beat to Nintendo and 2D fans, and at a reduced pricetag it’s worth checking out.


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