IGN Review of DK: Jungle Climber
Donkey Kong: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance was a cool gameplay experiment: the design used the L and R buttons of the system almost exclusively for control, and the end result was a clever and original game that sort of swung in under gamers' radars. Apparently Nintendo thought there was enough there to put the development team on a DS edition, but maybe not enough of a userbase to justify King of Swing II. Enter DK Jungle Climber, not so much a sequel as it is a reset for the original King of Swing concept. Whatever the context, Jungle Climber is a tighter version of the King of Swing design with brand new levels, a fresh batch of gameplay extensions, and a fleshed out presentation that adds more variety into the mix. It's a lot more challenging this time, too.
Jungle Climber, like King of Swing before it, is a unique action platform game where players control Donkey Kong simply by using the shoulder buttons on the system: L for the left hand, R for the right. The challenge is to climb all over elaborately positioned pegboards by alternating hands. When you grab with one of Donkey Kong's hands, he'll automatically start spinning in clockwise or counterclockwise motions. If you grasp pegs in both hands, he'll stop in place. Jumping's pulled off by pushing both shoulder buttons down and releasing them, an important technique to grasp since many pegboard patterns have gaps that need to be leapt across. Once you get the rhythm down you'll be able to grab, jump and change directions using nothing but the L and R buttons.
It's not all L and R, though - players can leap attack using the A button on the DS controls, which comes in handy when you want to shatter a barrel or take out an enemy safely. Of course, there's a little technique involved in removing bad guys from play - it's all about aiming at the right spot. You don't want to attack a bee from the stinger end, right? Right.
There's a smattering of new items in the move from the GBA to the Nintendo DS. Touch screen control may be relegated to simply activating an invincibility power-up, but at least there's a second screen focus: the move from a single screen to dual screen display, using the top and bottom screens to create a single display two screens tall. It does make environments feel a bit more opened up since you can now see a lot more above and below you, but does it immediately make the game better to have this additional screen real estate? Nah.
What does make the DS game better than the GBA version is all the little improvements the development team made. Control is definitely tighter than the original game, and the visual look of the game is far superior - the original GBA title went with an awkward hand-drawn cartoony style of the Donkey Kong characters, and the Nintendo DS game bounces the environments back to a style that mirrors the Rare 3D rendering of Donkey Kong Country. This art direction is far, far more appealing than King of Swing.
There's also much more clever use of the left-hand/right-hand control mechanism, whether it's the little level design elements like weight-based pegboards (giant rolling circles of pegs) or the little throwaway minigames, or even the ability to snag rocks in a fist and chuck them around the level. The younger Diddy Kong chimp returns to the mix in this secret sequel, piggybacking on Donkey Kong as a power-up - he can be thrown to reach faraway barrels, or pick up power-ups like a giant swinging hammer to knock out enemies in 360 degree fashion.
Jungle Climber also mimics Donkey Kong Country in one other area: it's a massive collect-a-thon. Love it or hate it, the main element is in scooping up tons of "stuff": each level has tons of bananas to scoop up, the letters K, O, N, G, five coins and a giant DK coin, as well as a mysterious little fuel tank. The bananas and KONG letters are merely for extra guys, but at least the hunt for the coins and fuel tanks are beneficial for the effort: coins net you bonuses like extra mini-games and cheats, and fuel tanks open up a secret, insanely difficult level in each world.
I think the biggest worry about DK: Jungle Climber is simply how long can the developer sustain a game where it's just a bunch of L and R button tapping. That was my biggest complaint in the Game Boy Advance version, and luckily the developers injected a lot of stuff in the production to make sure that the main game doesn't get old. Levels are creatively laid out and challenging, especially in the deeper levels, and the little mini-games that you can unlock along the way are actually fun little diversions in a similar way that goofy little Flash games on the PC can suck away the minutes. The pegboard speed challenges, for example, might be few and far between but they're definitely improved with the game recording Ghost Data for the best times in each map. It's the little things that make Jungle Climber cool.
And yes, multiplayer's back in this design with a bunch of swinging challenges for four players. The development team managed to squeeze in single cartridge Download Play so that only one copy of the game is needed for a network of Nintendo DS systems to party on with Jungle Climber.
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