Nintendo games are surreal. Think about it. Where else will you find blindingly colorful worlds filled with giant-sized mushrooms, stretching rainbows and man-eating plants? In what other titles do "Super Happy Tree Fruit" grow wild? And how many other publishers can claim that one of their biggest mascots is little more than a blubbery, pink blob of gelatinous goo? Over the years, the Japanese-based development studio has churned out hit after hit, each one testing our skill and -- perhaps even more -- our imaginations. More recently, the software house has endeavored to provide us with new ways to play games, including the handheld Nintendo DS, which uses two screens, one of them with touch functionality.
But even for the company responsible for Pokemon and Talent Studio, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is just plain weird. That is, the concept is completely out there. Nintendo's new Tokyo Studio has created what at first glance looks like a 3D homage to some of the classic platformers that helped make the Big N a household name. Except there's an important difference: you don't control main character Donkey Kong with an analog stick and a series of buttons, but a set of DK Bongos and the palm of your hands. In the stylized new game, designed from the ground up exclusively for GameCube, you manipulate Jump Man's long-ago nemesis through a selection of beautiful worlds by pounding left or right on the Bongos, by clapping, and by performing combinations of the two.
Sure. That's a normal reaction. After all, Jungle Beat takes an unproven approach to the overpopulated platformer genre. The idea that a set of drums could replace the precision and satisfaction gained by using a standard GameCube controller sounds ludicrous. And so it's naturally very easy to dismiss Nintendo's new title as a half-hatched gimmick -- or alternatively, way too niche for your consideration.
But don't. Give Jungle Beat 20 minutes and you'll have fun. Give it an hour and you'll probably be hooked. Learn the intricacies of its surprisingly rewarding combo system and you'll find yourself going through the game's short, but exceptionally entertaining list of levels numerous times in an effort to earn first gold and then platinum medals. And once you've gone that far, you'll wonder -- as you did when you first saw Pokemon, or DS, or Pikmin -- how you could have ever scoffed at the idea in the first place.
- All-new platformer starring famous Nintendo mascot Donkey Kong
- 3D levels pay homage to the classic side-scrolling style of classic 2D platformers
- Control Donkey Kong with the DK Bongos: make him run, jump, punch and grab beats
- Link moves together to earn combos, which maximizes DK's beats
- More than 16 levels of varying locales, challenges, and difficulty
- Fight several unique bosses -- try to beat them without losing any beats
- Earn bronze, silver, gold and platinum medals on each level in order to unlock more stages
- Runs in progressive scan and supports Dolby Pro Logic II
- Requires 3 memory blocks for saves
- Game sold with DK Bongos or without them
King of the Jungle
Nintendo Tokyo has made no attempt to cover up the fact that Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is completely void of any storyline. Director Yoshiaki Koizumi sums it up best when he says, "We didn't need a superfluous story for [the game]
The only thing Donkey Kong needs is to be the best, and to become the king of the jungle." It's a gutsy move when you consider that just about every other Nintendo game has some basic storyline to it, including Super Mario Sunshine, whose cut-scenes detracted from the experience more than they added to it. In this case, it works, largely because Nintendo Tokyo has done an outstanding job of developing characters in-game by way of humorous, on-the-fly animation and voice samples.
The studio has, on the other hand, not skimped on presentation. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is slick and smooth from the title screen to the end credits. Impressively, it runs in both progressive scan and Dolby Pro Logic II for added visual and audio clarity and separation. The platformer's menu system is designed with the DK Bongos in mind. You can scroll between stages simply by tapping on the Bongos, and each world is previewed on-screen with changing graphics even before you select it.
But all of this is nothing compared to the beauty of the characters and the detailed worlds in which they inhabit. Jungle Beat is a gorgeous game that spills with graphic additions unseen in many GameCube titles. Kong himself is designed with a high amount of polygons and the beast comes to life with quasi-fur-shading that makes the models in Star Fox Adventures look primitive by comparison. So do many of the enemies in the game, from the boss kings that DK must do battle with to random in-stage foes, whose specular reflections and fur stay glossy even when the camera zooms up close. Although the title's background environments may occasionally look too barren or simple just about every locale on screen alternatively looks clean and crisp, from the giggling, jelly platforms and shimmering, transparent waters, to the unpredictable tree vines and cannonball-filled mazes. What's more, the title runs at a steady 60 frames per second from beginning to end. Meanwhile, the cartoony sound effects and apish growls that are commonplace in the title complement its charming selection of upbeat, tropical music. There is no doubt in our mind that Nintendo Tokyo is a technically talented studio with an eye and an ear for what makes software stand out among the pack.
Of course, all of this presentation means absolutely squat if there isn't a big chunk of quality gameplay to back it up. Fortunately, there is. Jungle Beat delivers some 16-plus levels of addictive, bongo-smashing madness. You will race down snowy peaks, jumping for beats (bananas); you will swing across vines, jumping from one to the next while dodging enemies; you will jump off walls, climbing higher up a chasm by zigzagging back and forth; you will square off against a handful of different boss types, each attacking with different moves; you will blast into the sky and swim deep into the ocean; race against foes in time challenges; and much more. The sheer variety of location types in the game is remarkable.
However, the initial 12 (and then 16) stages go by way too quickly, and before you know it the platformer is over
sort of. The disappointing truth is that you can blast through the main selection of stages that Jungle Beat serves up in about three or four hours. The credits will roll and the game will be over. But not really. The title is designed to be fun for beginners and challenging for pros and it succeeds in that mission by using a medal system. In each level, you can amass different medal types, including bronze, silver, gold and platinum, depending upon how many beats you collect. The only way to open up some additional levels is to earn first gold and then platinum on every stage, which is not easy. In fact, it's downright difficult. You'll need to grab 1,200 beats on levels to earn a platinum medal. To put this in perspective, most beginners will likely only pull in 300 or 400 beats. The game goes from good to, in some cases, great, when you try to gain all of the platinum medals, and the length increases from four hours to twice that, if not more. What you might fail to recognize within the first hour of gameplay is that Jungle Beat boasts an incredibly deep and satisfying combo system, and a number of helpful intricacies that surround it. Tap left or right on the DK Bongos and Kong runs left or right. Tap both drums and he jumps. Clap or hit the side of the Bongos and he punches, or grabs for beats. The challenge is learning how to get more beats, because in Jungle Beat, these bananas mean everything. You can simply jump into a group of bananas to pick them up, or you can clap at them, and you'll earn nearly twice as much. It's a little trick that is also a necessity for gaining medals.
Going hand-in-hand with that is what we believe is the most intriguing and ultimately rewarding part of the game: its combo system. The combos separate the men from the boys, or maybe it's the apes from the monkeys. As Kong makes his way through levels, you can intuitively link together moves in order to multiply your beat count. You might, for instance, jump into the air, grab out for a number of beats, catch onto a vine and swing forward, bounce off two walls, collect more beats, jump back into the air and latch onto a bird, fly it across the screen, jump to another vine, grab more bananas, and keep going. The bigger combo you can string together, the more beats you gain, and the level of satisfaction earned after you've strung a major set of moves together is immeasurable. It is the primary reason why you will continue to play Jungle Beat, even after you've nabbed all the medals.
Nintendo Tokyo's first game is great fun, but we have our gripes all the same. Playing this platformer with the DK Bongos is not really an improvement over the standard GameCube controller. Certainly in some ways it feels better. For example, pounding the drums to give enemies a good beat down couldn't possibly be more intuitive. Also, if you're looking for a game that will give you a good workout, this is the one. Slam the drums for a good couple of hours and your arms will start to hurt. But there are also plenty of times during the game where we wondered how much more responsive it might play if we just had a plain old controller to make our way through it.
Sacrilege? Maybe so, but regardless, we can't shake the feeling. And if that's true, in some ways the Bongos -- fun or not -- are a gimmick. Had the developer included an alternate method to play with the controller, our problems would be solved, but sadly that's not a real option. With JB, the GCN pad merely simulates the Bongos, which means that you have to tap right, right, right (and so forth) on the analog stick just to run. Not a viable solution, in our estimate.
Finally, there's no real multiplayer mode, which is discouraging as a game like Jungle Beat seems tailor made for one.
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