One thousand, four-hundred and sixty days. Four years. That's how long it it's been since Nintendo released Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for GameCube. The title, innovative for its time due to its unique control method -- you plugged in a pair of accompanying bongos and pounded on them religiously to traverse the platformer levels -- earned an 8.8
from us, received equally high praise from other critics, and then flopped at retail. Now, though, the project, created by Nintendo's amazatron Tokyo studio (best known for a little gem called Super Mario Galaxy), is getting a second chance via Wii. New Play Control! DK Jungle Beat is essentially the same game minus the bongos, plus the Wii remote and nunchuk, a new control scheme, some level tweaks and changes, and a lovely widescreen mode. And it all comes to Wii at a reduced price tag. If you've never played it before, this is frankly a must-own platformer. And if you have, you might want to re-explore it anyway -- providing, that is, you can retrain yourself to play with an analog stick instead of bongos.
Maybe Nintendo's Tokyo studio is just so good that it makes everybody else look bad by comparison, but more likely, Wii developers are just pretty lazy. Whatever the reason, DK Jungle Beat looks better than ninety-five percent of the titles on Nintendo's system despite the fact that it was released four years ago on a platform with about half the power and resources. You'll notice the attention to detail in the fur-shaded characters, the defined multilayered 3D backdrops, the fluid animation, the gorgeous art and scenery, the robust particle and lighting engines, heat distortion, depth-of-field, reflections and transparencies and, above everything else, the framerate, which remains silky smooth always and forever. Even the scale and variety of levels will leave you dazzled. In one stage, you're speeding across icy chasms and in the next, you're dodging flames and lava so that Kong doesn't burn his backside. DKJB is proof positive that the Wii is capable of so much more graphics-wise than developers are doing with it.
DK Jungle Beat is a 3D platformer that seems outright inspired by the Donkey Kong Country games. You move the overgrown ape through obstacle-filled levels, running, jumping and pounding and it feels very classic, especially now that you control Kong with the nunchuk's analog stick and not a pair of bongos. It all sounds good and fine, but I actually think this dramatic control departure might create a spit between the audiences -- those who played and adored the GCN title and those brand new to the effort. There is frankly something gained and something lost in the conversion. The direct analog input adds precision and ultimately makes level progression notably easier, in my experience. You will probably feel more confident in your actions versus the GCN version. However, certain challenges are less intense because of this truth. Take, form example, boss fights. Previously, Kong's powerful punches were tied to the bongos and you literally smashed them to fight. Now, you make the motions with the Wii remote and nunchuk, which is not nearly as satisfying.
The idea of a bongo-controlled platformer seemed gimmicky, if not altogether forced for its time, but if you played it, you understood that it not only worked, but usually great, addictive fun. The game really shined on GCN when you had to pound the bongos in order to generate speed on downhill slides, during the aforementioned enemy duels, and even when traversing back and forth between walls in platform-heavy areas. That said, I'm not going to lie -- there were definitely times when I just wanted to play with a regular controller. The admittedly tighter new analog controls lose that tactile "umph!" but do gain accuracy and familiarity. It's a lot easier to pick up a nunchuk than it is bongos without feeling disoriented. And if you are new to the series, the controls will probably feel just right to you. Kong moves responsibly through the levels, and even the not-as-responsive motion controls work well enough that you won't usually notice any shortcomings.
DKJB honestly remains as enjoyable today as it did a generation ago thanks not just to the excellent and polished presentation, but the spectacular level designs and great combo system. Nintendo's made some edits to the levels in order to better accommodate the easier control mechanism, but the sheer variety, smart challenges and robust banana-collection system are all still thankfully intact. As Kong explores, he must collect bananas in order to earn crowns at the end of each stage. The more, the merrier. The trick, though, is that he gains multipliers for grabbing bananas mid-air and for linking together combos without touching the ground. So while novices will certainly be able to traverse from left or right (or in some stages down to up and up to down) to reach the finish, pros will set themselves apart by amassing ridiculous combos -- flying between trees, bouncing off walls, jettisoning off springs and even catching the occasional bird ride, all the while multiplying their banana bonuses. The system is well-conceived and thoroughly engaging.
I have no doubt that platformer fans will have fun with DKJB while it lasts, but the experience ultimately doesn't last long. You can blast through the main game in about four hours, but thankfully there's more to come back to. A full set of extra stages that can only be unlocked once you've ranked gold and platinum in the others -- a task that increases the difficulty of DKJB by about five-hundred percent. Newbies will never know what they're missing and hardcore players will spend considerable time masting the combo system in order to earn enough bananas so see those final levels.
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