Swing your arms from side to side, c'mon it's time to go, do the... Donkey Kong?
DK Jungle Climber is the sequel to Paon’s first Donkey Kong game, DK King of Swing for Game Boy Advance. Like its predecessor, the game’s mechanics are reminiscent of Clu Clu Land, and control primarily involves use of the shoulder buttons. Unlike its predecessor, the game features Donkey Kong Country-style graphics rather than a cartoon style. In general, Jungle Climber improves upon the unique control of the first game.
The plot of the game is a little odder than most. DK and crew are vacationing on Sun Sun Island. A massive banana is sighted at the top of the island, and a hungry DK goes to retrieve it. It turns out that the giant banana is actually a banana-shaped spaceship piloted by a banana-shaped alien named Xananab. The Kongs learn that King K. Rool is up to no good again and agree to help Xananab defeat the reptilian leader.
Jungle Climber’s key feature is its unique control mechanism. While on the ground, DK can walk much like in a normal platformer, except using L and R to move left and right, but once he leaves the firmament, control is turned on its head. The jungle environments are covered in pegs and peg boards. As DK passes over a peg, pressing L or R will cause him to latch on and begin rotating either left or right. Releasing the button will let DK swing from peg to peg. Grabbing pegs with both hands will let DK charge up for a powerful boost. Once you get the rhythm down, you can make DK swing across the stage from peg to peg quite fast. While its predecessor was played almost entirely with the shoulder buttons, Jungle Climber also introduces the A button into regular play. This button allows DK to perform an attack lunge.
Though the game wasn’t developed by Rare, their trademark collect-a-thon gameplay makes its appearance in Jungle Climber. In each stage, five banana coins, a DK coin, K-O-N-G letters, and an oil drum can be found either in plain sight or hidden within the environment. The coins are used to unlock bonus games, while oil drums are used to access outlying islands from Funky’s Flights. Thankfully, the design of the levels is done well enough that the collect-a-thon aspect doesn’t become too tedious.
DK barrels also appear and contain DK’s buddy Diddy, just like in the original Donkey Kong Country. Diddy rides on DK’s back as he swings around. DK can extend his A button attack by throwing Diddy into far away objects and obstacles. Diddy can also use a hammer power-up that causes the monkey to swirl around manically, destroying enemies and blockades in his path. Since DK only has one hit point in this game, Diddy is also effectively a shield, providing an extra hit.
DK can also collect jewels. When enough jewels are collected, a star indicator appears on the bottom of the touch screen. Up to three crystal stars can be stored. Once a star is activated, DK becomes invincible for a short amount of time and gains the ability to fly around the stage without grabbing onto pegs. He still navigates with a rotational motion, so it can be a little tricky to maneuver, but this ability is useful for quickly getting to hard-to-reach areas.
Jungle Climber starts off pretty slowly, allowing players to adapt to its new control scheme. Bananas, and thus extra lives, are plentiful, and the ground below remains solid. The game’s later levels get more interesting, challenging players to hone their swinging skills not just on pegs, but also on vines, rolling wheels, springy flowers, and a variety of other obstacles. Enemies increase in toughness, like Zingers, which can’t be attacked on their spiked side, and bottomless pits appear. Of course, DK’s offensive options also increase with the availability of rocks to throw.
The game’s stages are spread across several islands. Each stage includes several parts, oriented in all directions. At the end of each island is a boss battle. Each island also has a single-stage mini counterpart, which houses an especially challenging stage that requires precise control. In addition, bonus levels are distributed throughout the game, such as a banana catching game.
Of course, the usual bunch of Kongs make their appearance. Cranky gives tips throughout the levels and provides tutorials early in the game. Cranky oddly doesn’t follow his self-titled role, and instead must be on some sort of medication that makes him particularly amenable. Candy runs the bonus stages, while Funky again runs Funky Flights. Flights between major islands are free, while flights to the outlying bonus islands can only be taken once DK collects an oil drum from each level in the corresponding main island.
DK, Diddy, Funky, and Dixie also make an appearance in the single-card local multiplayer mode. This mode features two racing-type games, Speed Climb and Booster Battle. Up to four players can challenge each other to climbing or navigating booster barrels. A single-player challenge mode includes six challenges, such as log jumping and banana juggling. These mini-games provide a few set goals and then an infinite mode, where players can try to achieve high scores. The mini-games provide a different flavor of entertainment from the main game.
While it might not be the platformer that Donkey Kong Country fans have been waiting for, Jungle Climber is a competent sequel to King of Swing, refining and expanding the original’s gameplay. The unique control scheme makes for an interesting change and a lot of fun, while the extra challenge modes provide incentive for much replay.