Donkey Kong one-ups Mario in this incredible old-school platformer.
When Rare and Nintendo split up, gamers figured DK's platforming days were over. When Nintendo and Namco introduced Donkey Konga, we figured that, like other music game peripherals, the DK bongos would be tied exclusively to that series. Well, Nintendo has proven us wrong on two accounts: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is the real reason to own those dinky drums.
Playing Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is deceptively simple. Tapping one of the drums makes DK walk or run in the corresponding direction. Hitting both makes him jump and, when in midair, ground pound. Banging the drums unevenly will either make DK perform a running jump or a back-flip jump, depending the direction and drum order. Clapping (or smacking the drums) makes DK pound his chest or reach for nearby bananas, enemies, or other interactive elements. The game includes animal buddies, though Rambi and his friends have been forsaken. Kingdoms are unlocked by earning medals, but the average gamer will earn enough of them to reach the credits in four hours with minimal backtracking. DKJB isn't as short as some proclaim, though: unlocking all of the bonus kingdoms requires much more work.
Players earn medals by mastering the game's moves and levels. DK earns beats (points) by snagging bananas and pummeling enemies. Completing the kingdom is worth a bronze, and completing it with four hundred or eight hundred beats is worth a silver or gold, respectively. The elusive platinum medal is awarded to bongo-masters who can rack up an impressive 1200 beats. Beats also double as DK's life, encouraging high-score seekers to attack without sustaining damage. The game's combo system is vital in earning high scores. By performing various aerial moves, DK can rack up the combo meter, which multiplies beats earned while in midair by the number of combo moves. Many of the game's levels are designed with combos in mind, letting skilled gamers build huge combos spanning great distances. Beats tallied during an aerial combo are only added to DK's total when he lands; if DK is hurt before then, his points will disappear in the blink of an eye. This risk-versus-reward system can escalate the game to nerve-wracking, bongo-smashing proportions—good thing those bongos are perfect for anger ventilation.
The game's clever level design harkens back to a simpler time and is the primary reason why gamers will continue to play this game. Levels are well-paced with a nice balance between enemy-pounding and platforming. Fans of Sonic games will get a kick out of racing through the game's levels for time records. In addition to the combo accommodations, each level has hidden coves, cubbies, crannies and corridors to explore. Sometime secrets are shortcuts, while others are beat boosters, but searching for them can really extend the game's lifespan. The game displays a tip to improve scores at the end of each level, aiding ambitious adventurers in their quest for greater scores.
Jungle Beat's visual style is a delicious conglomeration of graphical elements from various Nintendo GameCube games. Its crispness and overall presentation highly resemble Super Smash Bros. Melee, while various special effects (such as the curly clouds from The Wind Waker) contribute additional flair. Environments are surprisingly varied and detailed. Jungles are lush with swaying greenery, volcanic caves harbor bubbling lava pits, and ocean waves glisten in the sun. The organic environments and enemies are beautifully animated, too. Willows sway under DK's weight, lava geysers spew and splash believably fatal goop, and downed baddies poof into clouds of smoke.
The level count is a tad low, but the game's redundant bosses are much more disappointing. Each level ends with a boss battle. Sadly, instead of creating an arsenal of villains, Nintendo shamefully opted to recycle the same bosses throughout game's sixteen main levels. The boxing fights against enemy gorillas play like simple rounds of Punch-Out, each enemy Kong having a different pattern to learn. The other three types of bosses are more traditional platformer bosses and are almost identical at each encounter. The developers attempted to vary the battles by increasing the viciousness of the enemy attacks and altering the arena layout, but these efforts are futile. The lack of boss variety is a giant blotch in what is otherwise a perfectly-realized game.
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat isn't a Donkey Kong Country game, and it doesn't pretend to be one. The game does not have many levels by platformer standards, and its bosses are a let-down, but the levels are undeniably well-designed. Arcade-style gamers who appreciate time trials and score meters should most definitely buy this fantastic game, and anyone with a pair of DK Bongos should give it a rental.