"You want some more? Because I'll spank you every time!"
- King K. Rool
When I first heard about DK: King of Swing last year at E3, I thought 'What a stupid title! And what a ridiculous idea for a game!' Fortunately, I was proven very wrong (although I still think the title is pretty silly) -- I can tell you right now that this GBA game is a winner.
The Jungle Jam Tournament is about to be held, the winner of which will ne named the Jungle Hero! However, before the tournament can take place, King K. Rool comes crashing down and swipes all the medals! With a "Don't even THINK about following me, monkey-brains!", he jets off, and a furious DK goes after him to claim back the medals.
Before you begin the game, Cranky (who isn't anymore, sadly) will teach you the basics. DK is controlled with the shoulder buttons. L and R are used to walk left and right on the ground (although you can use the Control Pad for this if you prefer) and pressing both down, then letting go will make DK leap straight up into the air. There are pegs and other climbable objects -- use L to grab one with DK's left hand, and R to grab one with his right. Holding down L or R while on a peg will rotate you anticlockwise and clockwise, respectively. To make your way through levels, you alternate between L and R to simulate a climbing motion (and it really does feel like DK is climbing as you do it).
DK has three "hits" before he dies and you get game over. There are no invincibility or health pickups in this game. Instead, you collect bananas, which are counted at the bottom. At any time during the game, if you press B, you'll restore one hit at the cost of 10 bananas. If you press A at any time during the game, you'll activate "Going Bananas", which will make your attacks stronger and allow you to jump higher (at the cost of 20 bananas). This makes for some really clever strategy - do you restore all your health now? Or do you save it and use invincibility instead? It's all up to the player to decide.
The object of the game is to find the medals throughout the stage - early on, they're obviously placed, but later, they become more hidden. Also hidden in the game (and a nod to DK64) are Crystal Coconuts, which are optional, but add to your percentage and cause 'something special' to happen.
The great thing about King of Swing is that it keeps introducing new gameplay mechanics in each level to keep the game fresh and exciting. Early on you learn about pegs and boards, but later you find: wheels (which you have to hold with one hand to make them rotate); levers, including ones that you need to hold with both hands and ones that you need to repeatedly pull down to trigger briefly before they reset; rocks, which you hold and then let go to throw; bombs, which are like rocks but can explode in your face if you're not careful; and cannons, which fire out pegs in arcs that you must quickly climb and let go of. There are also special levels like one set in a twister, where you're constantly being pulled to the left and you'll see yourself falling in the background as you get sucked around. Other special environments include water levels which have low gravity, and icy levels which have incredibly slippery climbing blocks, to name a few.
The game's graphics have a nice charm to them. Although nearly all the characters in the game have previously appeared in other Donkey Kong Country games, here they are given a different, sprite-based look which works really well. There are also nice little touches, like seeing DK's tie fly up in the air as he falls back down, having DK beat his chest and slap the ground when he's idling, and seeing his legs react as you swing in a direction. The levels have a pretty, pastel look to them, with a nice selection of muted colours being used in the backgrounds. The game also uses the GBA's rotation effects heavily throughout the game (most characters and enemies rotate to turn around), while there is also some use of scaling effects on the map screen.
In addition to the Adventure Mode, there is also a "Jungle Jam" mode, which can be played either single-player or single- or multi-cart multiplayer. Various events are unlocked for every set of Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals you find in Adventure Mode. There are assorted types of events, including a simple race to the finish, obstacle courses, battles, a race to break the most barrels, and a 'claim the most area' event. Earning Gold Medals for them in Single-Player mode is to your advantage, because when you reach a certain amount of Gold Medals, you'll be rewarded.
Music and sound for the game varies. Sound is pretty good, with some clear voice samples from DK, Diddy, Dixie and Funky (they are all playable in Jungle Jam), and there are some nice jingles for collecting items like medals and Crystal Coconuts. King of Swing also has one of the most hilarious 'cancel' noises for a game ever. It sounds kind of like a duck making a loud "MMMWAA" sound, and you hear it every time you back out of a menu. It's priceless. There are some nice renditions of a couple of Donkey Kong Country songs, but the game features mostly new songs. While some are merely okay, there are some great songs too, like K. Rool's theme and the slow, steady aquatic theme.
As mentioned earlier, King of Swing is a great game, and not one that you should miss if you own a Game Boy Advance. It's so good, in fact, that even if you stripped away the DK license and made it, oh, I don't know, "Raven's That's SO Swinging", you'd still have a great game. Donkey Kong is just the icing on the cake. You want innovation, but still want a full game? It's right here.
NOA currently has DK: King of Swing set for the ever-so-vague '2005' date. If you're can't wait for King of Swing, but can't get the European version, our partners at Lik-Sang have the Japanese version, which will be released on the 19th of May.