Sunday, June 19, 2005

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Every once in a while a game comes along that takes a shot at being different, not just for the sake of being different, but because it wants to offer fresh gameplay elements and provide gamers with an extremely entertaining experience that will keep them coming back for more. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, developed by the newly established Nintendo Studio in Tokyo Japan, is one of those games. Out of the many side-scrolling platform games out there, Jungle Beat stands above the rest. At first glance, the use of the DK Bongos as its preferred method of control gives it that "standout" flare, but in the end, it is not the compatibility with the Bongos that make Jungle Beat shine, it is the beauty of how they are used in order to make what would be your average platformer a heck of a ride.

The game has a superb presentation. Aside from being packed with or without the DK bongos and having an eye-catching box art, its in-game menus are what really define it. You will use the bongos to scroll through a nice set of menus that give you easy access to everything the game has to offer. From taking part in the short opening sequence (which serves as a kind of tutorial for the game) to adjusting different aspects of the game in the options menu. From the main menu you will select which "Kingdom Barrel" (or realm, as I'd like to call it) you want to tackle. At first, only one realm is available, but as you progress through the game more and more realms will open. Within each Kingdom Barrel are four kingdoms, each one consisting of two relatively short stages and a Kingdom Boss.

Jungle beat focuses entirely on the gameplay department. The game has a single story element, and that is for Donkey Kong to become the King of the Jungle by visiting all these kingdoms and defeating the boss, that’s it. The lack of a story doesn't get in the way of the game, Jungle Beat is purely about having fun, and it achieves this goal without much effort. How exactly is this goal achieved though? If anything, the Bongos are certainly a weird method of controlling a platforming game. We had these thoughts ourselves and asked the same question, but give jungle beat five minutes and you will be blasting through levels, collecting bananas, and beating the heck out of overgrown hogs with relative ease. The concept is easy to understand. Continuously pounding the left or right bongo will make Donkey Kong move in that direction. Pounding both drums at once makes him jump, and clapping makes the ape pound his chest which sends out a sound wave that allows him to interact with his surroundings. It takes little to no time to get adjusted to the strange, yet fitting control scheme, especially if you have had past experience with the Bongo controllers and Donkey Konga. The only instance in which the controls aren't exactly fitting is when going underwater. You will need to time your pounds correctly to perform the right action. For example, slowly tapping the right bongo will make DK swim horizontally in that direction, while pound in faster will make him dive in that direction, needless to say, the faster you pound, the sharper the downward curve he takes. Finally, hitting both drums simultaneously will make him swim towards the surface. The underwater controls are far from difficult, but they do take more time to get used to.

As you execute these moves to advance through the game's stages, you will collect bananas, and we mean LOTS of bananas. Each banana, or beat, adds points to your total beat counter for that particular kingdom. It is the way in which you collect these beats that makes Jungle Beat such a treasure and joy to play. In other platforming games, the Mario series being a good example, you collect a coin by simply running over it. Jungle Beat works the same way, sort of. Run over a banana and you will earn one beat. However, that’s not the only way to go about it. Running towards a group of bananas, jumping over them and repeatedly clapping will make Donkey Kong reach out and grab the bananas while suspending himself in the air. Doing this will make each banana worth two beats instead of one. So now the gameplay has changed a little from standard platformers, and this is only the beginning. What makes this even more intricate is the amazing combo system. Performing different mid-air actions in succession before landing will increase your combo count, the higher your combo count is the more beats you will earn per banana. The depth of this elaborate system is mind-blowing, and to those who want to explore all it has to offer, they will have a blast interacting with the numerous elements scattered throughout the stages. Bouncing off walls, springing from titanic dandelions, grabbing a hold of vine and landing on a bird that will fly you to new heights, all while increasing your combo count and reeling in the beats. Careful though, the amount of beats you have at any given time also double as your health, so being hit by enemies or getting caught in hazardous environments such as lava, electric clouds, and the like will decrease your beat count. Consider your biggest enemy to be not the hazards and baddies you'll encounter throughout the course of your adventure, but the ground, since the goal is to perform outstanding combos that substantially increase your beat count as you collect bananas. This system is crucial to completing levels and unlocking stages because you will have to reel in hundreds of beats if you want to be awarded with the best medals. Yes, the game has a medal-system that adds quite a bit to the replay value. Depending on the amount of beats you collect in a particular kingdom, you will be awarded one of four crests: bronze and silver are somewhat easy to obtain, but if you want to unlock more kingdoms, you will need to acquire gold and platinum crests, which, as you might have guessed, are increasingly more difficult to obtain. At first this might seem like a hassle since replaying levels is not something that everyone enjoys, but the high amounts of creativity poured into the level design will make you want to reply stages over and over again not just to earn more crests, but because they are so darn fun.


Levels are extremely fun to replay countless times

At the end of each dual-set of stages you will face off against the boss of the kingdom in a creative situation that puts the bongo controllers to a different use. Early in the game for example, you will square off against an evil gorilla in a 1 on 1 fight. You will need to pay attention to the battle and clap right before the sinister ape delivers a punch, doing this will make Donkey Kong dodge the blow and leave his foe open for a few seconds, which is when you take advantage of the situation and bombard him with a rain of punches by continuously pounding the left and right bongos alternatively. Each boss encounter will put you a different situation. After you complete the first two realms though, you will begin to see the same style of bosses for second and even third time. Their attack patterns will be more menacing and the environment you play with vary, but in the end, you end up cycling to a short selection of boss encounters. This isn't bad, necessarily. The battles are still a blast, and the new attack patterns, while easy to figure out, provide a new challenge. However, more effort could have definitely been put in towards a bigger selection of bosses.


Hammering foes with punches has a great level of satisfaction

The game's visual department is also worth mentioning. The Donkey Kong model is not only nicely shaded, but also attached with beautiful fur-effects that really bring it to life. The same can be said for the many other characters found in the game. The evil gorillas you will duke out with are just as detailed as our furry hero. Enemies, especially the crazy, hog-like creatures that dispatch gusts of ferocious wind towards you are also covered in realistic looking fur. Other animals, such as the friendly helibirds you will ride on portions of your adventure are nicely textured and will loose some feathers as you reach for them or bump into other objects. The refreshing colors of the environments help to immerse you in Jungle Beat's crazy worlds.

The game is indeed as beautiful as it is a joy to play. Jungles and forests have incredible depth to them, you will run through grass that sways in the wind, bounce off nicely rendered trees, and before you know it, you will jump through a waterfall and enter the mouth of a cavern. As you emerge from the shadowy depths of the cave you will find yourself in a secluded, grassy area filled with imaginative flora and interesting critters characterized by Nintendo's wacky designs. The backgrounds are detailed and blend in with the actual levels. Textures, especially those found in stages that take place in temples or other types of structures are nicely implemented and add to the level of graphical immersion. Jungle Beat is a game that benefits from Nintendo's masterful way of creating vivid water effects. Ocean waves splash against the shores, light breaks as you venture to the depths of underwater havens filled with marine life that you can interact with. The animation is fluid at all times. Movements were well created and the 60 frames per second refresh rate, combined with the optional progressive scan feature make Jungle Beat a delight to look at. It can easily be seen that Nintendo's new studio put forth great effort in making Jungle Beat a beautiful looking game.


Donkey Kong Jungle Beat boasts a high level of detail

The sound aspect, while not as glorious as its graphic counterpart, gets the job done. Music is made up of nice tunes that suit the set of stages that you are playing through. You will hear familiar Donkey Kong tunes as you progress through jungles and forests. More subtle music takes over as you dive underwater, and western themes make an appearance as you venture through deserts. The music changes again when you face bosses, this time to faster, tension-rising music. The tunes are short, and will loop a few times, especially when you are on long levels, but you will be so focused on the action presented on screen that you will hardly notice it. The game also contains an array of sound effects. Nothing beats catching a foe off guard and delivering a barricade of punches that reverberate through your speakers, or bursting a bunch of bubbles and racking in all the bananas trapped inside.

The game lacks a multiplayer mode, which is a shame because races and 1 on 1 fights would benefit greatly; but in the end Donkey Kong Jungle Beat takes the platforming genre for a new spin by combining familiar faces with refreshing gameplay elements. The game may be considered short since anyone can blast through all the kingdoms in around four hours, but the game is as long as your attention span makes it out to be. With over 64 medals to collect, an incredibly deep and satisfactory combo system, and extremely addicting stages that will have you replaying them several times simply for the fun of it, will make the total time you spend with Jungle Beat much, much longer.


The Moment of Truth. How many crests will you earn?

--
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston

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