Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 03/14/05 | Genre: Platform
Though Nintendo is often known for doing things a little differently, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is still one of the stranger projects to come out of their Japanese studios. 2D platformers are somewhat scarce these days, so Jungle Beat can be a fairly refreshing experience. Players guide Donkey Kong through a series of levels by controlling him with a set of DK Bongos, the special drum controllers first used with the musical game Donkey Konga. Initially, I had some reservations about Jungle Beat. A platformer controlled with the DK Bongos sounded like it would be too simple. The DK Bongos have only four input devices: you can hit the left drum or the right drum, the microphone can sense a clap or a slap on the side of the drum, and the START/PAUSE button is used only to pause the game. So how many different actions can you perform with these simple controls? Surprisingly, you can do quite a bit.
By hitting the drums, players can make Donkey Kong run and jump. However, more advanced moves such as butt-stomping, back flipping, and wall-jumping can also be performed by hitting the drums the right way in the right contexts. Clapping is also a very important element to Jungle Beat's gameplay. When a player claps, Donkey Kong will also clap in the game. The resulting shockwave can stun enemies, break barriers, cause bananas to fall, and more. Additionally, if Donkey Kong is close enough to an object that he can grab, clapping will make him grab it. Combining these moves with all of the in-game devices such as swinging vines, ape-tossing monkeys, or giant springy flowers, gives Donkey Kong a plethora of ways to move about Jungle Beat's imaginative landscapes. You can actually play this game with a standard controller, but it's not nearly as fun, and it doesn't work as well.
The main aspect of the game that will keep you playing is the combo system. When you string together special moves, you rack up a combo. If you land on the ground, your combo will end and your points, or "Beats" as they're called, will be tallied. If you're hit by an enemy while performing a combo move, your combo will be broken and you'll lose any Beats you've accumulated. You earn beats by collecting bananas. Normally, one banana is worth one beat. However, the number of beats earned is multiplied by the number of combo moves you perform. For instance, if you make Donkey Kong first jump off of a wall, slide down a vine, and then collect ten bananas before hitting the ground, you'll earn thirty Beats instead of just ten because you performed two combo moves in succession. There are twenty-four different combo moves and figuring out how to string together as many as possible in each level is one of the most fun aspects of the game. So far I've gotten a combo as high as 12x, but I'm sure I could do better. It's fun to analyze the levels to figure out how you could pass through all of the obstacles without ever touching the ground. Usually there is a straight forward way of beating each level, by running on the ground and jumping over gaps, etc. However, if you examine each level a little more, you'll discover certain ledges, walls, and other elements that will let make long strings of combo moves.
The main purpose of performing these combo moves is to earn a high score so that you can unlock more levels. To give you an idea, the first time you play the first level, you'll probably score 200 Beats. However, if you perform the right string of combos, you can turn that into 1200 Beats. Each level consists of two stages and a boss fight. After completing each level, you'll be awarded medals depending on how many Beats you scored. You'll need to earn lots of medals to unlock every level in the game. There are 16 levels total. So that's 32 stages.
There's a surprising amount of variety. Different stages introduce new elements to the gameplay. There are animals to ride, special mini-bosses, and even most of the regular enemies require a special technique to defeat. Of course, there is plenty of timing and jumping obstacles like you'd expect in a platformer. The boss fights are clever too. Unfortunately, there are only four different bosses. In the later levels you fight the same types of boss fights again with only slight differences to provide increased difficulty. Regardless, the boss fights are fun and creative. In one series, you'll use the DK Bongos to control Donkey Kong's punches in a fist fight and in another you'll be attacking a mechanical elephant by throwing bombs with the proper timing.
Jungle Beat is a beautiful game. The jungle areas are lush and vibrant with brilliant colors and loads of background objects. There are several other types of areas too, such as deserts, mountains, and more. Donkey Kong himself looks great as he's modeled with many polygons and moves with detailed animation, including facial animation. The visuals are just so creative and lively in Jungle Beat. It always runs at a smooth framerate too. The sound of Jungle Beat is also great. All of the music has a nice neat to it and suits each level nicely. The development team is as skilled technically as they are creatively.
Many of the platformers I've played as a kid didn't make much sense with regard to their stories. The stories were usually ridiculous anyways, but the obstacles and collectibles in the levels often didn't make much sense in the context of the game's story or universe. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat takes that a little further. It doesn't have a story at all. There is no reason why Donkey Kong is collecting bananas, beating up irate warthogs, or blowing up mechanical elephants. There's no reason that he travels through the jungles, across the ocean, up snowy peaks, or into ancient ruins. There is no story present whatsoever either in the game, or the manual, and honestly it doesn't matter. It's kind of strange for a Nintendo character game not to have a story, but when you play the game, you won't really miss it.
The only major flaw of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is that it's pretty short, too short for some. You could probably beat the game in three or four hours. However, to unlock all of the levels and earn platinum crests on each, it will probably take you six to eight hours. That's still not a hefty gameplay experience. The only addition I would have liked to see is a two player mode. A split-screen race or a competition to earn the most Beats would have been fun, and even just an option to play through the game alternating would have been welcome.
With that said, I really enjoy what's there in Jungle Beat. It's great 2D platformer, and it has some really creative mechanics. The combo system is what kept my interest. I loved discovering new ways to increase my score on each level. The bongo controls also feel perfect. I don't really think it's a gimmick at all. It's a different and fun way to play a platformer. The game's length might discourage you from purchasing it, but I really urge you to try it out with DK Bongos and see how fun it is.