Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

by Patrick King

Maracas. Dance Pads. Taiko Drums. Bongos. All four of these accessories when combined with music games add up to a whole lot of fun. There have been two Samba de Amigo games, a pile of Dance Dance Revolution games, one (domestic) Taiko game, and one (so far, domestic) conga game.

Typically, any sort of game accessory -- be it a light gun, the Eyetoy, or a robotic friend -- has a limited number of uses. With music game accessories, most people would assume that their potential is even more limited. Just try playing Street Fighter with the dance pad, but don't come crawling to me when your legs are bleeding. Surprisingly enough, Samba's maraca controllers work remarkably well with Yu Suzuki's Ferrari F355 Challenge.

Okay. No, they don't. Please forgive my tendency to make stuff up. It will never happen again.

Yet as can be expected from Nintendo, they've once again proven that not only can they think outside of the box, but that it's actually a hell of a lot of fun to get out of the box and play sometimes. As the company that invented the D-pad (and innovated plenty of other control schemes) this is something to be expected.

Thus, their ability to create a game like Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is not exactly a surprise. Even if I knew that they could create something so unique, I didn't expect them to devote the resources to do it. Their production of this quirky title, however, didn't just add more value to the bongo accessory -- it's a worthy title of the entire Gamecube library, as well.

Everyone should know what a platform game is. If you don't, I'll be kind enough to define it for you quickly. In essence, the player controls a character through a world to get (for the most part) from point A to point B. Along the way, there can be chasms to fall into, spikes to harm the player, enemies to dodge, and points or items to collect. Jungle Beat is a 2D platformer with 3D graphics. That is, movement is mostly limited to left, right, up and down. Given the constraints of the bongos (which have four general input methods -- the left bongo, the right bongo, a start button, and a microphone which can sense hand claps), there is not much to work with to make a character move on screen.

In this game, hitting either of the bongos repeatedly coerces Donkey Kong to move left or right, and he moves faster depending on the rate of the player's bongo-bashing. Clapping makes him grab nearby objects or enemies, and it can also be used to stun the various foes he encounters in his never-ending quest for yummy bananas. Hitting both of the bongos causes the ape to jump. Combinations of all of these commands allow for a surprisingly diverse range of motions, despite the simple choices presented for providing input to the game.

The biggest challenge in Jungle Beat isn't getting Donkey Kong to move to and fro. Instead, it's collecting as many "beats" as possible. For the sake of the story, beats represent DK's collection of bananas - pivotal in securing his position as the supreme ruler of the jungle. Beats are earned by grabbing bananas (running over them will work just fine), but they don't really rack up unless you're able to link your beat-earning via an addictive combo system. The more beats you get in a row, the more they're worth, and depending on your skill in nabbing them, you'll earn one of four different medals for each stage.

Beats also represent your health - you can only progress as long as you have a stockpile of 'em.

The key to success in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is linking as many beat grabs together as possible -- while not getting touched by a single enemy in the process. Finishing most stages isn't terribly hard; perfecting it is a task that only the hardest of the hardcore need to attempt.

In this way, the game is at once easily accessible to beginners, and a worthy challenge to those of us who seek it.

Due to the obvious physical aspects of this game, some people will not be able to play it as well as others. Even if you have the arm strength to bongo the night away, you may earn some really sore hands if you play for hours on end from all the clapping. Yet much like Dance Dance Revolution, the game is so fun that many people will ignore the discomfort and just keep on going.

If only all exercise was this addictive.

The other potential drawback is the fact that it's impossible to play this game quietly if you're using the bongos. As a kid, I think I logged most of my gaming hours on weekends after midnight, and this game can potentially generate unhappy parents (or roommates, or goldfish) if you play it at the wrong time.

There is no reason to even try playing this with the controller -- sure, it's possible, just like you can play a light gun game using the controller, or Dance Dance Revolution with a controller -- but ninety percent of the fun is surgically removed this way. Trust me; it's totally worth the extra money to pick up the bongos if you don't already have them from Donkey Konga. And while we're on the subject of that fine game, it is also worth buying. With a sequel coming out this year, Nintendo is admirably supporting an accessory that's a bunch of fun and even more accessible than Dance Dance Revolution. When I say that, I don't mean to dismiss the quality of the excellent dancing game series. It's just that more people can quickly move their hands than their entire body.

Graphics for the game are very good, with well-designed creatures -- enemies and allies both -- lush, colorful stages, and impressive environmental effects. Boss fights are the most visually impressive element of the game, however, the same boss designs resurface far too often in a game that is otherwise graphically excellent. A tougher, more complex version of a previously thwarted enemy appears roughly every three stages, and while the coloring and the shape of the terrain may be different, it's essentially the same fight with a ramped up difficulty level.

Even with the slight repetition, the boss fights are very fun and showcase the Gamecube's considerable visual processing power better than any other moment in the game.

Aurally, the game has a catchy video game score, though this will likely divide those who hear it into two camps - those who like video game music (music like the Mario Bros. theme) and those who don't. If you like game music, then the soundtrack is excellent. If not, then turn down the volume and put on a CD while you play.

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is more than just a unique experiment -- it's a blast to play, as well. It is a textbook example of how games should be designed, and it faithfully adheres to the classic formula of being easy to learn, but nail-bitingly hard to master. I hope other people find this game as enjoyable as I did, because I'd love to encourage the development of more titles like this one. It reminded me of the reason why I like games in the first place -- because they're fun.

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  • Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

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