Just Beat It.
Like a barrel hoisted from the heavens, the life of the infamous ape Donkey Kong has seen its share of highs and lows. No one will ever forget the dark December day when this would-be Kong lost his bananas and went on a violent spree through Westchester Construction Yard. Oh, the humanity!
After making off with his nemesis’ lady and putting a significant dent in the barrel manufacturing industry, Donkey Kong’s future as a brown stain on Mario’s shoe seemed all but certain. But in the next decade, he would parlay his negative fame into golden success. He had a break-out hit on the SNES, somehow gave birth to a son, and a few follow-ups later, the ape is almost as big a draw as the plumber.
But would the combination of Donkey Kong’s rough past and his newfound fame lead to a downward spiral of hookers and cocaine-infused bananas? Sadly, no. When we recently caught up with Donkey Kong, we were shocked to find an ape more Koko than King Kong. The reason? Bongo drums.
DK plays headliner once again in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a game that uses the bongo controller introduced in Donkey Konga as a rhythmic ape-guidance system. The bongos work like giant D-pad buttons: smacking the right bongo moves Donkey Kong to the right, smacking the left one moves him left, and smacking both bongos together makes the big monkey jump. Clapping orders him to attack.
Luckily, Jungle Beat isn’t just a simple case of running from left to right while collecting bananas thanks to some neat scoring tricks built into the gameplay. For example, instead of just jumping and grabbing those tasty ‘nanners, you can gain more points by clapping in mid-jump. Clapping is also how Donkey Kong interacts with his environment. He claps to hang onto birds, grab vines and basically do anything a big crazy monkey is supposed to do, minus throwing feces at the camera (we’re hoping that’s a code, though.)
As Donkey Kong zips toward his goal while boosting his score and filling his coffers with fruity goodness, the various challenges recall the SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country. There are even animal riding stages in Jungle Beat, just like the ones found in its 16-bit predecessor.
Likewise, the best parts of Jungle Beat are the boss battles. Some fights pit Kong against a martial arts monkey, and these play a lot like Punch-Out. Figuring out how to block an attack and then come back with a flurry is a lot of fun. In fact, ripping it up on a set of bongos is not too far removed from hitting a punching bag. It’s pretty funny how Donkey Kong’s violent side led him to music – we always thought it would lead to a suicide in prison.
Despite its clever use, the bongo controller gameplay feels a little gimmicky. Your hands will quickly get tired of constantly slamming on the drums just to move the guy around, and slowly the whole experience gets less and less fun. Even if you ignore your aching, broken hands, the game keeps on serving up the same plate over and over again. The stages retread the same ideas pretty quickly and recycle a lot of content.
Jungle Beat is best played in short bursts; a quick game here and there keeps things fresh, especially since you can beat the whole shebang in an afternoon. The game tries to deliver some replay incentives with multiple banana collecting goals within each stage, but these aren’t compelling reasons to replay the game. Donkey Kong may never get sick of bananas, but you definitely will.
Visually, Jungle Beat won’t blow you away. It’s Donkey Kong Country with a fresh coat of paint. Rare doesn’t work for Nintendo anymore, but the designs and styles are the same; only the bosses really stand out thanks to their super-size. At any rate, it’s inoffensive.
For a game based on music, most of the fare is extremely forgettable. There are a couple snazzy jungle tunes, but it’s hard to hear much beyond your constant bongo-ing. BONG BONG BONG, all day long.
And don’t expect to bong with your buddies much, because there is no multiplayer at all in Jungle Beat. It’s a strange omission, but I guess two drummers is kind of redundant anyway. Right, Grateful Dead?
If you have unbreakable hands of steel or happen to spend part of your life as a touring percussionist, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat will surely provide plenty of fun. It uses the bongo drums in a creative fashion, connecting you to the experience in a whole new way, and is currently the only other thing to do with the bongos you got with Donkey Konga. Yet despite its innovation, the game gets old quickly and simply doesn’t have enough depth to warrant much replay, turning the once-proud ape into just another goofy monkey.