Swingin’ to the Oldies.
Sigh… another monkey (okay, gorilla) game… with bananas, tropical trees, and primal grunting. And what’s this… Donkey Kong? Last I heard, he was in that weird cartoony peg-experiment DK: King of Swing for the GBA. And why is he fighting with Mario again? Has DK gotten so low that he needs to reprise his role as the villain for Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: War of the Minis? When was Donkey Kong ever mini? What ever happened to that boombox-shufflin’, you-ain’t-takin’-my-bananas gorilla in Donkey Kong Country?
At least that’s what I thought before getting into DK Jungle Climber. As much as I didn’t want to feel apathetic towards my once-favorite simian, I did. Nothing in recent years has gotten my ancestral blood pumping for some vine swinging, so after hearing about this vine-less sequel to the mildly successful DK: King of Swing, I shrugged my shoulders.
Then I turned the game on. What I saw on the title screen stunned me for a second: Donkey Kong and his younger brother Diddy King were rendered as they were way back in Donkey Kong Country. Melodies reminiscent of 16-bit DK tunes began to jostle my memories of the SNES. Nintendo was trying to rekindle an old flame by putting three-dimensional sprites and old-school presentation in a two-dimensional game, just as it had with New Super Mario Bros. But I wouldn’t be taken by mere pictures, notes, and nostalgia.
Then I actually played the game. Donkey Kong and his motley crew are having a family vacation on Sun Sun Beach on Sun Sun Island (let’s see the forecast) when they all get hungry. Diddy then squeals that over yonder, high atop the island mountain, floats a giant shiny, shiny banana.
It’s a rather light premise that pairs well with the simple tutorial. I quickly learned how to jump onto a floating pegboard, swing around a peg with either hand, and launch myself (and Diddy for extra distance) into the air, hopefully onto another pegboard or a nearby ledge. By the end of the first few stages, which were generously sprinkled with shrubbery and sunflowers, I believed things would be a breeze.
I was gladly fooled. DK Jungle Climber is not a path strewn with roses.
[image2]So let’s not beat about the bush. The level design is spectacular, addictive, and above all, challenging. It’s odd seeing Donkey Kong flutter about, dangling his legs as he hop-scotches through the air from pegboard to pegboard, but that doesn’t take away anything from the ingenuity and difficulty of each world. Every level – nay, nearly every section of each level – has a newfound twist, whether it is grabbing onto a corn on the cob, exploring a mirror labyrinth, having Diddy use a spinning hammer to whack everything in sight, or rocketing in a barrel towards a Kremling-filled spaceship.
Frustratingly, as burly and brave as Donkey Kong might be, he doesn’t know how to take a hit. Supposedly, being able to power-lift a bonus barrel with five-hundred bananas is nothing against the mighty force of a wasp’s flapping wings. This, coupled with numerous levels that love wide bottomless pits, pegs that come loose, and butt-burning lava, means that repeated dying is commonplace.
Adding to the difficulty is that you often can’t backtrack to previous sections in a level. So if you happen to miss an oil barrel, the “N” in “K-O-N-G” for an extra life, a bunch of ten bananas, or whatever other collectibles are scattered about, you have to repeat the level over again if you want them.
Moreover, sections reset when you lose a life. So if you manage to collect that banana coin spinning next to four spiked mines, trigger all the switches to pass into the next section, and then die, you will likely hurl obscenities at the screen – to make up for the human lack of poop-throwing skills.
But DK Jungle Climber is frustrating mostly because you are the one making the mistakes. Since most obstacles are static or have set patterns, falling to your doom is like hitting a parked car. The fault is yours. Hard to admit, I know.
[image3]Still, if you meet doom as much as I did, you always have the option of turning into an invincible, flying monkey. Hizzah! By collecting enough gems, you can take to the skies as a shimmering, spectral chest-beating lifeform, soaring through whatever stands in your way. Even gorillas have star power.
The only real problem is that Donkey Kong had seemingly one too many banana daiquiris and has forgotten some basic moves. He can’t roll on the ground or direct his jump attack anywhere but upwards, so unless there is a low pegboard or a low ceiling he can ricochet off of, bonking some walking Kremlings is nigh impossible. He also can’t simply drop from a pegboard – he always has to leap from one like some hairy frog.
Donkey Kong isn’t as cool in DK Jungle Climber as he was in Donkey Kong Country, but the negative comparison ends there. Though this peg-swinging sequel to an average, what-it’s-name spin-off had just about everything against it, somehow nearly everything is executed with a full swing. Given the recent slump in the Donkey Kong franchise, DK Jungle Climber is nostalgic not just because of its classic styling, but because it’s downright fun – and that’s something worth remembering. Ook ook.