Who knew monkeys could be so touchy?
I love my portable games. There’s something wonderful about having both bite-sized and fully-fledged experiences in my hands whenever I like it, and especially now with the inexpensive technology involved, plenty of new and unique experiences can be had. In fact, one of the first features I wrote for GameRevolution was breaking down an interview Michael Pachter gave about how he believed fully-featured portable consoles were on their way out and would soon be replaced by tablets and the iPod Touch (which he pointed to specifically). I defended my portable love and pointed out, by reason and the numbers, just how full of crap he was.
About six years later, and the one thing I admit I didn’t see or anticipate was how much our tablets and smartphones (and even still the iPod Touch) would have an impact on the dedicated portables, as it’s clearly impacted Jungle Rumble.
The play of Jungle Rumble is, it could be said, “traditional” tablet touchscreen fare. To the four-beat rhythm of jungle-influenced drumming, players tap the screen in certain methods to either direct their super-adorable monkeys to the bundles of bananas that signal the end, or approach opposing super-adorable monkeys to throw coconuts and knock them out of the tree to clear the path to those bananas. Until the rhythm is followed successfully, the beat displays at the top of the screen in the form of a bouncing-ball sing-a-long, so if a player doesn’t succeed in following with the beat, that will display until it’s found again. Think of this as a touchscreen Patapon, but cheekier and filled with monkeys.
First, like few consoles and games before it, this game is actually played in tall-fashion, meaning you’ll have to turn your console like a tall rectangle to play properly. There are no buttons used; everything is on the screen. I played on the newer, slimmer Vita model, and it was an awkward hold—I kept consciously trying to avoid the back-end camera, and it just felt uncomfortable. With a screen that tall, playing with thumbs appears counter-intuitive. An index finger does the trick alright, and with the exception of the screen’s scrolling on taller levels, it works well enough but the moment where a single beat is missed (and there were plenty). there isn’t a ready way to jump back into play… I had to wait for the beginning beat to start back up again to do anything, and often that meant watching my monkeys bumped by the jerk-monkeys while I could do nothing about it.
What drives me up the wall further is the sheer amount of “cute." By itself that's okay, and it's not even that it is cute, but that it’s far too aware of it being so cute. I do like the art style; it’s clean and simple and crisp on-screen, but that’s negated by the amount of banana jokes even from the loading screen. I get it, you’re a monkey game with bananas. “Monkeying about” and “typing Shakespeare," adorable. “There’s always money in the banana stand,” kinda surprised that one’s still a thing, but alright. However, by the eighth pun—including “all your bananas are belong to us”—it made me want to give up on fruit altogether.
The music is, by and large, not bad but repetitive; not in an interesting or expected way either, because it sounds like each “tune” is only about four seconds long and set to eternally loop until you turn it off entirely (or throw your system against the wall). One set of looping irritation includes a sound akin to a stiff brush on coarse carpet: the “whoosh” being intermittent and entirely disruptive to the flow of play. On a game where some looping samples can be difficult to decipher where the “first” beat is—a few are far too counter-intuitive—and throw in a noise immediately after learning a new series of commands, and I was turning the music down as far as possible while still hearing a beat… during the moments when I wasn’t shouting profanities.
The controls are either slow and simple, or intense and infuriating. I can understand this rhythm-based puzzle title, but many of its stages are multiple-screens high and transition either slowly or in jerky movements, which screws with the timing when some monkeys give active chase. It’s just sloppy design not to move at a fair pace along with the player instead of slowly plodding at a steady rate. Even with the rate designed to put pressure to have all your monkeys together and moving forward—the banana defender’s “leave no ape behind” policy—it still feels awfully delayed. But all of that said, nothing felt impossible, and breezing through the different stages does has a certain satisfaction.
Jungle Rumble appears to function as a back-and-forth of interesting ideas and ho-hum delivery. For a music-based game, the music serves to do the trick; otherwise, it’s grating to the ear. Touching the screen to play is functional, but one-too-simple misstep and you’ll start back over. It’s cute, but in the way a toddler can be when their parents are in the room, then a swear-worthy nightmare the next minute, then calm the minute after that. It surprised me that this game would have me swearing more often and louder than Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate did.
You hear that kids? Monkeys and drums teach you restraint: either deal with it or buy a new console after the first has been hit with a hammer. Or scratched up with a banana. Or pooped on by a monkey, however you deal with your anger.