The strong retail success of Donkey Konga, the music/rhythm based Gamecube title, which was controlled by a pair of bongos drums, has already inspired many sequels in Japan, including a spin-off like title labeled Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. But will Jungle Beat achieve the success of Donkey Konga, or fail miserably?
As you may be aware of by now, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is controlled solely with the DK Bongo drums. I know what you're thinking: how can you play something as intricate and precise as a platformer with something as cumbersome as a pair of bongos? Well, let me tell you. The game is completely controlled through the Bongos, hitting one causes Donkey Kong to run with his running speed increasing/decreasing in relation to how fast the Bongos are hit. The left bongo makes him run left, the right causes him to go to the right while hitting them both simultaneously causes him to jump The distance and height of the jump is dependant on how fast you're traveling at the time and due to the excellent character physics, this works as well here as it does with any platformer, possibly even better. Clapping your hands (or hitting the side of the drums works just as well) performs Donkey Kong's context sensitive actions. Be it a grab a slap or a punch, simply clapping at the right time performs all of DK's action abilities depending on the situation, and pressing both bongos while you're in the air sees him perform a bottom bounce. With the Bongo only having four different control options when compared to the seven buttons, two joysticks, and two pressure sensitive trigger buttons on the controller you might wonder how they can design an entire platformer with just a pair of Bongo drums in mind. But it's that simplicity that's the reason why it works so well and why it feels and plays so unlike anything before it.
There are a total of sixteen worlds with each containing two levels and a boss fight. Each world can take gamers anywhere between 10-20 minutes and the credits roll after twelve kingdoms, but by only playing once through you would be missing the whole point of the game. In a similar way to how Yoshi's Island's challenge came from its points system, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat thrives on a points system of its own. Each level is filled with bananas, something that players have to collect a certain amount of to receive a Bronze, Silver or Gold 'Crests' at the end of the world. These crests are used to determine your progress to the next world and unlock new levels. Bananas are not only collected for progression through the game, they also serve as your health with bananas subtracted for any damage you take. While you'll probably never die throughout the enitre game, careful navigation of the levels is essential to getting high scores.
And it's these high scores that can only be obtained by making full use of the excellent combo system. Combo's are maintained by staying off the ground. By swinging from vines, being thrown by friendly monkeys, jumping off walls or riding animals, the combo meter will remain 'open'. Combo multipliers are then obtained with each different action you perform. Starting a combo by jumping off a wall, for example, will give you a 2x combo bonus. If you then jumped off that wall and onto a swinging vine you would then earn a 3x combo bonus, and so on. Combos will end if you touch the ground and your banana collection will be added up accordingly. If you happen to take a hit during a combo then the combo will end but you then lose all of your multiplier points and you'll just receive the amount of actual bananas you collected. This of course means that learning the levels inside out and mastering the controls of Donkey Kong himself is the key to earning the highest combos. A lot of crests need to be obtained in order to access the final 4 worlds. 200 bananas get you a bronze crest, 400 earns you a silver crest while a gold crest is awarded for 800. Each level has a number on it, and you can only open up later levels once you've earned enough crests. Through the first half of the game you shouldn't have much of a problem achieving enough crests to unlock the next world, but towards the end of the game you'll certainly have to go back and get all the crests on every level. But things don't just end there. While the Gold crests offer a pretty decent challenge, especially in the 2nd half of the game when you'll wonder how 800+ bananas is even possible on some levels, it's the inclusion Platinum crests that really adds to the replay value of the game, each needing a whopping 1200 bananas to obtain, something I'm sure some will never achieve.
Progression through a lot of the stages can be such a quick and fast paced process that DK:JB is rather reminiscent of the 2D Sonic games, particularly when you’ve become sufficiently skilled with the bongos. The way in which the levels are laid out with plenty of vines to swing from, ropes of slide down and flowers to fly from means that DK is never standing still for long. There’s a phenomenal amount of variety within the stages and I don't just mean visually. There are a number of special events such as animal races and long-jump competitions that are woven excellently in various parts throughout the game. The enemies that populate these worlds are also brilliantly diverse. Some simply require you to jump on their head, while others need a well-timed combination of claps, jumps and punches. Each world is concluded with a Boss fight. There are 4 types of boss overall, all of which are suitably different. For example, one battle sees you facing a bird holding huge eggs. Using the various platforms and avoiding any attacks thrown at you, you must navigate your way to its weak point, attach yourself by clapping, then attack by pounding on the bongo like a madman. Other bosses include pineapple shooting elephants and giant hogs intent on defeating you with a barrage of projectiles. Arguably the best boss battles are the one-on-one gorilla battles where the game takes on a slightly different control system. These require you to dodge your opponent's punches and kicks with carefully timed clapping before countering and then pummeling them into submission.
The Donkey Kong games have a reputation for superb graphics. The Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES were arguably the best around at the time, while Donkey Kong 64 was certainly one of the better-looking games on the system. Well Jungle Beat continues this trend in style as the graphics are among some of the best seen on the Gamecube. Although screenshots don't really do the game justice, you can begin to see how extremely crisp this game is. Character models are superbly designed and varied with DK himself covered with an excellent fur effect, while enemies are equally as impressive in both design and in sheer size. The levels cover a huge range of themes and environments. From typical jungle settings of past games, to snow mountains, underwater shipwrecks and even outer space, you never become bored with your surroundings. Cel-shaded Zelda: Wind Waker-like effects for things like smoke and explosions are also in abundance throughout to give the game an extra layer of polish. To top things off the framerate is super smooth, never slowing down regardless of how much chaos is on screen at once. Aurally the game is no slouch either. The game is filled with catchy tunes made up of both newly composed and classic music from the past, all of which manages to move perfectly with the pace of the game. There are times when you can almost play the game to the beat of the music in a similar way to something like Rez, something I feel is somewhat intentional on the developers behalf given how the game is controlled.
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat's only main fault is its length. Given the fact that the game is much more score based game with the emphasis much more on mastering the game and achieving Platinum crests lifespan really isn't an issue for those playing the game that way, but for people who simply want to play it from start to finish they're going to feel a little short changed as you'll see the end credits in only about 3-4hrs. An earlier comparison I made with Yoshi's Island could be made here also. While that game wasn't the hardest game in the world to simply finish, it had a decent length as well as a scoring system for those wanting to delve further into the game. There are a couple of minor faults worth mentioning, the first being the disappointing lack of different Bosses. What is there is great, but as good as they are, there simply aren't enough different ones, with only 4 types of boss enemy that are reused a fair few times just put into a different shaped environment. My final niggle I have with the game is that of the bongo drums. It's not a control related issue, the bongos work superbly, but what they do do is hurt your hands after prolonged sessions meaning few players will be able to play this for anything longer than an hour at a time. While this is probably a blessing given the length of the game, having to stop playing due to aching palms has to go down as a negative.
2D platformers are a rarity these days, so when something like Donkey Kong Jungle Beat comes along platformer fans have to turn to the gaming God's in prayer that it turns out to be a good game. Thankfully it more than lives up to expectation. Concerns about the bongo control were relieved after just 15mins of controlling DK and the benefits of them shone just minutes afterwards. Each world is brimming with both design and graphical quality from start to finish with difficulty increasing perfectly from level to level and each looking equally as stunning as the one before it. This game can be played with a joypad, but the bongos are an integral part as to what makes this game so good. Much like games that use a peripheral like last years Donkey Konga or the Dreamcast's Sega Bass Fishing with Rod controller, both could be played with the controller, but neither were anywhere near as fun as a result. Yes, it's not the hardest game in the world and yes, it's not going to take long to finish, but in achieving Gold and then Platinum scores for each level there is a worthy challenge for any platformer fan to take on. In retrospect, maybe Donkey Kong Jungle Beat should have had a name change, as it is a game you 'master', not 'beat'.