Harry Milonas
18 Feb, 2008

Donkey Kong Jet Race Review

Wii Review | It'll make a monkey out of you.
Poor old Donkey Kong has certainly seen better days. The former heavyweight of the 80s arcade scene and subsequent 16-bit re-imaginings has been relegated to a Nintendo sideshow, and apart from a couple of gems like Jungle Beat and the Mario vs Donkey Kong series, there's been hardly a portable retro port or gimmicky game concept to prove the big ape's franchise relevancy otherwise. Donkey Kong Jet Race is the latest example of the latter, a clear cut case of forced experimental design that subtracts infinitely more than it delivers to the overall playing experience.

Indeed, Donkey Kong is back in yet another PAON developed spin-off, although with the number of these 'spin-offs' beginning to outweigh his platforming roots, one wouldn't be wrong in assuming it's par for the DK course. Regardless, the Kong clan and their reptilian adversaries, the Kremlings, have decided it's time for a competitive race -- a 'jet race' as it were, named as such for the rocket-fueled barrels attached to their un-charming, sometimes disturbing anthropomorphic selves, powering their races to the finish line. And that's literally all there is to it, plot wise, as there is absolutely no other scrap of admittedly unnecessary exposition. At least the story behind the game's development is a tad more interesting.

Originally conceived as a GameCube racing title that aimed to take advantage of the console's now ever rare DK Bongos peripheral, the game formerly known as Donkey Kong Bongo Blast (and subsequently suffixed Barrel Blast everywhere else) sounded like the next natural step for Nintendo's bongo slapping era -- at least on paper. Where Donkey Konga emphasised the musical user interface possibilities of the Bongos, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat re-imagined those clap and slap possibilities in a non-traditional platforming game environment, so too mayhapped Jet Blast for the racing genre -- had it not been delayed to the Wii platform. Transferring such a control set up to the already motion intensive realms of the Wii Remote and Wii Nunchuk combo would be a cinch though, right?

DK shows no shame in lying about the quality of his own game.

DK shows no shame in lying about the quality of his own game.

While Jet Race (like any mascot racer worth its weight in bananas) contains its fair share of franchise themed weapons and attacks, controlling the game through otherwise non-button means is an exercise that’ll take getting used to. For example, instead of holding down any sort of trigger for movement, acceleration is handled by alternating quick up and down motions with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk -- almost as if one were drumming (instead of slapping) invisible bongos. This is required only until players reach 'Max Speed', after which point their racer keeps acceleration at its own accord. Players are then able to control their racer's left and right movements by motioning either the Wii Nunchuk or Wii Remote respectively with single shakes as many times as need be. Rounding out the worrisome controls is the ability to make one's racer jump, by simultaneously raising both tips of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk upwards in a single gesture, with subsequent alternating up and down motions allowing players to slow their descent. Indeed, as any Wii owner may expect from reading such baseline control schemes, there's a lot of room for frustrating overlap for even the most basic of actions.

Need to dodge an upcoming track obstacle at the last second? Since there's no braking ability whatsoever, start shaking the necessary Wii peripheral repeatedly like you've got a Samba de Amigo itch and ultimately fail to move anywhere in time. Got knocked out by an opponent's attack? Better get flailing those controls until 'Max Speed' chooses to grace the screen -- that is, unless you unintentionally flail an inch too upwards, and instead of accelerating, your racer decides to jump and hover on the spot. Your arms and wrists are beginning to writhe with the agony of a thousand carpal tunnel syndromes? Suck it up, wimp. The cherry on the already needlessly frustrating control cake? A lack of any sort of rumble support whatsoever, bar when making choices on Jet Race's menu screens. After all, it's not like players would actually need advance warning of incoming attacks or heck, a sense of speed in a racing game.

Donkey Kong: "I didn't kill my wife!" Tommy Lee Jones: "I don't care!"

Donkey Kong: "I didn't kill my wife!" Tommy Lee Jones: "I don't care!"

Indeed, it'll be a while before players innately realise they need not continuously shake the controls once they hit 'Max Speed', arguably because they awkwardly don't have much else to do otherwise. In any case, 'Max Speed' is a phrase that should really be used loosely in the context of Jet Race's laughable interpretation of life on the fast lane. Apparently, having rocket powered jets strapped to your waist is relative to crawling. Understandably however, the bewildering slow pace is perhaps purposefully in place to help emphasise the need for players to take advantage of Jet Race's admittedly entertaining boost system. Collecting 50 bananas to top off the 'Banana Gauge' allows players to flick back the Wii Nunchuk's analogue stick and perform a 'Wild Move', in essence a much needed speed burst. And while the boost is short-lived, it also doubles as a form of attack, in turn allowing the effect of the boost to continue as long as players hit a string of combos into opponents and/or track obstacles -- a rare satisfying example of the sole depths to Jet Race's mechanics. Nevertheless, the only points at which Jet Race begins to bare anything close to constant breakneck levels of velocity is when a few features of the game are unlocked through extended play -- but by that point it'll be too little, too late for most players.

Starting off with the walk over difficulty that is the 'Beginner' series of cups, it's only when 'Expert' difficulty is uncovered that races pick up a bit of pace. But having to sequentially trawl through Jet Race's meagre selection of track environments to actually gain such unlockables is matched only by the tracks' overall poor designs. While the game promises 16 tracks, in reality, there are only seven environments, with 16 configurations of tracks spread across them. Consisting of typical DK fare such as jungles, temples and whatnot, to the far flung reaches of space, there isn't much variety in sightseeing that'll otherwise distract players from the cheap AI of their opponents -- although hidden shortcuts and power-ups, which take advantage of the DK series trademark barrel cannons, animal buddies and mine carts, help alleviate that problem to a degree.

Rambi knew he shouldn't have had those Zinger burgers for lunch.

Rambi knew he shouldn't have had those Zinger burgers for lunch.

Fortunately included among Jet Race's standard practice, time trial and multiplayer modes, is 'Candy's Challenges', where the game's dull race tracks are given various sets of objectives to achieve within certain conditions. Be it collecting a number of bananas under a time limit, or helping an opponent win the race, there's near enough on offer to change up the otherwise forgettable jet racing formula. Unfortunately, much like the cup races themselves, the challenges, and the secrets that await within, can be licked in less than a couple of evenings of dedicated play. It should also be noted that those who enjoy achieving their unlockables with a friend will be disappointed, as they only count in single-player mode.

Presentation wise, there's clearly an overall DK aesthetic to Jet Race's proceedings, to the point of PAON including subtle nods to past Donkey Kong games. The graphics, while true to the subject matter, are nevertheless horrendously low detailed. Slow down in areas where a fair bit of explosions and racers are on screen will remind players of these superficial deficiencies, as will the game's overall barebones user interface. The audio department doesn't fare much better either. Filled with traditional DK boppiness, sans the genre-bounding sheen of Rare's heydays with the franchise, Jet Race's sordid cast voices and music are best left at low levels. A sad thing too, as at least the music on the Cosmic Highway track is something any and all fans of any and all iteration of Donkey Kong should be made privy to.

That said, even fans of the DK franchise will have to ultimately admit Jet Race is a disappointment. As hind-sighted the experience may now be, Diddy Kong Racing this ain't. While one should not dwell on the past and what could've been with DK Bongos at the helm, the fact remains that not only is Donkey Kong Jet Race far from the intuitive experience the Wii platform strives for, it's also a downright uneventful game.
The Score
Donkey Kong Jet Race is yet another example of the uneventful consequences of uninspired motion controls.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Content

Take a peek at Donkey Kong Barrel Blast
01 Feb, 2008 Cool bananas!
New DK: Jungle Climber images revealed
04 Jun, 2007 It would appear it's time for a banana smoothie.
New Donkey Kong Jet media
30 Apr, 2007 Fresh name and screenies for Wii monkey racer.
6 years ago
Had Nintendo realised that plastic Bongos are more fun than PRETEND bongos they would have had me at 'ook'.

My underutilised but barely underused (I'm sure plastic is going to show through the paper thin skins someday soon) are crying something new to play. How hard could it really have been to have bongo control buried somewhere in here?

No more waggle,[left right clap] Bongo controls [right, left clap], can't you see it?
I just want you back for gooD [drum roll]
6 years ago
You'd have to be puffin muffins to buy this game.
6 years ago
sidzed2 wrote
You'd have to be puffin muffins to buy this game.
Say what??
6 years ago
Love the caption on the first screen shot.
6 years ago
The OFLC have just come up with a new ratings caption, courtesy of the SSRB which has debuted with Donkey Kong: Jet Race..

6 years ago
psylacine wrote
sidzed2 wrote
You'd have to be puffin muffins to buy this game.
Say what??
6 years ago
Awesome, a Fugitive reference.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  07/02/2008 (Confirmed)
Year Made:

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