—This beginning paragraph is more of an update to future reviews rather than an addition to this review. Skip the first paragraph if you’re just coming here for the JungleBeat review—
Originally, I wanted this review to come out fairly soon after my review of Donkey Kong Country 3, but as you can see, that is not the case. Due to school starting back up and due to other commitments, I haven’t had a whole lot of time that I have felt like dedicating to this review blog, and I’ve thought a few times about stopping doing these written reviews. However, I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon, but don’t expect reviews to come out on an even remotely timely schedule (though, that’s never been the case on this review blog). Reviews from now on (or rather, after I re-review DKC Tropical Freeze) will focus on sometimes smaller games, rather than the deeper, lengthier titles that I’ve been reviewing in this marathon (I still will occasionally review larger games, however). Despite having had fun reviewing these DK games, I’m inclined to think that maybe I wasn’t ready to take on a marathon of reviews yet, and I apologize to those who aren’t interested in DK games. I’ll try to do a mini-review (most likely of a certain PC game) between this review and the review of Donkey Kong Country Returns. It’s safe to say I won’t be creating another marathon after the Donkey Kong-a-thon, but maybe if I become more efficient in creating reviews, I might reconsider. As for those Banjo Kazooie reviews I talked about a long while ago… I’m not sure if I can still promise that I’ll do those reviews, as it’s just been too long since I’ve played either Banjo Kazooie or Tooie.
—Review begins here—
Today, I have a 2D platforming Donkey Kong game, which isn’t a Donkey Kong Country game, as the word “Country” is not found anywhere in the title, and as we’ll see, it has little in common with the original DKC games. Donkey Kong JungleBeat was originally released on the GameCube back in 2004, but the version of the game that I’m reviewing here today is the updated Wii version of the game, released in 2008, to utilize the Wii’s motion controls.
That’s really all I should need to say for this “pre-introduction”, to be honest, but I’ve been rethinking my whole “Let’s get started!” thing before I transition to the review’s intro just because it’s a bit lackluster I think. You know what? I’m gonna try to change it right now, yeah! It’ll be amazing! … Er—
Hmm… Maybe? It’s better than nothing, I guess, right? Uh…
Let’s begin this review?
(Dangit, I’m terrible with coming up with stuff like this.)
Back around Christmas-time in 2009, my nine year-old self was greeted with a pleasant surprise under his Christmas tree. This surprise, as you probably can guess, was this game: Donkey Kong JungleBeat (for the Wii). At this point in my life, I had never really gotten into the DKC series, aside from occasionally playing DKC2 or 3 on GBA, and this type of challenging platformer wasn’t really something I could quite appreciate yet, as I was quite horrible at video games (not saying I’ve gotten much better, however). Back then, it took me ages to try to beat this game, and after checking my old save file, apparently I managed to beat this game (with barely unlocking anything optional) back in 2012.
Nowadays, four years after first beating it, I’m returning to Donkey Kong JungleBeat, but I’m not doing this review just for the Donkey Kong-a-thon; I’m reviewing this game because it’s a fascinating game in general to me (and I honestly felt like playing this game, unlike DKC3). This game uses none of the original DKC characters, story, set pieces, or content in general, and the only returning character is DK himself. I feel as if that helps this game in feeling distant from the DKC series, and it’s partially why I’m reviewing this game instead of, say, DK64 (which takes a lot of things from the DKC games, and it’s good to have some variance every once in awhile).
This game was also developed by the same team that eventually went on to make Mario Galaxy, which is already a good track record, right? Let’s find out, but first: we need to talk about the “story”, if you can call it that.
Where do I start here? This game’s very complex storytelling and plot makes it difficult to pick a starting point…
Actually, I’m just joking. This game easily has one of the most non-existent plots of… any game in general actually. In fact, there’s so little plot in this game that most NES games have more interesting and unique plots than this. I’m not even exaggerating in saying that.
The minimal plot is that sixteen different fruit-themed kingdoms have been taken over by evil creatures, and Donkey Kong must save them to become the king of the jungle.
That is the entire plot, and as you might be able to see, it’s even less amazing than any of the stories from the original DKC trilogy. Anyway, the plot barely exists, and it’s almost better off that way. The game itself doesn’t even really give you that much story either. That tiny amount of story comes probably from the manual (or in this case MarioWiki). In response to questions regarding the simplicity of the story, the game’s director Yoshiaki Koizumi said: “The only thing Donkey Kong needs is to be the best, and to become the king of the jungle.” That sums it up pretty well.
This game is going to be a bit tough to judge in this category, mainly because there’s little cohesion between levels in this game. Therefore, all I have to work with is the character designs and overall style. The game knows that it’s not trying to be realistic, and the new more cartoonish characters help bring that style to life. You’ll be encountering smaller helper monkeys who give you little tutorials, who give you support during a level by throwing you in a certain direction, and who exist solely for the purpose of decoration (usually this last one is accompanied by them playing various instruments), and these little monkeys really are a standout icon of the game by the end, since you see them all around during the game. There are even a few monkeys that are enemies in the game, usually during later levels, but I don’t want to only focus on these helper monkeys.
There are a whole bunch of neat little touches throughout this game. A lot of the enemies are quite expressive, actually, and they manage to fit along with each other quite nicely. The bosses in particular are a memorable part of the game, just because of their expressions and design (though mainly just the “Kong” bosses, who I’ll get to later in this review). I think that these characters give the game a bit of a “wacky” feel in a way, since nothing is taken too seriously, and things can get a bit crazy with them… But I won’t spoil any of this weirdness, since it’s best experienced first hand.
How about the actual environments in the levels themselves? Well, most of the time you’ll be going through completely unique level themes, but unlike the original DKC trilogy, level types are typically only used once or twice and feel a bit similar among the different themes. For this game in particular, however, since it’s a shorter game, this works out fairly well, as there are only 32 levels, and none of them seem to overstay their welcome. A lot of the themes are your standard fare for platformer level themes, such as a jungle, a cave full of lava, an ocean, space, and snow-covered hills. However, quite a few of the themes are actually pretty unique, especially for a Donkey Kong game, including themes like a Japanese-themed fort on a hill, a sky level filled with floating water (an odd one), and a swamp filled with ghostly enemies. None of the themes are really groundbreaking, but they still are a part of the game that I enjoy (although, lava-filled cave levels are a bit too common).
Overall, I think this game does very well in being different from previous DK games, especially in its almost wacky tone and somewhat unique level themes and characters.
Like I’ve said before, this game manages to be very different from Donkey Kong Country, and its differences shine the most in the gameplay. However, a lot of things are similar, and I’d like to start with those first.
Like the DKC series, it’s a 2D sprint to the end of levels with enemies scattered throughout. Unlike the Donkey Kong Country games, there are no major collectibles or bonus rooms, but in this case, bananas (or beats in the original GameCube version apparently) are the main collectible now. There are also bosses in the game as well, much like the DKC series, but they are one of the not so interesting parts of the game, as boss types are reused quite a few times. Overall the game has many similarities with the original, but it does do certain things differently.
Now for the differences: first off, there is no longer a map layout for a level select; instead, you just have a normal level select menu, with pairs of two levels and a boss grouped together into one fruit-named “kingdom.” These kingdoms are grouped into four per barrel, but (in the Wii version) one of the kingdoms in each barrel is optional and made up of harder levels. The optional kingdoms are unlocked by collecting all of the “crests” in the other three kingdoms of their respective barrels, but I’ll get more into crests later in this review.
One major difference is the whole gameplay style. The gameplay style is actually something that almost sounds like the gameplay style of Mighty No. 9. I’ll give you hope, however, since this game uses its new style better than Mighty No. 9 does. One thing I can name right off the bat is that this game, much like Mighty No. 9, focuses on a combo system to earn more bananas, which add up to a total at a boss to become your health bar for that boss and give you crests (this game’s “collectible”) at the end of a boss, depending on how many bananas you got. Because of this gameplay style, most of the time spent in levels is finding out how to use the environment to increase your combo so that you can get enough bananas to beat a tough boss or to get crests. I’ll be honest in saying that levels in this game can last from five minutes to around thirty minutes, depending on how long the stage is, how hard it is, and how many poor level design choices were put into a stage (which certain levels in this game have a lot of).
How about the combos, though? Well, your combos have a multiplier which is increased by DK’s movement in the air, on the ground, on walls, in the water, on enemies, or on “animal buddies”. For example, wall-jumping, swinging off of a vine, or ground-pounding would give you a “combo point.” Touching the ground causes your combo points to reset to zero. It’s harder to explain the way the combo multiplier works with words; so, I’ll let this gameplay video perhaps explain it a bit better than I can:
(Video does contain minor later level spoilers, but it’s the best video of the Wii version’s gameplay I could find. Also, credit to MProductions Gaming on YouTube for the video.)
As you can see, movement is quite a bit more “flowy” in this game, and you have a lot of control over your movement on the ground and in the air. But for the basic gameplay style, I think that’s all I need to talk about.
The level designs in the game are rather hit-or-miss when talking about certain levels in the game. You’ll have a mostly enjoyable time with the majority of the levels, but around a fourth of the levels in the game decide to suddenly increase the difficulty level by means of bad, unfair, or annoying game design; however, I’m suspicious that this particular fault may be from the Wii version, as it rearranged the levels from the GameCube version. The optional, unlockable kingdoms in each barrel are the real culprit here, as they take levels from the original game’s fourth barrel. A few bad levels are ones like “Lava Cavern” with its out-of-nowhere traps and enemies, both “Asteroid Belt” and “Clock Tower” with their long and tedious level structure (Asteroid Belt also feels like it was just thrown together with not that much thought), and “Cloudy Heights” with its bottomless pits and tight spaces (touching walls in those tight spaces with a particular animal buddy can mean instant death by bottomless pit or can cause you to lose an important combo). These levels overall, while admittedly some are unique, just have very poor design choices compared to the rest of the game. Overall, however, you can just skip these levels to beat the game in the Wii version… But in order to face the true final boss, which isn’t even worth it, you need to beat these levels and collect all of the crests in them, which is when these bad game design moments begin to become aggravating. Most poor design choices include out-of-nowhere obstacles that can be very annoying in certain levels, levels that are plain tedious due to a culmination of small but still bad designs, and above all, any “racing” levels where you need to beat other characters to the finish, since these levels are completely trial and error and range from completely easy with no challenge at all to aggravating if you want to get first place to get important bananas for your score.
As for actually good levels and level designs, there’s a good fourth of the levels in the game that are quite worthwhile and unique and contain some great atmosphere and level design, such as “Battle for Storm Hill” with a very epic tone set by the music, weather, and dark lighting; “Aerie Fortress” housing some neat branching paths, while having an awesome tune to go along with it; “Pristine Sea” with its open level structure and optional secrets throughout; and “Monkey Fest” with the first occurrence of being able to keep a combo from the start of a level to the end (and for being a generally fun level). These levels and a few more are generally really a blast to play, and they all feel unique from each other. As for good design choices in these levels, they’re full of them, and nothing feels unfair or forced either (though, the beginning of Aerie Fortress can be a bit annoying to nail down for a higher banana score). A lot of the good design choices include being able to play certain stages very smoothly with the game’s combo system allowing for some very satisfying gameplay, generally containing new uses for old enemies, and having certain levels contain many well-rewarding secrets, encouraging exploration.
The rest of the levels in the game widely vary in quality from one side of the spectrum to the other, but nothing is close to being as bad as most of the levels in the optional barrels. I’d say these “middle ground” levels are mostly good all things considered, and they make up for the levels I don’t like. But, I will say that I definitely don’t remember every level clearly from my playthrough for this review; so, I may be missing one or two great or bad levels.
Next, we’ve come to the topic of animal buddies, one of the few mechanics that actually returns from the DKC games— but they’re entirely situational and you can only use them in specific spots in levels, or when a level is based around them. For recurring animal buddies, you have “Flurl the Squirrel,” who is able to basically give you a short parachute power-up that ends when you get hit or touch the ground (which acts as a little minigame); Helibirds, who allow you fly somewhat slowly and require a lot of button mashing to successfully use, especially on the occasion of a race (which is why some races can be completely aggravating); and “Hoofer the Wildebeest”, who has a level or two based entirely around his high-speed charges toward the finish and occasionally appears at the end of a level in a type of bonus game where you can time jumps right between platforms while getting faster each time that you land a jump in order to earn more bananas. Considering that these animal buddies are entirely set into only planned small sections of levels, it means that they’re really not that memorable or highly useful, except for the occasional Helibird or Hoofer level. Helibird levels are only memorable, however, because they are tedious beyond belief due to flight being powered by rapid A presses and because the Helibirds have a weird leaning movement where they go diagonally up and left or right, which makes them awkward to control; as a contrast in DKC2, Squawks had enough lift per button press that it didn’t become tiring on your hands (for the most part anyway). Overall, this is an aspect of the game that could have been much better, but I’m not too upset that animal buddies are very toned down and only have specific uses in this game, as this game was obviously trying to be different from the DKC games.
As for miscellaneous parts of the game that are worth mentioning, DK’s main attack, the sound wave, usually stuns enemies with the first hit and kills them on the second or third hits, but certain enemies require you to grab them and beat them to death by shaking the controller, which carries over to bosses as well. For the Wii version, using the motion controls to attack works fine for what it is, but it really could be mapped to a button if the game was on a different system (in fact, the original GameCube version, though advertised for use with the DK Bongo controller, could be played normally with a GameCube controller as well, meaning attacking using a button was fully possible to implement as a control option on the Wii version). I’d say that this game is not hurt as much by motion controls as Donkey Kong Country Returns is in my opinion, but we’ll get into that in that game’s review later.
At the end of every normal DK stage, you’ll come across a fruit on a tree. Waggling the WiiMote while next to the fruit will begin a bonus game where you need to waggle as much as you can to get a large amount of bananas added to your total count. Personally, I think these bonus stages are here mostly just to give the player the opportunity to maybe get some extra bananas if they feel up to shaking the controller until their hands fall off, but the placement of these bonus games at the end of both levels in a kingdom could also be placed here to give a big finish to the first level and then to get you physically pumped up for the upcoming boss fight. This is a nice little addition to the game, but I never really thought of the possible secondary purpose of “pumping you up” until writing this review… I’m most likely looking too deeply into a simple bonus game, but hey, speculation is fun every now and then.
I also should mention that this game seems to be where Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze gets its inspiration for the underwater controls, as you have free directional movement while underwater; although, there’s no an air meter in JungleBeat’s water segments (but Tropical Freeze’s actual underwater controls are superior I’d say). Generally, underwater sections are enjoyable to control and easy to play, which is a solid plus for levels that mostly take place underwater, like Pristine Sea.
A small gripe I have with the game is that, throughout the levels, there are those floating helper monkeys who will throw you in a direction when you shake the controller while you’re near them, but they often can get in the way while trying to kill enemies, since both grabbing the monkey and attacking are mapped to shaking the controller. There are only a few occasions where this is an issue, but it can be very annoying when it causes me to die or to lose an ongoing combo.
Now, we have arrived at the final sub-section for the gameplay section of this review: the bosses. At the end of a Kingdom, after you’ve beaten two levels, you come across a boss encounter, where your banana count from the stages is your health bar. In this game, there are four types of normal bosses: Roc bosses, which consist of a flying bird that attacks you with feathers and other projectiles, while carrying a strange orb, which is also the only place where it can be attacked; Hog bosses, which consist of a fast, deadly, bipedal hog that jumps around the arena while throwing watermelon projectiles and that can only be defeated by the power of hitting those projectiles that it throws back into it; Tusk bosses, which consist of one or two large stationary robotic elephants that fire cannonballs or a flamethrower through its trunk; and Kong bosses, which are the main bosses in the game and involve being in a 1v1 duel with the opposing Kong, while throwing punches and dodging occasionally (somewhat akin to Punch-Out, but not as good). While all the bosses are generally enjoyable and all the main types are completely different, the bosses definitely can’t be praised for overall uniqueness, as bosses within a main type are usually the same boss strategy but with only one added move or an altered arena. Only the Kong bosses really change things up between fights, but those bosses have other problems that I’ll get into in a bit. Out of the other three types of bosses, the Tusk bosses probably vary the most, but they also are the most tedious, especially Torch Tusk, which can go on for way too long than necessary, due to the frequency of his flamethrower attack, causing you to have to hide until it is finished. The least changing type is definitely the Hog bosses, but they are also potentially the most fun to play. Right in the middle are the Roc bosses, which don’t have much going for them; they’re fine but nothing special, and they’re my least favorite boss type in the game. In addition to normal bosses, certain mini-bosses are also in some stages, but like the normal bosses, they are often recycled and not the most engaging. Now, onto the Kong bosses: these fights can be either be stupidly simple (Dread Kong), too unpredictable often times for trying to get down a strategy (Ninja Kong), or a complete and utter “waggle fest” (Sumo Kong, and really the rest of them as well). The only Kong boss that I find completely fair and to be designed well-enough is Karate Kong, but he suffers from being a bit too predictable at times, depending on what his AI decides to do. The Kong bosses overall are interesting but can be a physical chore due to the motion controls present in the game. Just to highlight the absolute worst Kong boss, Sumo Kong consists of shaking the WiiMote intensely for five or so seconds, then dodging (when the game literally tells you to), then waggling, then repeat. What genius came up with that boss strategy? However, they’re still interesting and have their merits, but they just aren’t my favorite in the slightest.
Overall, the bosses are one of my least favorite parts about this game. If bosses weren’t completely recycled for a lot of the boss levels, I might be sharing a different sentiment. The Tusk bosses can be tedious and often boring, the Hog bosses are fast-paced but change much too little between fights, the Roc bosses are just average, and the Kong bosses are at least unique, but they suffer from other problems that hurt the fights a bit for me.
As for the gameplay as a whole, this game has its ups and downs. However, I think this gameplay manages to have more good going for it than bad. Even though a fourth of the levels in the game aren’t all that great and the bosses are nothing special, I still had a lot of fun playing this game, and this game has a small but fitting amount of content going for it, depending on how many of the optional, not so great levels you choose to play.
Graphics and Performance:
This game, for a 2004 GameCube game, looks quite fantastic, if I can be completely honest. As far as I know, the Wii version of the game has slight graphical improvements over the original, which is nice, and the game doesn’t look dated in many regards (a few things like the helper monkeys and certain enemies do look a bit wonky by today’s standards, however). When compared to the original DKC trilogy on SNES, I’d say this game isn’t quite as timeless in terms of graphics, but it still looks appealing nowadays to me at least.
Most levels have a very unique look to them, and stage environments are almost all well-detailed. In addition to detail, the color in this game is nicely done as well, as each different environment gives off a distinct feel due to a varied color pallete.
When talking about performance, I can’t speak on behalf of the GameCube original, but the Wii version seems to not have any issues that I can recall about frame rate dropping or slowdown, which is more than what I can say for the original DKC trilogy’s occasional slowdown.
Overall, Donkey Kong JungleBeat is a very good looking game for 2004 GameCube standards, and its performance is practically flawless from what I can recall.
Music and Sound:
Unlike the original DKC games, which were composed by David Wise (DKC 1-3), Eveline Novakovic (DKC 1 and 3), and Robin Beanland (DKC 1), JungleBeat is composed solely by Mahito Yokota, who is now well-known for his compositions in many Mario and Zelda games (especially for composing a majority of the music in the Mario Galaxy games). Since the GameCube didn’t necessarily have the extra space for fully orchestrated soundtracks like Mario Galaxy had (and because orchestrated soundtracks weren’t prevalent yet), Mahito Yokota’s style is quite a lot different here than what you may be used to be hearing from him.
Obviously, the best way to discuss the music in this game is just to let you listen to it already. Here are six of my favorites:
The upbeat and catchy Sky Garden’s theme
The great, energetic boss theme for the Hog bosses.
The catchy boss theme for the Tusk bosses (which slowly crawled its way into my top three favorite music tracks from this game).
The famous and militaristic-sounding theme for Battle for Storm Hill. Its relative popularity is largely due to its inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
The intense theme for Aerie Fortress, which is easily my favorite music piece from this game, due to how seamless it transitions from an upbeat begginning to a calm middle (which is actually a remix of the original Zelda’s dungeon theme) to a final amazing section that loops around perfectly to the beginning.
And the wonderful Staff Roll, which starts out with probably my favorite voice clip of DK. Just the expressions in how he says “D! K? … D-K! DONKEY KONG!” really makes this credits theme for me.
I will be honest in saying that I’m kind of surprised at how uncommon videos of this game’s soundtrack are. You may notice how the videos switch between extended versions and non-extended versions, which is because the extended versions are the few videos I could find of the soundtrack without obnoxious sound effects throughout, except for Battle for Storm Hill, strangely, and a few other music tracks have yet to be extended to fit in.
As for the music soundtrack as a whole, Mahio Yokota did a great job overall. There are a few music tracks that can be just average, but at the very least, even these tracks still fit with their respective levels’ themes. I’d say around half the soundtrack is really great, a fourth is pretty good, and the other fourth is just fine. However, this is not what I would consider Mahito Yokota’s best work in my opinion, and if I ever review Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, then you’ll be able to see my thoughts on his compositions in those games. Anyway, back to JungleBeat: I’d give the whole soundtrack a listen here (especially tracks like Magma Coliseum and Deep Sea Sprint, which I couldn’t fit in above here). I also think music tracks like Ice Warren, Sweet Paradise, and Cloudy Heights deserve a mention.
This soundtrack may not be that much like the Donkey Kong Country soundtracks, but it still stands in its own right as a great listening experience, while managing to fit in with every level as well. Most of the music tracks are catchy and memorable, and even the tracks that aren’t necessarily easy to recall have their own merits. I’d personally place this soundtrack in between Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 in terms of my personal enjoyment of it.
Final Thoughts and Score:
This game was actually a lot different than what I originally remembered from my first playthrough of the game. I honestly remembered this game as being a dull and uninteresting take on the Donkey Kong Country series before this review (so much so that I was thinking of giving this game around a 6/10 beforehand), but I found a lot more positives with this game this time around. Truth be told, I’m not sure if I agree with the scores that I gave to DKC 1-3 (I would really put them around an 8/10 for DKC1, 9/10 for DKC2, and a 7.5/10 for DKC3), but I will say that this game actually gave me a bit more enjoyment than what I had with DKC3.
When it comes to the the score I’m giving this game… I’m giving Donkey Kong JungleBeat a solid 8/10: despite its flaws and low points, this game still manages to be very enjoyable and creative in so many aspects. The game looks and runs great, and the music is really a nice listen.
I had a bit of a tough time deciding what to rate this game, as it has enough problems for me to give it a 7 or 7.5/10, but it’s fun, creative, and addicting enough to make me want to give it an 8. I ended up going with the higher score when I began thinking about this game’s quality in regards to the other DKC games. I had more fun with this title than what I had with DKC3 and just a bit more than DKC1, which put it over the edge for me.
Now, I want to end off this review with how you’re able to pick this game up for yourself. If you’re sold on Donkey Kong JungleBeat from my review, the Wii version is available on the Wii U eShop for $20 in North America. I will say that $20 is a bit steep for me considering the length of the game, but you’d probably be able to find the game for cheaper online for the physical Wii or GameCube version. In fact, a quick look on Amazon brings up a slightly lower price for the used physical Wii version and an even lower price for the used GameCube version. However, the price is close enough that you may just prefer getting the game digitally on there eShop if you have the space for it.
Wooh, I’ve finally gotten around to finishing this review! Honestly, I had the majority of this review done for the past two weeks now, but I just hadn’t gotten around to rewriting some parts and finalizing the review as a whole. Next time in the Donkey Kong-a-thon, I will be looking at Retro’s take on the DKC series with Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii (with brief mention to the 3DS enhanced version). I can’t say when that review will be done, obviously, because I tend to miss any deadline I set for myself on this blog. It will be done when it is done, and I won’t be giving any more updates between posts detailing why a review might be taking longer.
Also, I will admit here and now that I rushed my review of DKC3 to get it done before an imaginary deadline I had set for myself. As such, I can safely say that was not the case here, and I’ve polished this one twice over. I hope to do the same for future reviews and other posts as well, obviously.
Thanks for reading this review, and have a wonderful day!