Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber
Forget the lion. When it comes down to who is the true king of the jungle, there is no doubt that Donkey Kong is the winner. Not only can he roar away like the oversized primate that he is, but he’s also fully capable of manoeuvring himself through the dense treetops by the only means a monkey ever needs – swinging. Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber heralds the return of the graceful gorilla in an all-new DS sequel to the overlooked GBA latecomer, King of Swing. Chances are you missed the first boat, but no need to fret; if you aren’t already familiar with how the controls work in this innovative title, it’ll only take a few minutes before you’re swinging with the best of them.
Things start out rather simple. Donkey Kong (affectionately known as DK) is enjoying a peaceful beachside holiday with his fellow simians when all of a sudden, young Diddy Kong spots a giant banana looming above a mountaintop over yonder. They’re monkeys, dammit, so it goes without saying that when a ginormous potassium-enriched piece of fruity goodness appears before them, they decide to get their head honcho, DK, to swing over and grab it for them. However, all is not as it seems. Soon enough, DK and his hyperactive nephew, Diddy, find themselves in yet another King K. Rool scandal involving the tyrant lizard’s band of not-so merry Kremlings who are looking to steal essence of an extraterrestrial race of banana-looking oddities known as Fananas.
Still with me? Don’t worry. If not, I assure you: there’s nothing too hard to understand here, gameplay included. Old Cranky Kong delivers a helpful set of tutorial levels right off the bat that’ll teach you how to swing. Basically, the L and R shoulder buttons are what you’ll be relying on most of the time. They correspond to DK’s left and right hand grips respectively. By holding them down whilst DK’s oversized palms cover a grab-able peg, he’ll proceed to latch on and rotate around in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Release the button and DK will swing off on a tangent, hopefully bringing you to another peg to grip onto, or else, meet the life-sucking abyss that may lie below. You are given some control over DK whilst in mid-air, but overall precision swinging is what will make or break your day.
This game is all about swinging to and from pegs. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much, but in practice the intuitive controls open up an experience that is both fresh and highly addictive. Early on, you’ll have stationary peg grids built into the background, incorporated into trees branches, alcoves and everything else that looks like it could be remotely clung onto. It becomes tougher as you make progress, though. The gradual yet challenging learning curve will slowly introduce dynamic pegs, driven by water currents or blown about haphazardly by swift gusts of air. There are special switch pegs that need to be hooked onto successfully to unlock gates or rotate the stage advantageously, sometimes inadvertently triggering a rising flow of lava that spells “get out of the volcano quick or you’re monkey stew!” Then there are the mirror worlds, where the dual screens display slightly different perspectives of DK’s surroundings. Only pegs that are present on both screens are real, and so it becomes somewhat of a mind game trying to figure out where you can swing to whilst avoiding the incessant bird-brained critters that have nothing better to do other than being a pest.
However, DK isn’t alone in his latest foray; Diddy joins in on the fun by clinging onto ol’ DK’s back (obtained via smashing DK barrels – a nod to its platforming roots), providing an extra lease on life (or else, this is a one-hit-and-you’re-dead kind of game), as well as a myriad of support actions. With the little one on-board, you are able to make use of a variety of power-ups scattered across the board. Diddy will be able to swing a giant mallet around you like a lunatic, both providing cover and granting you the ability to smash solid-rock blocks to access the hidden goodies that lie beneath. Grab the pair of feathery wings and you’ll be able to flap your way to the end goal in tandem. Huge chunks of ice impeding your swinging ability? No problem, just let Diddy loose with a flame-thrower! This little rascal has more tricks up his sleeve than David Copperfield, and he really does make swinging around more fun than you could imagine.
But when the going gets tough – as you’d expect when pegs start flying all over the place and K. Rool’s henchmen start posing more of a threat with their rock throwing, spinning tackles and trap activation – the game can turn into an exercise in frustration. Lives are easily obtained via a banana catching mini-game present in all the levels (that you can safely replay), but then again, lives are easily lost due to a simple slip-up that leads to a head-on collision with the bees, blowfishes, ghosts and Kremling what-nots that terrorise the place. But even when your little pal, Diddy, is no longer on your back, persevere with crystal gem collection and you’ll build up enough star power to transform into the almighty Super Donkey Kong! For a limited time only, DK is now impervious to every rock, spike or barbed sting thrown at him. Not only that, but he can now freely soar through the air without having to worry about mistiming a swing. This special power allows players of all skill levels to pass through tight situations, preventing the common stuck-in-one-section-so-can’t-progress gaming syndrome. If you’re ape enough, you can still go by freestyle, saving up the star power for those more tricky hidden items.
Jungle Climber’s upgrades over its prequel are quite significant. The cartoony look has been ditched, succeeded by a textured, pre-rendered makeover reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy of platforming games. Jungle Climber also has a more refined control scheme, which means that a more skillful risk/reward system now exists. This allows for a reasonably cruisy ride if you are just looking for straight completion, but an immensely challenging undertaking if you’re looking to grab every oil can, all the “K O N G” tokens and other way-out-of-reach items. And you most likely will want to achieve a coveted 100% completion here, seeing as more than a bunch of bananas’ worth of bonus levels and minigames await the most persistent gamer; from jumping over rolling logs that come tearing down from the height of a cliff, to a 4-player race to the top of a peg-ridden crag, or simply unlocking more heinous solo levels – there’s enough monkey business evident here to last you a long time.
This is the kind of game that the DS was made for. Sure, not everyone is looking for something ‘different’; Jungle Climber plays nothing like the original SNES platformers, gearing itself more towards casual play rather than an adventure of epic proportions. But that’s ok. I love its unique take on a ‘swinging platformer’, as I’m sure many others, who have bludgeoned generic follow-ups to death, will do too. This is a pick-up-and-play game in its purest form, albeit with a uniquely tropical control set-up that hasn’t been utilised anywhere else before, sans its neglected prequel. If you own a DS, you owe it to yourself to swing low over to this sweet chariot of creativity.