DK: Jungle Climber

DK: Jungle Climber
DK: Jungle Climber Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Bionic Kong-mando
MtAMinutes to Action 1
Keep Playing? Yes
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One of the more common complaints you'll hear from Nintendo ex-fans is that the Big N hasn't made any new franchises in a very long time. For evidence, critics often point to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the game that has become a showcase for iconic Nintendo characters past and present, and correctly note that none of the game's playable characters are from a franchise created after 2001's Pikmin. You'd think the one game that celebrates the whole history of Nintendo's creations would put some recent stars at the forefront, and yet there are none.

There's a point to be made there, but I don't think it's that Nintendo isn't creating new experiences. Nintendo has been delivering unique titles all along, but skinning them with familiar faces in an effort to grab the mass-market that buys based on brand name alone. It's a practice that probably went into full swing after the amazing success of Super Mario Kart, a racing game that could have been released with the image of any other combat-focused racer and nobody would have ever thought to liken it to the Super Mario series. Nintendo found a way to make the racing formula mesh with a beloved franchise and exploited the mustached plumber's image for instant brand recognition on a whole new product. It wasn't long before every Nintendo character became a pitchman: the ever-adaptable Kirby was a given, and other Mario-verse mascots like Yoshi and Wario weren't stretches either, but even seemingly untouchable characters like Samus and Link are now lending their images to genres that only vaguely fit into their traditional roles.

Enter DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. The game could be categorized as a platformer, but the focus on running and jumping had shifted to climbing and swinging, using the system's shoulder buttons. King of Swing received enough positive reviews and sales to spawn a sequel, DK: Jungle Climber, for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Like many hardcore gamers, this game launched well under my radar, but I recently gave the game a shot. Is the stigma of a spinoff warranted, or will I see something new underneath the same old monkey business?

dk Jungle Climber Levers

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)

00 - Welcome to Sun Sun Beach! DK's crew is here for some R 'n R. Diddy discovers a huge banana on top of the mountain! Obviously we want that. We are monkeys.

01 - 1-1 Cranky's Teachings - Tutorial time! "This game controls different han you're used to, but different doesn't mean difficult!" You can skip this stage if you're already familiar with the game. I'm not.

02 - Left and Right on the D-Pad walk. Press L and R to jump, or press A to jump attack. Walk and jump to the exit!

dk Jungle Climber ice03 - Minigame time! Jump over the rolling logs as they roll down from the background. I guess this is jump practice. I end up with 120 points, plenty more than the 80 I needed to move on.

04 - There are pegs sticking out from the background. How to climb pegs: hold L to grab with DK's left hand or R to grab with the right. Minigame again! Grab 50 falling bananas to move on! It's a timing minigame, I have to grab the bananas as they fall into each of DK's hands. Easy enough.

05 - Let's grab more pegs! Grabbing a peg with your right hand spins DK clockwise, left hand spins counterclockwise. Let go of the trigger to make DK jump in whatever direction he's facing.

06 - How to move around pegs with ease: just grab two pegs to stop spinning. Release and re-press each button to climb up to the next peg.

07 - Minigame: race Diddy to the top! I have to climb up a huge pegboard. I absolutely embarassed Diddy by finishing the race within five seconds. Rather than climb, I just touched each peg to have DK jump upward at a fast pace. Guess I'm a pro at this already!

08 - There are collectible gems in addition to the standard bananas. These gems allows DK to briefly become invincible and fly in whatever direction he is facing. Press the touch screen to activate it. If you collect enough gems, you can store multiple uses of the flight.

09 - Climbing up through the stage now, collecting bananas and smashing barrels.

dk Jungle Climber Corn10 - Tutorial stage complete! I can play any of those minigame I played before in the main menu. Onto the next stage on the map: 1-2 Sun Sun Beach.

11 - Like in Donkey Kong Country, you can collect KONG letters for a 1-up in each stage. Cranky says the Banana Coins from DKC also return, and collecting them might lead to a nice surprise. I'm having a bit of trouble maneuvering in the air and grabbing things...this might take some time to get used to.

12 - Blast barrels also return from DKC. Bonus Barrels as well...this bonus stage asks me to collect falling bananas in a barrel! A slot machine selects your barrel size, and I get stuck with the tiny one. Tons of bananas fall from the sky. A bigger barrel would have been really nice, but I still got 137 of them, enough for a 1-up.

13 - Back to the main stage, and I'm moving on. I can collect Oil Barrels as well; there's one in each stage, and if I collect them all on an island, I can fly to a challenge stage with Funky Kong. The Oil Barrel was pretty easy to find in this stage.

14 - DK coins return as well. There's certainly no shortage of doodads to grab in this game. DK Coins unlock cheats that "power up all kinds of stuff." I found one at the top of the screen before passing through the stage exit. The stage completion screen shows that I collected all the bonus items in the level.

15 - 1-3 Jungle Beach. Cranky says I can grab a giant flower with both hands to spring forward. The plant bends back and launches me diagonally quite a ways. I've noticed a few things about the game's platforming: DK automatically hops off a ledge when you walk off it, and he'll grab onto the side to pull himself up. Also, you can influence the direction you go in the air by holding left/right, like most platformers.

16 - I've acquired enough gems to use the invincible flight thing, but I'll save that for later. It would be nice to use right now, the levels do have quite a bit of stuff to explore.

dk Jungle Climber Underwater17 - On second thought, I'll try flying. It lasts only about five seconds and then DK starts falling again. There's plenty of open air in these stages, and jumping from peg to peg across chasms is pretty cool. I hope there aren't a lot of bottomless pits, because it seems very easy to fall.

18 - One thing that bothers me is that the space between the top and bottom screen acts as a blinder, so it's hard to see what might be there. More flower launching and peg climbing gets me to the next part of the stage.

19 - Found a few banana coins in some difficult areas of the stage. Also found the DK Coin floating at the top of the stage, had to find a hard-to-reach launch barrel to get up to it.

20 - DK can hide in bushes suspended in the air, launching up or dropping down from them. Still jumping and climbing my way through the stage.

21 - The next area is the at the sea. DK sinks to the bottom of the water and continues without need to breathe above water. Things move slowly underwater, as expected.

22 - Found another Bonus Barrel! Time to collect the falling bananas again. I got another small barrel but still managed to get 112 bananas for the 1-up.

23 - Back at the ocean, I take the road that doesn't lead right to the exit and find a treasure trove of gems. I've got two flight sequences built up now, so I guess I can use one to escape the water and get to the exit.

dk Jungle Climber Wheel24 - 1-3 Jungle Beach: Complete! Got all the collectables here as well. 1-4 Cool Cool Cave. Starts out with business as usual, climbing pegs, smashing bugs with my spin attack...have to use a Blast Barrel to break through a barrier.

25 - There's a wheel on a background platform...I can grab pegs on the side of the wheel to move it using DK's weight, pretty cool little gimmick. I find a DK barrel with Diddy inside! He follows behind me and grabs onto my back when climbing.

26 - Now I'm inside the cave, finding more banana coins and fumbling a bit with the controls now that the stage is a bit more complciated.

27 - Cranky's advanced techniques: I can launch Diddy to hit far-away bad guys or grab collectibles. Pressing A while in the spin attack launches Diddy all the way across the screen. This is useful to collect coins and hit far-away barrels. When they're broken, some "?" Barrels create more peg boards so DK can continue climbing.

28 - Launching Diddy at things is satisfying. It's tough to aim, but I think Diddy is invincible. Continuing the climb, bats are floating across to make things difficult. I got hit! Diddy ran away. I guess it's like the DKC games where having two monkeys allows you to take a hit before dying.

29 - Killed a bat to collect enough gems for flight, and I use it to fly up and collect hard-to-reach banana coins. I find a secret room across from the exit, and there's a DK coin at the top and a DK barrel at the side. I grab a new Diddy and launch him up at the DK coin after many tries.

30 - I exit the room and finish the stage. Hmm, looks like I missed one banana coin that time. Can't go back and get it now, my thirty minutes are up.

dk Jungle Climber Mirror

Half-Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 1 to the tutorial stage, 11 to the first real stage. The tutorial stage is skippable, though, if you're experienced with the game.

What I liked: The game reminds me of Bionic Commando in that the method of movement is very different from most platformers and feels quite unique.

What I didn't like: The game reminds me of Bionic Commando in that the controls feel sort of loose and difficult to figure out. I was getting better at it by the end of the half-hour, though.

Video: Decent sprite work and appealing colors make Jungle Climber an acceptable visual package. 3D character models during the otherwise-bare cutscenes aren't too bad, either.

Audio: The music seems mostly pulled from the Donkey Kong Country series, and the sound effects work well enough. Again, nothing to complain about.

Story: DK loves bananas. There's a big one at the top of the mountain. That's good enough for me, but things complicate a bit later on. For all the elements pulled from the Country games, there just isn't the same charm going on in Jungle Climber.

Gameplay: Swinging through the air, climbing up pegs, and spinning through enemies make for a unique platformer.

Challenge: The game starts off very forgiving to allow for mistakes, and you'll make plenty in the early going. It takes new players a bit to acclimate to the swing of things. Later on, it gets much tougher, and precision and speed are key to success.

Fun Factor: It's a unique gimmick that's got my interest, but I wouldn't yet say it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Maybe two monkeys. Two and a half monkeys?

Would I keep playing? Yes. I'm not wowed yet, but I really feel like I've learned to play a whole new game in this half-hour. It's not like playing just-another-shooter or just-another-platformer where everything feels very the same except a few switched buttons or a new gimmick. It really feels like something new, and I'd like to see where it goes.

dk Jungle Climber Boss

Words from beyond the First Half-Hour: Since originally writing this up, I've completed Jungle Climber's 25 story mode stages, three of the five extra stages, and ten of eleven challenge rooms. The mechanics of the game remind me of Bionic Commando's unorthodox platforming, in that they take some time to fully master but are very rewarding when you do. Also, like in the Bionic Commando remake, the developers provide a small collection of challenge rooms that put your skills to the test in ways that the main game doesn't, providing insight into some inner workings that you may not have noticed during the adventure. As is the tradition in modern Donkey Kong, there are plenty of collectibles strewn about the stages, providing incentive to explore every corner of every stage.

If the game has one problem, it's that it tries to be a standard platformer at times when it just isn't meant to be. Some enemies and bosses can be frustrating because of the game's rules and limitations. DKC fans might be disappointed that you can't simply roll right into a Kremling to defeat it, you'll have to find some way to spin attack it from an odd angle. The game does shine when it plays to its strengths, though, and it does so quite often and with plenty of variety.

All in all, the game will probably take seasoned gamers about five hours to see the credits and a bit less than ten hours to fully complete. And it's worth completing for platforming enthusiasts who want to try something new. Nintendo may be using the familiar Donkey Kong name to bolster sales with casual audiences, but anyone who scoffs at this "spinoff" needs to get over themselves and take a look at the game for its own merits. It might not be your cup of tea, but it's one you've never tasted before, so at least get a whiff of DK: Jungle Climber before you pass on it.

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