As readers will have seen from our recent reviews of Pikmins one and two, New Play Control games on the Wii present a dilemma for the humble games critic. Knowing that many people have played the original game in the days of the GameCube, you basically have to do two reviews; one for those that have played it before, and one for those of you that have yet to come across the game.
So, for the uninitiated, the original: Famed for its use of the Donkey Konga bongos, it asked players to tap the right drum to go right, left to go left and tap both to jump. You could also clap to er, clap in the game, which was the main form of attack.
But this New Play Control version doesn't need bongos, so forget everything written in the introduction and everything you know about Jungle Beat already. Instead, consider this a new version of Donkey Kong Country - an old-school 2D platformer with proper controls via the joystick and a jump button, with a little waggling thrown in to attack, just like Mario Galaxy.
Without the bongo controls, it's a worthy addition to the proud lineage of Donkey Kong Country games that were so popular on the SNES, back when Whigfield and Wet Wet Wet ruled the pop charts in the mid-nineties. Grim days.
It features the usual platforming, barrel-blasting and banana collecting you'd expect from a Donkey Kong game, and some genuinely impressive visuals , even years after its release.
So far, so predictable. But it's not an ordinary platformer. It's a really, really well designed platformer, and there's a reason for that. As you may have already noted from the feature beginning on page 26, Jungle Beat has got pedigree. It was directed by the rising star of Nintendo's development team, Yoshiaki Koizumi, one of the key talents behind the genius of Zelda duo Ocarina Of Time and Majora's Mask. And Super Mario Galaxy. You know, that game that we awarded 97%.
Obviously it's not as brilliant as any of these games, but it remains a very enjoyable romp through jungle, desert, ice and lava/castley worlds, and offers up several interesting game mechanics that reward repeated play. Charging through the game just to get to the end of the level and beat the boss misses the point entirely. Collecting as many bananas as possible is the name of the game.
The more bananas you get, the more crests are awarded at the end of each stage. Crests unlock
bonus levels, some of which are exclusive to this new Wii version, and are well worth seeking out for extra thrills.
There's also a nice little touch in there to make you to explore, which we're surprised hasn't been ripped off by other platformers by now. Little end-of-stage videos of bonus areas you may have missed give you an extra little nudge to return to the level and max out your 'nana count, and give you a real reason to return.
On the subject of bananas, there's a combo system as well, which rewards the rhythm of your play by doubling up the banana count. If judged correctly, a neat string of jumps and general bouncing about can turn an otherwise fairly standard haul into a combo-wielding banana bonanza. Yes, I used the phrase 'banana bonanza'. I'm not ashamed.
Jungle Is (Not) Massive
But there's a problem, as you'll have guessed already from peeking at the score over there. Despite great visuals, charming sound and great level design, just like the GameCube version, it's just too short. We'd sent the final boss packing after a couple of evenings' extended play, and it didn't take that much longer after that to unlock and polish off the extra, Wii-only stages. It's also ruthlessly linear. Even the Donkey Kong Country titles of yore had a world map as a between-stage distraction, and branching paths along which to progress. In Jungle Beat, you simply unlock one fruitily-named kingdom after another and plough on through.
Another bugbear is the bosses. They're a genuine highlight of the game until they simply start repeating themselves over and over in slightly tougher variations right up until the final one. A real shame.
Turned into a 'proper' platformer in its own right without bongos, Jungle Beat is great entertainment hamstrung by its tragically short lifespan. If it had offered the same quality platforming teamed with the length, depth and challenge of those classic 2D titles on the SNES, this would cruise a Gold Award. As it is though, it's for fans of the series and younger gamers only.