I decided to take some time off of Dragon Quest VII to play something else for once, and today, I happened to come across something I’ve been looking for the chance to play for a long time: Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat!
It’s one of those games, I feel, that I always kind of wanted to try, but was scared of by complaints from people who had tried it. On the surface, it’s not hard to understand why. At the time, Donkey Kong was still suffering from an identity crisis following the downfall of RareWare. The team that brought us the classic DKC games was no more, and Nintendo was suddenly in a position where one of their most beloved IPs had no development team to work on it.
So that meant a lot of experimental titles.
Donkey Konga, Donkey Kong Jungle Climber, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast… lots of different games from lots of different teams didn’t do a whole lot to fill in the gap DKC left behind. And a lot of these games, whether they deserved it or not, were criticized for it.
Sound familiar? It should. This is sort of what’s happening with Metroid now. DKC didn’t get a ‘real’ sequel until 2011… over a decade after DKC3 launched. Returns was a fantastic return to form for the classic formula and honestly one of the best games on the Wii.
So it’s kind of surprising, for me, who grew up thinking that all of the experimental DK titles were complete garbage, to experience them now. I’ve already played Jungle Climber, and I believe I described it as being something I would have hated if I had paid full price for it, but found it a fun little novelty to spend time with on the VC.
Jungle Beat, however, is a completely different beast entirely. I’m suddenly VERY interested in learning more about this game now that I’ve spent a little bit of time with it, because there’s actually quite a lot about it that other fans have seriously overlooked. Namely, just how much of an influence THIS game in particular had on the Returns reboot, even if it in and of itself wasn’t a real sequel to DKC for a number of reasons I’ll get into shortly.
One of the first things I noticed when I booted the game up was the fact that, incredibly, this game had the same aesthetic as Returns, despite being released several years earlier. DK looks the same and has the same voice, the environments look similar, DK beats on his enemies the same way he does on bosses in Returns (It’s only a lot cooler here, by the way) and the visuals have the same sort of style to them.
The similarities are definitely present, and I’m kind of amazed that I’ve never seen any one else ever address this. This game clearly influenced Returns development quite a lot. I’m starting to wonder if the barrel rocket levels from Returns came from Barrel Blast as well. Returns took a lot of influences from a lot of different Donkey Kong games. Not just the original trilogy.
So what does this mean for Jungle Beat?
It manages to take an already existing character and do a number of interesting new things with him, despite his already existing catalog of high quality games. For example, many players, such as myself, were surprised at how high quality the boss fights in Returns were. The boss fights in the original trilogy, generally speaking, were not all that impressive.
As it turns out, the boss fights for Returns seem to have been strongly influenced by Jungle Beat in particular. They aren’t the exact same, and I will say the Returns formula is a huge improvement, but putting the beat down on the bosses in this game is still incredibly satisfying regardless. One boss will fly above you, and you will have to catapault yourself up to it to attack. Something about it works really well in spite of how much easier they are than the typical Returns boss. This game feels very much like an arcade game, actually. Levels are over quickly, but always offer some kind of depth to them. You’re always messing around with some kind of new mechanic, always fighting a completely different boss, and then always moving on to something new. It’s very refreshing after trying to struggle through Dragon Quest VII.
Is Jungle Beat better than the original Trilogy, or Returns? Well… no, I don’t think anyone is saying that. Again, as much as I like Jungle Beat for trying something new, it suffers from feeling a little too arcadey in some ways at times. I’m already starting to worry that the game will be over before I know it, which is a shame because I really am enjoying it. I also feel as if the gameplay doesn’t have nearly the same amount of depth as DKCR does. I think a MERE level in DKCR has more depth to it than Jungle Beat’s weird kingdom system, where you play a number of short levels to get to the boss.
Returns is definitely better, I feel, but I also don’t think Jungle Beat is all that bad in spite of it. Much like Jungle Climber, I think it’s an interesting spin off title that hardcore fans of the series will love.