Oct 8, 2007
Donkey Konga - drums and monkeys, together at last; their powers combined in a game that was perfect in design and execution, packed with a satisfying pair of drums to bash your tunes out on. When Nintendo monkeyed (ha!) with the formula for DK Jungle Beat, even the most optimistic gamers choked at the idea of playing a platform game with a pair of bongos, but Nintendo proved the doubters wrong and we’ve never been so happy to have been mistaken. Jungle Beat remains one of the GameCube’s highlights, so we bit our tongues when they announced DK Barrel Blast. Drums, monkeys and bongo-powered jetpacks? How could it possibly go wrong?
We have a list.
In the leap to the Wii, Barrel Blast has dropped the bongo controller in favour of using motion controls as a drum replacement. “Drumming” with your right hand steers right and drumming with the left steers left; a drumroll with the two will accelerate you to full speed, where you’ll stay until you hit something or something hits you, and drumming both together will jump. Extra controls on the buttons handle punching and using the Mario Kart-style power-ups. But without the thwack of palm on rubber, much is lost from the experience and drumming with the remote and Nunchuk simply doesn’t satisfy.
It’s not just the tactile sensation of beating on a drum that Barrel Blast loses, either - the remote and Nunchuk aren’t nearly as precise as two big buttons to bash, so when frantically drumrolling to get up to speed, it’s all too easy to launch yourself into a painfully slow accidental jump. The extra buttons on the Wii controller have allowed the developers to shoehorn more functions in, but it’s at the expense of an option to plug the drums in and play it as was originally intended.
Where Jungle Beat used the drum controls to innovative effect, Barrel Blast uses them as a D-pad replacement in a game where your sole objective is to dodge oncoming threats by moving quickly to the left and right. Cornering is handled for you, leaving you to dodge barrels and baddies, and collect bananas to increase your speed. There are power-ups scattered throughout, like the wooden bazooka and the occasional animal from DKC to ride, but otherwise, that’s your lot. Dodge left, dodge right - just like a Game & Watch game. Waggling away on your imaginary drums makes Barrel Blast frantic, certainly, but the few seconds of fun you’ll get from all the craziness is ultimately down to clunky controls rather than the game’s clever distillation of the essence of karting games.
We can all get behind a big bunch of monkeys, of course - DK leads the gang, along with Diddy (ugh), Cranky and the Kremlins, but where once DK was the lead in technical showcases like Donkey Kong Country, now he’s a cheap Mario substitute, prostituted out to a terminally ugly game. Rare’s character design can’t save the apes from some of the least attractive race tracks ever made by human hands. Whether riding your jetpack low to the ground, up a waterfall or around a volcano, it never looks anything other than flat, plain and empty. Whatever happened to the sumptuous Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash Donkey Kong levels, eh? Turns out they’re still at Nintendo’s HQ, miles away from Paon Corporation and this tripe.
See, Nintendo had no direct hand in Barrel Blast’s production, instead opting to farm it out to the plucky young newcomers to the Nintendo scene at Paon. The result is the worst game to feature a flagship Nintendo character since Yoshi’s Story. You’re always left looking for the things the game should have included - proper bongo controls, decent graphics, a bit of character and fun, and how about a sense of speed while we’re at it, Paon?
It’s one thing that it’s so broken by cack-handed controls and another that it mires everyone’s favourite Princess-grabbing monkey in its muck, but the real crime is that it’s so disappointing. Jungle Beat reduced the essence of platforming into a very neat package; everything you could ever want from a good 2D platform game was in there, all played with just four actions - left drum, right drum, a combination of the two and a clap. Even with such a simple setup, the game was layered and complex, fun and frantic. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, solid game, but Barrel Blast is idiotic, shallow and frustrating. Tie it to a bongo rocket and light the fuse.