Sept 12, 2007
New theory: if a character moves quickly across a world select menu, you’ve got a great game on your hands. Why? Because Mr. Developer understands that you want to race straight to the fun: get into the actual game as fast as possible, no long cutscenes, no slow fades in and out, let’s just GO.
In Donkey Kong Jungle Climber, DK sprints around the map like a monkey that’s sat on a cheese fork heated to 140°C - it’s as though you’re making levels start just by thinking about them. It’s the DKJC way: an almost retro-minded dedication to giving us Nintendo-quality brilliance with none of the fluff - just tight level design, multi-coloured eye-wonderment, bosses that work, perfectly-formed minigames… the lot. It is, simply, a fantastic game.
True, this DK King of Swing follow-up is a cheeky monkey when it comes to DS’s special powers. Mainly in the sense that it almost entirely ignores them. DKJC controls (and looks) just like its GBA dad - with the shoulder buttons controlling Donkey Kong’s grasping ape-hands all the way.
The levels are basically mazes of pegboards: the only way to get around them is to leap up, grab on with L or R, wait until DK rotates to the direction you want, then let go and sail up to the next peg. You can “steer” a bit in mid-air, to avoid falling too far back down a level. But otherwise it’s all about taking a considered, slightly zig-zaggy path up each course, pausing for breath when you reach a trusty old-fashioned platform.
It takes some getting used to. But get it down pat, and you’ll feel that familiar tingle - as though Nintendo’s own fingernails were tickling you up and down your spine. The level design is that special brand of just right, every stage a mid-air maze of bananas, barrels, enemies, underwater caverns glistening with crystal treasure, and out-of-reach bananas you have to risk nabbing. True, we were a bit nonplussed to see the hackneyed “kid’s playroom” theme trotted out - but, no worries, DKJC’s level designers don’t stick with one theme for long before reaching into their skulls and fumbling around for a new game-refreshing idea, like spinning corn-on-the-cobs, or giant beach balls that pop open in a shower of jewels, or invisible platforms that you can only negotiate by watching your paw-marks on the second screen, or brain-meddling twin-screen levels that feel more like you’re playing two different games at the same time.
Note: the ideas aren’t just thrown in willy-nilly - they fit. Every time you collect 100 jewels, the game gives you a brilliant gift: the ability to float happily around the sky at will, free from pesky gravity for a precious 10 seconds, with - we actually laughed out loud - big old furry DK swooping and diving like a bird before you. Diddy Kong’s a great addition, too: essentially acting as a “double-jump” by activating out-of-reach switches, stretching to high ‘nanas and - here’s the nice bit - actually breaking free completely to scamper along and up otherwise inaccessible platforms, “remote-controlled” by his big brother.
DKJC also contains what easily rates among the best 10 seconds of our lives - an in-game minigame where you catch bananas falling in a double screen-filling downpour in their thousands. It’s this level of pure fun that extends right through the package: from the surprisingly compelling multiplayer minigames; to the hidden coins and K-O-N-G bonuses that drag you back to play completed levels again and again; to the punch-your-DS-in-the-face tough later levels that make Super Mario World‘s infamous Star World levels seem like winning a game of checkers against a sleeping cow.
Having said that, it’s the later levels - especially the fiddly underwater ones - that prevent Jungle Climber from achieving perfection. We prefer the earlier stages’ friendly pegboard-chaining to the sparse skies and frequent death-tumbles of later on. Outside of New Super Mario Bros, you won’t find a more magically playable platformer on DS. Welcome back to brilliance, DK.