The Jungle Beat Translation Project - Part 3:
- Looking Back -

The Jungle Beat

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat's release was wildly successful for the populous at large. The game received good reviews and good scores, did well enough to warrant a Wii de Asobu port, got representation in the Smash Bros game of the time, and was the title whose assets and characters were used to push two new medallion games released in Japanese Arcades. From Nintendo's perspective, it must have seemed like lightning had struck a third time. (Re)inventing DK every 10 years obviously pays off.

For the more "hard-core" Donkey Kong Country fan however, the game was troubling. It was the first main console Donkey Kong game released since Rare had fled to unknown lands, the details of which were still unknown at the time, and it seemingly contained [i]no[/i] returning Donkey Kong Country content. At all. To make matters worse, interviews surfaced decrying Rare's DKC supporting cast as "not fresh enough" for the day's gamers, and that they wouldn't be appearing.

But, beyond surface trappings, how much did it really do away with? Not a whole lot, really. Lots of stuff made its way in, just with a fresh coat of paint.

The Controls & Gameplay

If you had no knowledge of the controls and were just watching a gameplay video, you could be forgiven for thinking that aside from a more Mario-ish movement set (wall-jumping, ground pounding, etc), that not a whole lot about the core gameplay had changed. DK still gallops through levels collecting bananas, his handslap has been upgraded to a Hulk-clap with shockwave, and they've got some QTEish enemy finisher sequences where you appear to need to mash buttons or do timed hits and such. Pretty straight-forward, right? They took the basic DKC formula and improved on it!

But then you look at the controller. Jungle Beat is played with a set of bongos. You repeatedly bang the left or right drum to go left or right at varying speeds based on your tempo. Bopping both makes DK Jump, and clapping (the controller has a sound sensor), performs DK's clap attack thing. I'm still amazed that they managed such a robust range of gameplay and movement with what is essentially a controller that contains a left directional button, a right directional button, and an attack button. DK still manages to run around, defeat enemies in style, swing on vines, team up with animal buddies, and by blasted around levels, all with such a limited control schema. It's breathtaking, really.

The bongos tie into the "Jungle Beat" aspect of the game, in that you collect 'beats' (in the form of bananas) as you progress throughout the level. You can accumulate a combo multiplier by performing fancy tricks as you make your way through the stage, usually involving you doing a bunch of stuff wihout hitting the ground or defeating lots of enemies in rapid succession. The Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo always contained a sort of rhythm to each level. If you you knew your stuff, you could blaze through, chaining enemy bounces and barrel blasts to breeze through the level, hardly touching the ground. Jungle Beat just takes that aspect of the games and turns it up to 11. That sort of elegance and master of control is actively encouraged and tangibly rewarded in the form of more and more bananas.

Speaking of which, your banana total is your life bar. Prior DKC games didn't have much reason to collect bananas beyond a conceptual "they stole our bananas and we're getting them back!" reasoning which was quietly dropped after the first game. They are basically the series' analog of Mario's Coins, and collecting 100 will increase your life total by 1. Which, if you're good at the game, makes them somewhat pointless, especially when there's more efficient ways of gaining lives via balloons that can grant more than 1 life at a time without rooting around for 100 of them at a time. Jungle Beat takes the "bananas = life" equation and, like they did with the rhythm-based gameplay, reinvents it a bit, [i]literally[/i] making bananas your life total. When you get hit, you lose some. When you run out, you die. There's no lives, and are free to just try the level over again. It's a logical evolution of what what going on in Rare's games.

You are also ranked (kind of) after each boss on how many bananas you managed to collect in the levels leading up to the boss and keep in the fight itself. This is how you collect Crests. Crests are the main collectible in the game. Collectibles are a tradition that goes back to the first DKC and carried on through the SNES and N64 eras until it arguably went a collectible too far with DK64 and the popularity of the practice started to decline. Jungle Beat keeps it simple and gives you 0 to 4 Crests per Kingdom based on how well you did, subsequent Kingdoms being unlocked based on Crest totals, similar to how you unlocked more worlds in Donkey Kong 64, except without the big sprawling world map to explore.

Actually, yeah, let's take a moment and talk about the world map. There isn't one. Well, not in the traditional sense. There's no DK wandering around a world map and selecting his levels that way. There is instead an interactive level select menu consisting of a labelled barrels which each contain up to 4 'Kingdoms', which are groups of two levels and a boss. There are 6 barrels containing 16 Kingdoms plus some extra levels and bosses. You are free to go back and play Kingdoms over again in an effort to get a better rank and unlock more Crests. So, no traditional world map. Keeping things simple.

So we've got lots of basic DKC stuff that's been either ramped up to eleven or streamlined and simplified. On first look it may seem that other things that are missing, but many are still there. After a fashion. I'll get to them in a bit.

Animals & Buddies

So let's just get this out of the way. There are no returning cast members from the Rare games, beyond DK. And the Banana (don't ask). The game instead gives DK a new supporting cast and new Animal Buddies. There is, however, some story justification, in that DK's aid has been requested by the kingdoms to the south of his homelands, and he's travelling abroad for the game. So, storywise, they've built in an excuse for the lack of familiar faces.

Anyway, DK's new non Animal Buddy helpers are the Party Monkeys. These little Capuchin monkeys have requested DK's aid and in turn help him out on his journey. In addition to being common background elements in levels rooting DK on, they actual take some practical forms and act in place of Barrel Cannons (yes, they're gone) hurtling DK across the stage, as well as forming monkey chains that act as the auto-swinging vines of previous games (though non-auto-swinging vines also exist, that DK must provide momentum for himself). So that's two more aspects of Rare's DKC that are still in the game, but reskinned in the form of DK's friends helping him out. A note about the Throw Monkeys that replace Barrel Cannons: Barrels were automatic, DK got sucked inside on contact and blasted away, In Jungle Beat, DK can [i]choose[/i] to make use of Throw Monkeys as he passes them, an important distinction that opens up some nuances in gameplay options.

Moving on. I've mentioned Animal Buddies a few times now. Yes, they're back! But it's an entirely new cast. DKC games up to this point usually dropped about half the prior's game's Buddies and introduced a bunch of new ones. This game cuts back on the total number and just has 4 new Buddies that fill the three point five basic animal buddy roles.

Hoofer the Wildebeest acts as the on-land Animal Buddy, a position held by Rambi and Ellie in prior games. Donkey Kong Country 3 introduced the concept of an "on rails" always running Animal Buddy stage, and that is how this game opts to use Hoofer. All his stages/bonus games have him constantly running, your bongo bops determining his speed and when to jump. Hoofer both satisfies an Animal Buddy role while providing levels and areas evocative of the mine cart rides of Rare's games.

Orco replaces Enguarde for this title as the underwater Buddy, and is a [i]huge[/i] Orca. DK basically just hangs on while Orco breaks through obstacles, DK choosing when to jump off as appropriate. Most of the levels featuring Orco consist of 3/4 DK [i]getting to[/i] Orco, and 1/4 Orco busting through all the obstacles that DK just swam around/through and depositing DK at the goal, which was back near the beginning of the stage but out of reach.

The Helibirds (Birds of Paradise, I think) replace Squawks as the game's aerial Buddies, carrying DK around through the air. Flurl the Flying Squirrel acts similar to DKC2's version of Squawks' cousin Quawks, in that he can't go up, just float down, DK using him like a parachute.

Again, I find it quite fascinating how they managed to incorporate Animal Buddies on such a limited control scheme, without making any of them feel useless or shoe-horned in.

Enemies & Bosses

Moving on, to the bad guys! In grand DKC tradition, there's an entirely new set of enemies and bosses for the game.

The Bosses are, in another grand DKC tradition, bigger badder versions of some of the common enemies scattered throughout the game, with some repeating types. This time, there are 4 enemy clans that DK must face; the Hawgs (pigs), the Rocs (vultures), the Tusks (mechanical elephant tanks), and finally a set of malevolent Kongs that are in charge of the rest of them. Each clan has common enemy members. The Kongs have their Ninjapes, baddy versions of the Party Monkeys. The Rocs have, er, smaller Rocs. The Tusks have a miniature cannon version that show up in a few levels. The Hawgs have... well, they have a lot. At least a fourth of the enemy roster belongs to the Hawg clan, ranging from small to large to miniboss enemies. After the Kongs, they're probably the most prevalent race in the game.

The other half of the enemy roster is fairly standard fair as far as DK enemies go. Rodents, Jellyfish, Bats, Bees, etc. Of the entire enemy roster, there's only really a few things that are completely new concepts in DK games. Of the boss clans, evil Kongs and vultures are old hat, and elephants are at least a species that had shown up before. It's the Hawgs that are new, pigs not really appearing (beyond Hogwash) in DK before. Of the non-clan affiliated enemies, only the frogs and the mighty Cob Cock stand out as something completely new. It's interesting to note, however that Retro's revived DKC series features frogs and chickens as standard enemy types, as well as keeping pigs as a semi-prevalent race in the DK world. But I'll get into that more later.

The Worlds Themselves

Jungles, Snowy Mountains, Volcanoes, Swamps, Caves, Castles, Haunted Forests, The Ocean Depths, Mine shafts, Arid Wastes, Ancient Ruins, Giant Trees, Sunken Ships, Run-Down Factories, and more. You could be forgiven for thinking that I'm just listing off world types from the Rare DKC games, because I'm actually listing off world types from Jungle Beat. Almost all of them are returning themes and archetypes from older DKC games, with only two notable exceptions.

Sweet Paradise and the Asteroid Belt blazed into new territory as far as level types go, featuring a sky realm full of jelly and fruits, and space itself. Those were pretty out there for the time.

Those two aside, it's all pretty standard fair, done in the game's own style of course. In [i]yet another[/i] grand DKC tradition, there's even an additional set of unlockable levels to discover after you've defeated the "final" boss that you must beat in order to get the true ending of the game.

Jungle Beat's Legacy on the Series

So, we've talked about Jungle Beat at the time of its release, how it reimagined what came before in new ways. But what about what came after? Did the game have any lasting impact on the series as a whole.

The next company to manage the franchise as a whole after Rare moved on was Paon, and they indeed took a fair few elements from Jungle Beat. King of Swing on the GBA sported a control schema that utilized only the shoulder buttons, and could probably have been played on the bongos had they programmed in the proper hookups. Actually, has anyone actually tried? Jungle Climber iterated on the control scheme, as well as including a lot more Jungle-Beatish things, such as bushes you shake by mashing the [s]bongos[/s] shoulder buttons, a form of the slingshot flowers that fling you across the stage, giant fruits, and journeys into outer space. There's also a minigame that features DK collecting a bunch of bananas before doing a specific pose, very reminiscent of the end-level minigame in Jungle Beat in which DK grabs as many bananas as possible before doing the same fist pumping action.

When Retro took over the series, they too incorporated some Jungle Beat elements into the mix. As I mentioned before, frogs and chickens make a return as grunt enemies (though Cob Cock still stands out a bit, I admit), and pigs return as an important race in DK's world. They also include a bunch of strange "floating fruit in the sky" levels that frankly make Jungle Beat's Sweet Paradise seem a little tame. There's also concept artwork that shows Retro was thinking of making some levels that took place on the moon itself, showing that they too were exploring the outer-space angle as a concept. In addition, many little gameplay things from Jungle Beat bleed through. Rambi controls somehwat similar to Hoofer now, in that you have to mash your button to get him to charge through things, with some Rambi-centric levels being evocative of Hoofer's from Jungle Beat. Bosses and end-level bonus have sequences that are familiar, in that you mash buttons to pummel enemies or grab bananas, and there are various levels that require almost as much finesse in chaining enemies and not touching the ground as Jungle Beat did. There was even an evil Kong as a boss in the last game! Speaking of "bosses", Retro's Squidicus echoes Iguanagon as a recurring gigantic enemy that serves as the boss-character of it's own stage. Also of note are the ziplines, which originated in Jungle Beat and returned in Tropical Freeze.

In Closing

So, there it is.

At first glance, it seems like the game is completely new, with very little carrying over from prior in the series.

On closer inspection, the game actually reiterates a lot, just repainting it or reimagining it for a new era.

While the game was ultimately not followed up upon, many of its elements survived in some form or another in the following games.

Looking back now, 10 years later, it doesn't seem nearly out of place as it did at the time, and, in my opinion, holds up fairly well as a decent entry in the series.