Time Ex­tend

The plat­former that her­alded a mo­tion-con­trol Revo­lu­tion

EDGE - - SECTIONS - BY CHRIS SCHILLING

March­ing in time to Don­key Kong Jun­gle Beat, Nin­tendo’s mo­tion-con­trolled plat­former

Clap three times. Each time your hands meet, a spot­light blinks into life against a cur­tain of leaves. When the third ar­rives, a buzzer sounds and the fo­liage parts to re­veal our hero, who roars and beats his chest, send­ing a cloud of birds flut­ter­ing off the screen. The way Don­key Kong Jun­gle Beat be­gins says a lot about how EAD Tokyo sees its simian pro­tag­o­nist. In re­cent out­ings, he’s been cast as the ir­re­sistible force among many de­cid­edly mov­able ob­jects. He’s still a pow­er­house here, of course, but he’s some­thing else, too: a show­man.

Not that he per­formed to much of an au­di­ence. GameCube was an evo­lu­tion­ary cul-de-sac in many re­spects, and was com­fort­ably out­sold by its com­peti­tors. Yet this unas­sum­ing pur­ple box played host to a se­ries of games that ar­guably rep­re­sent one of Nin­tendo’s most cre­atively fer­tile pe­ri­ods. Luigi’s Man­sion, Su­per Mario

Sun­shine, Pac Man Vs, Odama: all were ex­per­i­men­tal to some de­gree, and while none was wildly suc­cess­ful, col­lec­tively they sug­gest a de­sire to shake things up.

By the time Jun­gle Beat ar­rived in 2005, we al­ready knew a Revo­lu­tion was on the way, soon to be­come known as Wii. ‘New ways to play games’ was Nin­tendo’s mantra, and what bet­ter way to cel­e­brate that ethos than by re­leas­ing a plat­former con­trolled by a pair of nov­elty plas­tic bon­gos? The pe­riph­eral had been made to play Don­key Konga, a home con­sole ver­sion of Namco’s

Taiko No Tat­su­jin in all but name, and yet Jun­gle Beat’s de­sign works in such per­fect har­mony with the con­troller that it feels as if the two were de­vel­oped in tan­dem. You could never ar­gue it did for the bon­gos what

Su­per Mario 64 did for the ana­logue stick, but both games seem to ben­e­fit from a sim­i­larly holis­tic ap­proach to de­sign. Four years later, Jun­gle Beat was re-re­leased on Wii un­der the New Play Con­trol ban­ner, iron­i­cally adopt­ing a more tra­di­tional con­trol scheme than be­fore. It re­mains a fine plat­former, but the ab­sence of the pe­riph­eral is felt keenly.

Of course, Nin­tendo’s goal for Wii and DS wasn’t just ac­ces­si­bil­ity, but eq­uity. These new ways to play were de­signed to level the play­ing field be­tween new­com­ers and vet­eran play­ers, and Jun­gle Beat was one of the first Nin­tendo games to em­brace that ideal. As such, its early stages may prove a ruder awak­en­ing for plat­form game en­thu­si­asts than beginners. It’s im­me­di­ate enough to re­quire no in­struc­tions – in­deed, you’re in­stantly thrust into the lime­light af­ter DK’s chest-thump­ing in­tro­duc­tion. Tap­ping a bongo skin moves him left or right; slap­ping both to­gether causes him to jump; clap­ping next to the built-in mi­cro­phone trig­gers a shock­wave that’s used to stun en­e­mies, and also per­forms con­text-sen­si­tive ac­tions. You’re in­vited to dis­cover the nu­ances of this seem­ingly rudi­men­tary setup for yourself.

Even be­fore you con­sider mas­ter­ing its un­usual con­trols, how­ever, Jun­gle Beat of­fers the rare sen­sa­tion of feel­ing like you’re in­hab­it­ing a videogame avatar rather than sim­ply con­trol­ling one. In its re­vival of the Don­key Kong Coun­try se­ries, Retro has en­deav­oured to cap­ture the phys­i­cal­ity of gam­ing’s most fa­mous ape, but no amount of noisy sound ef­fects and col­laps­ing scenery can quite repli­cate the sense of di­rect con­nec­tion here. You’ll slap the right skin re­peat­edly to in­crease DK’s speed as his huge hands press against the ground to build mo­men­tum. You’ll clap, and those hairy simian palms will meet on­screen. And then there’s the way you deal with

Jun­gle Beat’s menagerie of en­e­mies. Mario’s treat­ment of the Mush­room King­dom’s bes­tiary isn’t ex­actly gen­tle, but no other Nin­tendo game feels as ag­gres­sively vi­o­lent as this. You’re com­manded to pum­mel away at stunned op­po­nents, leap­ing atop fuzzy boar-like crea­tures be­fore mer­ci­lessly thump­ing them un­til they ex­plode in a shower of ba­nanas, or spin-jug­gling hap­less ar­madil­los with re­peated up­per­cuts. Else­where, you’ll pluck ex­plo­sive pineap­ples from the ground to launch them into the snout of an ele­phan­tine boss, or re­turn mel­ons thrown with vi­cious force by a ma­raud­ing boar. Grasp­ing the tongue of a blow­fish and drag­ging it back­wards be­fore let­ting it snap home like an elas­tic band might make you wince if you weren’t en­joy­ing it so much. The ex­pres­sive

an­i­ma­tion is high­lighted in bru­tal close-up, but it’s the sen­sa­tion that you’re the one de­liv­er­ing the beat­ing that makes it so won­der­fully, trou­blingly grat­i­fy­ing.

Jun­gle Beat serves DK’s pri­mal in­stincts well, then, and it never for­gets that apes are na­ture’s ac­ro­bats. Be­fore long, you’ll find out that there’s more to his reper­toire than sim­ply run­ning and jump­ing. Halt a run by hit­ting the op­po­site skin be­fore quickly beat­ing both drums and you’ll pull off a back­flip. Hit both skins si­mul­ta­ne­ously in midair and you’ll per­form a ground pound. Hit the top of a low wall while jump­ing and you’ll com­plete an edge hop. String­ing these to­gether with­out hit­ting the ground builds a mul­ti­plier that in­creases the num­ber of ba­nanas you’ll col­lect there­after – ei­ther by jump­ing into them or clap­ping to pull off a midair grab. The pres­ence of en­e­mies

MON­KEY FEST, WHERE YOU CAN STAY IN THE AIR FOR THE EN­TIRE STAGE, FEELS LIKE PALM-STING­ING PER­FOR­MANCE ART

trans­forms this combo sys­tem into a high­wire bal­anc­ing act rem­i­nis­cent of the Tony

Hawk games – it’s all about know­ing when to land. There, a sin­gle mis­judged trick or grind could cost you a huge score; here, you’ll lose all the ba­nanas you gained if you’re hit be­fore you touch down.

It’s not the only thing the two se­ries have in com­mon. Both have a sim­i­lar re­liance on mo­men­tum and flow, ask­ing you to chain sim­ple com­mands into in­creas­ingly elab­o­rate com­bi­na­tions to pro­duce a sin­gle dis­play of gym­nas­tic ex­cel­lence. At times, the route is straight­for­ward, al­though fol­low­ing it suc­cess­fully is an­other mat­ter. Take the su­perb Mon­key Fest, where you can stay in the air for the en­tire stage, and which feels like a piece of palm-sting­ing per­for­mance art. Dur­ing this level, you’ll clap to grasp the hands of grey mon­keys in bushes that throw you to your des­ti­na­tion, you’ll clap to free air­borne ba­nanas from their bub­ble pris­ons, and you’ll clap to stun the fuzzy in­sects that threaten to stop your fruit to­tal from climb­ing into the hun­dreds. It sounds sim­ple, but tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.

The ba­nanas are a mar­vel­lously ef­fi­cient piece of de­sign, one that Nin­tendo ar­guably hasn’t bet­tered since. These ‘beats’, as the game’s par­lance would have it, func­tion as both your score and your en­ergy me­ter, the ob­ject be­ing to amass as many as pos­si­ble to give you a buf­fer against the guardian at the end of each two-stage king­dom. The crests you earn from de­feat­ing the boss in turn act as cur­rency for un­lock­ing fur­ther worlds.

Such a stream­lined setup gives the game a strong sense of fo­cus, which ex­tends to its no­tice­able ab­sence of nar­ra­tive frip­pery. In truth, Jun­gle Beat is per­haps a lit­tle too gen­er­ous: later lev­els don’t re­quire too many crests to open up, so even novices will be ca­pa­ble of mud­dling their way through to the fin­ish. Only play­ers with the de­sire and self-mo­ti­va­tion to earn the Plat­inum crests – which de­mand near-im­mac­u­late per­for­mances across two suc­ces­sive stages, and that you es­cape dam­age en­tirely dur­ing the boss en­coun­ters – will come close to ex­haust­ing the game’s po­ten­tial.

Then again, per­haps that’s why Jun­gle

Beat’s ap­peal en­dures. For many, its brevity is a boon, partly be­cause it’s a de­mand­ing phys­i­cal chal­lenge. An af­ter­noon’s worth of solid play will leave your palms sore, even if a sharp tap against the bon­gos’ plas­tic ex­te­rior proves an ad­e­quate sub­sti­tute for clap­ping. There are no ex­tras, no boss rush modes, no time at­tack vari­ants. Jun­gle Beat’s sin­gu­lar fo­cus is even more un­fash­ion­able in the cur­rent cli­mate, where the word ‘un­lock­ables’ en­com­passes a great deal more than sim­ply ‘new stages’. Rather, this is a game whose lev­els are de­signed to be re­played, whose struc­ture subtly en­cour­ages mas­tery. Be­sides, it’s only fit­ting Nin­tendo should re­turn to its ar­cade her­itage with the char­ac­ter that first trans­formed its for­tunes in the videogame mar­ket.

Nat­u­rally, it would all fall apart if the lev­els couldn’t with­stand re­peat vis­its. But it’s easy to see why EAD Tokyo was sub­se­quently en­trusted with Su­per Su­per Mario Mario

Galaxy. Galaxy. Bosses aside, ideas are rarely used more than twice, and of­ten less fre­quently than that. As in Galaxy, Galaxy, there’s no sin­gle uni­fy­ing theme, which frees the de­vel­oper to stir in as many ex­otic in­gre­di­ents as it can find. In one level, you’ll swim through pools of brightly coloured jelly float­ing im­pos­si­bly in the sky; in an­other, you’ll nudge a gi­ant snow­ball up­hill while rid­ing a wilde­beest with a gi­ant lizard on your tail. There are races and long jumps, and one of the short­est and best on-rails sec­tions in any game. The lat­ter’s set on the back of a killer whale, our pro­tag­o­nist dis­mount­ing at the apex of a jump to bite the gi­ant fruit that marks the level’s end. It’s a de­light­ful mo­ment of set­piece show­boat­ing by a de­vel­oper with the chutz­pah to pull it off.

Jun­gle Jun­gle Beat Beat was was never likely to be any­thing more than a foot­note to a pe­riod of his­tory that its maker would sooner for­get. And yet a case could be made for it be­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial Nin­tendo game. On the one hand, it high­lights the in­ter­nal con­flict at the heart of the com­pany – its de­sire to cater to younger play­ers and an ex­panded mar­ket with­out alien­at­ing the faith­ful. On the other, it demon­strates an un­canny knack of tai­lor­ing soft­ware to fit un­con­ven­tional hard­ware. That it works at all is a sur­prise; that it’s quite this good is close to mirac­u­lous. It’s only fit­ting, then, that the re­peated claps you’ll pro­duce dur­ing DK’s jour­ney sound a lot like ap­plause.

The fran­tic pace drops when DK is en­cased in a bub­ble. The sound­track re­flects this, segue­ing into a del­i­cate, sooth­ing melody while you float up­wards. The level’s stan­dard theme re­sumes as soon as the bub­ble pops

More of­ten than not, the path of least re­sis­tance is also the path of fewest ba­nanas. Most lev­els hide se­cret ar­eas, while oth­ers have mul­ti­ple routes. Re­sist the temp­ta­tion to leap from the orca and you’ll be taken to a part of the level you haven’t pre­vi­ously ex­plored

The sheer an­i­mal fe­roc­ity of DK can be sur­pris­ing. Stun furry hogs with a sonic boom from your clap and you’re left to pum­mel them with your fists un­til they de­flate

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