Some things naturally become better with age, such as fine wine or cheese. Donkey Kong, however, hasn't been one of these maturing wonders. Instead, the decades-old arcade ape has taken a backseat to original nemesis Mario, with a set of increasingly underwhelming games.
With DK Jungle Climber, Nintendo hopes to break that cycle but after some hands-on time with the game, we're not too sure about its chances of success.
At least the gameplay is different. Building on the foundation of Game Boy Advance title Donkey Kong: King of Swing, DK Jungle Climber has you swinging through levels rather than running and jumping. You control Donkey Kong's left and right hands, grabbing onto objects with the L and R buttons, respectively. You can still walk through levels and jump around, but you're encouraged to swing through the two-dimensional environments.
Whenever you latch onto an item – you can grab special hooks hanging in midair, as well as giant sunflowers and climbing walls – Donkey Kong spins in a circle until you tap one of the shoulder buttons to swing forward. Timing your button presses enables you to climb up from the jungle floor to the top screen in order to reach items and bypass obstacles.
Unlike the hip-hopping action of an old-skool Mario game, though, DK Jungle Climber plays far more deliberately. To be blunt, it's rather slow-moving. Since the focus lies in swinging through levels versus jumping and fighting enemies, at times the game feels almost moribund. While the mechanic is certainly unique, it just doesn't seem very exciting.
In keeping with this theme, combat seems to take a limited role – at least, it did in the level we played. Still Donkey Kong does lunge forward to attack with a press of the A button. We were also told that in other levels, he can lift small sidekick Diddy Kong onto his back and throw him at opponents for extra damage – which seems a bit hard on Diddy, but hey, who'd argue with an 800lb gorilla?
In addition to the single-player mode, there are also local wireless multiplayer mini-games. Sadly we weren't able to give any of these a test run, but we're hoping they're a little more entertaining than the solo experience.
Still, with a US release date in early September (October 10th in Europe), it won't be too long before we'll find out and subsequently pass final judgement on DK Jungle Climber.