It’s been a while since I discussed a video game I’ve finished, hasn’t it? Not because I haven’t been finishing games, I’ve just been busy writing about other things. (The video games du jour are Shenmue II, on my new Xbox (about which more later), when Miranda is around, and the stunning Resident Evil 4, when she isn’t.)

Oldest on the stack of finished games is Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. I was pretty excited when Donkey Konga, a music game with drums, was announced for US release: another sign that publishers are less likely to prejudge US customers’ tastes in Japanese video games. But when the game itself came out, I ended up not buying it: the song list was full of pop songs that I didn’t particularly like. (I’d much prefer video games with good music that I’ve never heard before; though why did I claim in the linked-to post that DDR is a Namco game? It’s by Konami.) I wouldn’t mind drumming to the Zelda theme, but that’s not enough to get me to buy the game.

Actually, what’s really a sign of the penetration of Japanese games into the US is that there are two drumming video games available here, the other being Namco’s Taiko Drum Master. Which has the Katamari Damacy theme in it, but even that isn’t enough to get me to buy the game by itself. (Even if Miranda and I still spontaneously sing it occasionally.)

But Nintendo had another use for their drum controller: a side-scrolling platformer called Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Which had been getting positive mentions ever since it appeared at an E3; being a sucker for weird game ideas, I wanted to give it a try.

Not very good, I’m afraid. Ultimately, I just don’t have enough nostalgic fondness for 2d platformers to normally want to play them in preference to today’s much richer games: they’re not the sort of timeless simple pleasure that, say, a good puzzle game (Tetris) is. And while there are good games with very simple controls (e.g. Super Monkey Balls), the controls in DKJB felt to me like a gimmick. There are only three or four things you can do at any point, so when you get to a weird creature, you just hit the controls at random a little, find the magic effect of clapping (or whatever), and continue. If that doesn’t quite work, you have to manipulate the drums to jump in the air at the right location, and then clap. Whoopee.

And, to add injury to insult, my hands really hurt after playing it. Tip for all of you married people out there: take off your wedding ring before trying this game. But even after that, I suspect your hands need some toughening up. Miranda liked it enough that I went through the first eight twelve levels (in all of 4 hours or so: not a hard game unless you want to get as many bananas as possible), but I didn’t feel like replaying earlier levels to get better scores on them to unlock the last four levels.

A decade and a half ago, the gameplay would have been fine, and I would have had limited enough options (for reasons of game availability and finances) that I probably would have been happy to replay the levels over and over to earn the top medals on all of them. I’m happy that I can set my standards higher now.

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