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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Paon PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 19, 2005 GENRE: Action
// review by SoyBomb

King of Stink.

Donkey Kong is a beloved character in the Nintendo franchise. He started out as a villainous ladysnatcher in the original arcade hit Donkey Kong, followed by his brief stint as Mario's prisoner in the sequel, Donkey Kong Jr. It was after this point that our old pal DK disappeared from the spotlight for some years, only finding employment in the occasional educational title. In 1994, the classic ape re-emerged with a brand new style — mostly centered around a self-advertising red necktie — in Donkey Kong Country for the SNES, a game that arguably revitalized the console with its sharp 3D sprites and finely rendered backgrounds. With this new jolt of adrenaline, the new "DK" series has established a strong legacy of its own, up to the most recent release of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U.

Stuffed in the midst of all the fine Kong-quests out there is DK: King of Swing for the Game Boy Advance, a game that not only breaks the legacy that our favourite ape has worked hard for but also throws its feces all over it. Let me be perfectly clear on this because it needs to be said, and it needs to be said clearly: DK: King of Swing is the worst game I've played in years. I picked it up on the Wii U Virtual Console recently, and I'm glad I did so for only $6.99 because had I paid a full forty dollars for this back in 2005, I would have felt simultaneously cheated, used, abused, reused, reduced, recycled, beaten, kicked, punched, socked, mocked, whipped, frappéd, puréed, fricaseed, and YES, even castrated.

Where do I begin? Let's start right at the tutorial: it treats you like a bloody infant. The fact that I need to be taught how to walk left and right in a Donkey Kong game tells me that the design is going to be awful. Remember Donkey Kong Country? Remember how, before you went into the jungle, you had that five-minute walking and jumping training? NO! Of course not! If you can't figure out how to move in a video game by now, put it down, walk away, and take up power napping. But there's a reason why Cranky Kong makes it available under the game's Extras menu: I had to go back and do it again because I was quite confused quite quickly. I had no idea I could just let go of a peg and fly into the air. I assumed, after the tutorial, that I had to charge to leap, but my views were clearly fraudulent. DK: King of Swing is modeled somewhat on the mechanics of Clu Clu Land, a "classic" NES game that I rather despise, but King of Swing makes Clu Clu Land seem like a frisky skip through a lovely meadow by comparison.

Perhaps my anger is a bit misguided. A five-minute tutorial on how to move around isn't entirely terrible, even if Cranky is perpetually snarky in his compliments as to how well I grasped a simple concept. The control scheme itself goes against the grain of video gaming as a whole, and in a Donkey Kong game, that's a no-no. Your main controls are actually the shoulder buttons, and that just feels awkward. Yes, you can use the Directional Pad to walk back and forth, though only on the ground. Once your feet are off the ground, it's the L and R buttons that take over, each one corresponding with one of DK's hands as he climbs and grasps for dear life. L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R, L, R... Does that sound thrilling? Probably not. And when DK is flying through the air, it's easy to get confused which hand to use on the fly. Maybe I'm just not smart; Many times, I had the urge to return to my primal instincts and press A to jump. This has been video game law since the times of Super Mario Bros., and setting our brains to change is not a simple task, especially when the series from which this game stems has followed this formula repeatedly. It's counterintuitive, and it breaks this game like a stick.

Hmmm, guess my anger really wasn't misguided. This was simply poor, poor design.

At the back of the manual is a page with DK-themed profanities for shouting.

So what DO the A and B buttons do in the meantime? The A button is used to make Donkey Kong "go bananas". Equivalent to when Kirby (like most other pink children) gets hyper after eating candy, DK gets a little boost of energy, allowing him to leap higher and move faster for ten seconds before the effect wears off. The B button activated a feature I actually used more, mainly out of necessity. Throughout the game, DK collects bananas. But he usually takes a beating while collecting those bananas, and that's where the B button comes in: by spending ten bananas, DK can earn back one heart on his life meter. (The "Go Bananas" feature costs twenty.)

While it could be argued that the game's brief length is a detriment, to me it was a gift from Heaven, the manna of the portable world. Why, you ask? Because DK: King of Swing gets repetitive and quickly. Every level seems to offer the same daunting task of climbing, climbing, and nothing but. Developer Paon — made up of former Data East employees, which explains much — tried to inject the game with some variety, such as pulleys or the ability to toss rocks (while spinning, no less), but at the end of the day, you're still trying to get from the bottom of the stage to the top, collecting bananas and knocking Kremlings, Zingers, and Neckies out of the sky (just like old times). Every world ends with a boss fight, but they're so excruciatingly difficult to handle with the awful controls, coupled with the need for precision, you'd get more thrills out of a roaring game of Pin The Tail On Your Forearm. The final match against King K. Rool is nigh on impossible, meaning if you see the ending of this game, you will automatically earn my respect as throngs of peasants bow at your empowered feet and Crystal Pepsi rains from the sky.

There are minigames for both solo Kong enthusiasts and multiplayer matches alike, and perhaps it's best that you find as many friends as you can to try these games out because the computer-controlled characters will absolutely wallop your behind. Games featured include a climbing race to the top (Oh joy. Now I have to control this grunt in a more efficient manner than I thought was even possible. Oh joy.), an attack battle where you basically have to run into fellow players for points, and an obstacle course. Do you taste my thrill?

The game also takes a graphical step in a different direction. The Donkey Kongs of the 1990s were heavily oriented around 3D models and "revolutionary" graphics. This one takes on a more Saturday morning cartoon vibe, and although it's a new direction, it's also a somewhat welcome one. I do like how Cranky looks in this one. Is it sad that the new take on visuals is the highlight of the game? I'd talk about the music, but if you've heard the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, you've heard most of it already, though not remixed and then bitcrushed into a palpable form through the Game Boy Advance's diminuitive speakers.

King of Swing: Would've been a great game, but the controls are excrement on a wood pile, and you're as exciting as... well, sitting in excrement on a wood pile. But you're also as frustrating as stepping in excrement on a wood pile. Either I have serious medical rage issues, or this game is awful. And I'm the poster child for happiness.

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