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Weekend Getaway: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Featuring games you can finish in one weekend!

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Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Available On: Gamecube and Wii

Length: About 5-7 hours

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for the Gamecube is a super weird game, let’s just start with that. It was the first console Donkey Kong game to not be developed by Rareware, so it feels very different from any of the other DK platformers. It was released very near the end of the Gamecube’s lifetime in 2005, only about a year before the Wii was released, so it flew under many people’s radars. Oh, and you play it with a dang ol’ plastic bongo drum.

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In the mid-2000s, game companies had a strange obsession with furnishing our houses with weird plastic gaming accessories that only worked with one or two games. Things like the Gamecube microphone and the Rez Trance Vibrator added functionality to the games that they were packed in with, but didn’t do a whole lot else. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat at least had the decency to recycle the DK Bongos that came packed in with the previous year’s Donkey Konga .

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Despite the fact that you play it with a musical instrument though, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is not a rhythm game. The bongo really just acts as an awkwardly shaped controller – you smack the two drums to go left and right, hit them both at the same time to jump, and clap to stun enemies and interact with the environment. You can also play the game with a Gamecube controller, but the game feels best with the bongo. (Quick Note: The game is also available for the Wii, and while that version is probably more easily attained, I have never played it and cannot comment on the ported controls.)

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Jungle Beat’s controls aren’t the only thing that sets it apart from other titles in the series. For starters, DK is the only familiar face to be found; Diddy, Cranky, Funky and the rest of the painfully ’90s cast of attitude-fueled simians are nowhere to be seen. Even the enemies, many of which are animals that have appeared in other DK games, are presented in a completely different visual style. More striking is that Donkey Kong himself is far more aggressive and animalistic than usual, fighting to take control over other animal’s turf rather than simply trying to regain his own.

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The game is split up into 16 kingdoms, most with 2 levels followed by a boss. Each level ends with you finding a giant piece of fruit and eating it furiously, but how you get their varies drastically from one level to the next. You collect “beats” as you travel through the game by grabbing bananas and smashing enemies, building up combos and pulling off tricks to increase their number. Every rad thing that DK does, whether it be kicking off of a wall or swinging on a vine, builds a combo that is only interrupted when he touches the ground. Getting through the entire level without ever landing becomes an obsession, and you quickly find yourself frantically looking for ways to continue your combo at all costs.

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Once you pick this game up, it’s hard to put it down. Until the clap-induced pain in your hands forces you to, that is.

Jungle Beat remains an odd entry in the Donkey Kong timeline. It was the only DK platformer of the decade, but it was sandwiched between the 3rd and 4th entries in the Country series. It was developed by a team that had never worked on a Donkey Kong game, nor have they since. And it not only controls differently than any other game in its series, but any other game period.

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If it had been released at a better time and without a plastic drum strapped to it, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat may have been one of the Gamecube’s most popular games. As it stands the game has fallen into obscurity, due in small part to the deluge of far more successful Donkey Kong platformers that have been released in the last few years- and that’s a real shame. Jungle Beat may be weird, but it’s one of the best and most original platformers that I’ve ever played. It’s no surprise that the team who made this game went on to make Super Mario Galaxy, easily one of the greatest games of the last decade.

If you see this game at a pawn shop or garage sale, don’t hesitate for one moment to pick it up. Or, you know, just come over to my house and play it with me. I’m always looking for a reason to dust off my DK Bongos . Always. Including, but not limited to, writing an article.

Now check out this delightfully cheesy trailer from 2004:

David Ochart (pronounced Oh-Chart) is a freelance writer and social media manager. He loves loving things, and he spends much of his free time advocating his favorite things with an almost evangelical fervor. He spends the rest of that free time guzzling tea and scouring the internet for gifs. He can be found at mostwebsitesites.com/DavidOchart and others @DavidOchart.

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