Version tested Wii
Donkey Kong occupies an odd moral position in Nintendo gaming. He's been an out-and-out villain - especially in his debut performance as a kidnapping ne'er-do-well battling the proto-Mario Jumpman - and he's also served as a playable support character, free from ethical chattels, in tens of Nintendo titles such as Mario Kart and Tennis. But in 1994, somebody at either Rare or Nintendo came up with the idea of DK as a central protagonist, giving him a story of his own in Donkey Kong Country.
In retrospect it seems obvious. DK is lithe and powerful, agile, athletic and brutishly charming. When he's given free range to use his abilities, invariably in a platform environment, he shines. What he does in Jungle Beat is exactly that - springing, thumping and wall-jumping his way through a superlative selection of traditionally themed levels, which combine just the right amount of innovation with a comfortable familiarity.
When it was originally released on GameCube back in 2005, Jungle Beat used the unusual and brilliant bongo peripheral - a set of two electrical drums that handled all of the varied controls. A tap on either drumhead handled movement, while a slap on both produced a jump and an air-clap activated the onboard microphone for an offensive slap, producing a 360-degree burst of sound to dizzy and destroy foes.
The Wii port ditches the bongos in favour of the Wiimote and nunchuk, and many of DK's abilities - and indeed the layout of the levels themselves - have been subtly altered as a result, rebalancing the difficulty to account for the increased accuracy of buttons and an analogue stick. DK's slap is now a directional attack rather than a circular one, covering perhaps 90 degrees. It also covers far less distance, requiring a bit more strategic planning. The health system has been overhauled too - whereas once a hit would knock a measly five bananas from that level's total, DK now sports a more traditional three-heart bar. Entire sections have been redesigned, adding enemies and stiffening the environmental challenge.
Some may lament the absence of bongos, which were a key element of the original's charm, but the new controls are excellent - natural and immensely enjoyable after only a few moments. There are occasional lapses in accuracy, and doubtless much of the novelty value has vanished, but for new players this feels like a game designed specifically for this control method.
The story is rock-solid Nintendo fare: DK's kingdom has been ravaged by the rulers of the various other fruity realms, and his stash of bananas appropriated. In order to restore his pride and nutritional balance, you must retrieve them from the clutches of various apes, warthogs, birds and robotic, elephantine artillery pieces. The jumping, rope-grabbing, foe-smashing gameplay is a pure platform paradigm - fire and spikes are to be avoided, shiny things collected, hidden areas and well-timed jumps abound.
In addition to this agreeably familiar focus is an interesting combo mechanic, which must be mastered in order to maximise your banana count - the true importance of which comes later. Each unique move that DK performs without hitting the floor adds a combo multiplier, affecting all bananas collected after that point. Spamming the jump button mid-air also sees DK gathering nearby bananas.