Donkey Kong seems to have become Nintendo's test character as when the company has some new technology to show off they feature the big gorilla front and center. Donkey Kong ushered in the Super Game Boy in 1994, he was the first Nintendo character to get a 3D rendered makeover for Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong 64 was packaged with the Expansion Pak, and then of course there's the DK bongos for use with Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. Now Nintendo and developer Paon have come up with a unique control scheme for DK's latest Game Boy Advance adventure. Part platformer and part puzzle game, DK: King of Swing requires Donkey Kong to swing through vertical levels in search of missing medals stolen by King K. Rool. The twist is that DK won't be hopping and bopping this time.
King of Swing's gimmick involves using the L and R buttons to control Donkey Kong's hands. The idea is to grab hold of floating pegs, swing around, and then use momentum to launch DK up to the next peg. Grab with the right hand to swing clockwise or with the left hand to swing counterclockwise. The direction of the spin and the angle at which DK lets go of the peg determines where he lunges next. Grab hold of two pegs at once to charge up DK's power, then let go of the buttons to send him bashing into a nearby enemy or barrel. Of course nothing is ever that easy for very long. There are numerous familiar Donkey Kong Country foes in the way as well as spikes, brittle pegs that crumble when grabbed, wheels that need turning, tires for bouncing, bananas for collecting, and barrel cannons for launching.
With the L and R buttons reserved for movement the A and B buttons take on assistance roles. Donkey Kong has a three-heart life meter with each hit by a foe or a hazard knocking a unit off of the meter. When the meter runs dry the game is over and DK returns to the last save point (don't worry - progress is automatically saved after each of the game's twenty levels). Pressing the B button uses up ten of DK's collected bananas and refills one meter unit. On the other hand, pressing the A button activates Donkey Kong's "go bananas" invincibility mode which (for a cost of twenty bananas) enables him to smash through crates and barrels without stopping or to bash enemies without taking damage. Part of the game's puzzle element involves using collected bananas wisely at the proper time.
Aside from this single-player Adventure mode are the single-player and multiplayer Jungle Jam events. While Donkey Kong is the hero of Adventure mode, Jungle Jams bring Diddy, Dixie, Funky, Wrinkly's ghost, a Kremling, and eventually even K. Rool himself to the party. Each Jungle Jam challenges players to use their swinging skills to compete against three other Kongs (controlled by the system when playing alone) in events such as a race to the top of the screen, an all-out attack blitz, and so on. Each character has their own stats (Donkey Kong is an average character, but Dixie excels in jumping and Funky has a high attack level) so choosing between them properly is integral to winning the Jam.
DK: King of Swing will not be available in North America until later this year, but the game was released in Europe back in February and is very import-friendly. It's a shame that Nintendo is keeping this game off the market outside of Europe for now, as it's an addictively fun challenge and, frankly, the Game Boy Advance really needs a solid original game right now that is not based on a kiddie cartoon. Here's hoping that Nintendo and Paon are using the extra time to add new levels to the game. Even with an unlockable Time Attack and a Hard Mode, the game is just too darn short.