Friday, October 19, 2007

Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast

Developer: Paon
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2007
Systems: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Bongo racing... without the bongos.

0:01 That's a lot of monkeys on that title screen. They look like they're jumping out of the screen. Look out! Monkeys! Also: their barrel rockets strapped to their midsections look ridiculous.

0:02 "Cranky's flight school" teaches you how to play. Love the old school Cranky Kong music from Donkey Kong Country.

0:03 It takes about a dozen alternating shakes of the remote and Nunchuk to get up to max speed. Thankfully you can stop the shaking once you are accelerated. I like the bongo sounds coming from the remote.

0:05 Dodging is as easy as a shake in the direction you want to go, and it's more responsive than I would have thought. The in-controller sound effects really help. One question, though. Why can't I use my GameCube bongo controller?

0:07 Jumping involves throwing both the Nunchuk and the remote upwards at the same time. It's pretty easy, but it's also easy to pull off accidentally when trying to accelerate. Grumble.

0:11 More tutorialing. The A button punches, the control stick activates a dash (if you have enough bananas) and the B button uses collected items. Yep... all those set pieces are sure in place.

0:13 Tutorial race. It's pretty easy putting everything together on the sparsely populated test course. I like the cannon barrel that automatically fires your forward along a quicker path. Makes the game feel a bit like Sonic.

0:14 Grand Prix time! The option for up to four players against the computer is a nice touch. Good god, there are a lot of hidden characters. Only six out of 16 total available to start.

0:19 Wow. It's initially very hard to follow what's going on, with all the characters and detritus littering the course. I get fifth because I just can't adjust to the on-screen stimulus fast enough. Very annoying: the slightest hit means you have to shake the controllers violently to get up to speed again. This really puts a strain on the elbows, especially if you're doing badly. Also annoying: When dashing you can break through most barrels, but the effect ends abruptly, meaning a barrel you aim for when dashing will end up being a wall when you slow down, with barely any chance to get out of the way. Sigh.

0:24 I finish second... six seconds behind first and twenty seconds ahead of third. As you might imagine, this means most of the race is spent totally alone, just hovering along at max speed. My left elbow really hurts from all the acceleration-drumming.

Whoo! A first place run, capped by a transcendent chain of dash-extending barrels at the end (fun! I knew it was in there somewhere). I've taken to using my dashes to accelerate quickly after hitting obstacles, not because it's necessarily a good strategy, but more because it means less drumming for my beleaguered left elbow. Ow....

0:33 Grrr... since I got 2nd overall for the three courses I have to play them again. Ugh.

0:36 Now that I know the course, I take first easily. Once you get ahead of the pack it's pretty easy to stay there. Another annoyance: The "style barrels" let you perform scripted tricks by waggling the remote in a certain direction, but the time window presented for these tricks is so short as to make them nearly impossible to pull off. Testing, people.

0:40 A note to anyone expecting a real racing game out of this -- this is not a racing game. There are no actual turns... you're just pulled along a linear course, dodging left right and, occasionally, jumping up. It's more a banana collection and barrel avoidance game. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

0:46 First place again, easily, on course three. The learning curve here is pretty shallow... I feel like I'm a master already. I unlock Lanky Kong and the Sapphire Cup.

0:47 On to Candy's challenges, where Candy has set up some specific tasks. By the way, Candy is STACKED now. Jeez. The first challenge is to smash 15 barrels. I'm done in 20 seconds. Yawn.

0:51 Challenge No. 2 involves "Not finishing in last" each lap. This is a challenge? I'd say that's just barely decent racing. I've seen similar modes in a lot of racing games, but this has got to be the lamest idea for extended value I've ever seen.

0:54 Challenge No. 3 asks you to hit 4 opponents with "backwards barrel" items. Only there's no easy way to slow down and let them get the opponents in range. Urgh.

0:55 Collect 200 bananas? I do it in a little more than a lap. NEXT!

0:56 Knock down six rivals. Done in 18 seconds.

0:58 Another tough one. I have to hit a lot of barrels in dash combos. It's only hard because there's nothing to hit, really. Urgh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Maybe if I had some friends over.
Why? The concept is OK on paper, but the annoying control scheme and straightforward "racing" gets in the way of some interesting level design.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo.

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