Sunday, August 28, 2011

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars and a GameBoy Advance: August

DK: King of Swing

You reach a point where you feel like you know a little something about video games, about their history, and about the general world that they exist in.  You know all about things like the Konami code, you know about the easter egg screen in Adventure, and you can rattle off the names of all of the robot bosses in the Mega Man franchise in chronological order by game.  When it comes the the mainstream stuff, you feel like very little can surprise you.  Then, you are wandering around your local second hand and WHAMMO! there is it: DK: King of Swing.  I honestly felt like I knew about all of the games in the Donkey Kong franchise, even stuff like Donkey Kong Jr. Math, but here was a game bearing the beloved DK trademark, that was completely foreign to me.  Socrates, you humble me yet again.
 So what is this bizarre little oddity tucked away in the GBA library and how is it that I had not heard of it?  $5 would easily reveal the answer.  As non-traditional as it can be, DK KoS is a platforming game that lives up to its name in every possible way.  Those evil Kremlings are at it again and Donkey Kong (Jr) must pursue the dastardly reptiles through various worlds to put an end to their machinations.  But not by running and jumping and rolling into things as he normally would, no in DK KoS you navigate the entire game by swinging.  You see this jungle is peppered with little pegs and DK must use his powerful arms to propel himself across perilous chasm, over deadly spikes, and past ferocious enemies if he is to complete his quest.  That's right the entire game is played by swinging DK around on these pegs.

It sounds odd I agree, but after about 5 minutes of playing, the charm of this game takes over and you get totally in to it.  Everything else from the world of Donkey Kong Country is there: launcher barrels, bananas, bouncy tires, those horrid horrid bees, even secret coins, bonus levels, and the familiar tunes!  The theming is right in line with everything you love from the SNES Donkey Kong games.  Only the style of the game play has changed.  Each level is made up of 5 chapters (and you can usually pick from two) and then a final boss fight that grants access to the next level.  Due to the unconventional control scheme and game play, the boss fights are very fresh and inventive and avoid repetition that one might suspect in a game that strays from the norm.

When I say unconventional control scheme, I mean it.  The entire game is played using nearly only the left and right shoulder buttons.  With these you control which hand DK grabs the peg with and therefore which directions he swings.  Press both and he will jump straight up.  Hold both and charge for a powered jump that can also take out most enemies.  The A and B buttons are used only for power ups to either regain lost hit points or give you a temporary invincibility with which you can take out the toughest enemies or jump extra high.  That's it.  It might take a while to get used to this non-traditional control set-up (early on I nicknamed the game Donkey Kong Hand Cramps), but once you adjust, you will be swinging through the levels in no time.

That is not to say DK:KoS is not without its challenge.  While the game is on the shorter side, it is not a breeze.  Getting a handle on the controls takes time, and then mastering the skills to clear each level will ask for patience and practice and LOTS of bananas.  And of course this would not be a DK game without secrets, and there are plenty.  At the time of writing this my file is a little over 50% and I am going back to look for more secrets.  It is nuts how easy the earlier levels are, even the ones that gave me fits, after playing the more advanced levels, but the good news is, the fun doesn't really diminish, and for me that is the true strength of the SNES Donkey Kong Country games.  DK: King of Swing carries on that tradition in a most peculiar way on the GBA and is WELL worth the measly $5 I paid for it.  If you see it, pick it up!


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