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Review: Donkey Kong Barrel Blast

As the Gamecube died off and the Wii prepared for launch, Nintendo shifted development of two late GCN titles in an effort to convert them for Wii play. The first was the popular Super Paper Mario — the other has finally arrived in the form of the less-than-stellar Donkey Kong Barrel Blast. The irony is that this game, intended to utilize the GCN DK Bongo accessory, would have worked better with the drums than with the Wii. However, even this would not have helped to make this racer anything more than merely competent.

DK is more interested in bananas than actually racing, it seems.

 

Hardcore and casual Nintendo fans eagerly await the promise of slick-controlled, online racing action with Mario Kart Wii debuting early next year, so some gamers may feel tempted to pick up this racing title in the hopes of a Mario Kart substitute in the meanwhile: to those gamers, I say “Don’t do it,” as this title is simply not up to par with Nintendo’s other renowned racing series. With that out of the way, let’s delve into the specifics as to why Barrel Blast fails to impress.

First and foremost are the main mechanics of racing. Racing is unconventional in Barrel Blast — collection of items while speeding along is a key component, but it is more the fact that the player is never actually steering that throws off the feel. By shaking the left and right hands, players move their monkeys (or crocs, for that matter) left and right across the track in an effort to avoid obstacles and collect items, not to steer around corners. For example, while flying on the left-most portion of a track as a turn occurs, the character will remain at the left-most portion of the track through the turn. This is probably a result of trying to dumb the game down so more casual players don’t have to worry about actually steering but it causes turns to feel disorienting — if an item can be seen before the turn, positioning oneself to as to align with it is a tricky affair. Essentially, the gameplay boils down to memorizing the location of items and obstacles on the track: collect bananas to build up “Wild Moves” (aka boosts) to use in boosting into breakable objects in order to prolong the boost. While a relatively unique concept in the genre, the package just doesn’t hold up enough weight to support itself efficiently.

Furthermore, the silly “drum roll to build up speed” is silly and only results in sore arms. This mechanic means that every time a player gets hit while driving, he or she must needlessly shake their arms for a second or two to build speed back up, meaning that steering isn’t very easy — this method also leaves the player in a vulnerable position for other players to attack. It wasn’t uncommon when reviewing this title to accidentally jump while drum rolling, as jumping is done by shaking both controllers at the same time.

The lack of precision in shaking controllers like maracas and the simply odd fashion of steering the vehicle grows irritable quickly, which will often leave players frustrated if they attempt to smoothly slide from left to right, as this is impossible — movement is made in incremental steps based on the shaking of the controller. Simply put, the controls to Barrel Blast are less than desired — using the Bong Drum GCN peripheral would have helped somewhat in terms of control and simple aesthetics; as it stands, this option is blatantly tossed aside. Why? The Wii has Gamecube controller ports, for goodness sake! This lack of attention to design is present throughout most of Barrel Blast.

Yea, you keep telling yourself that, buddy…

The presentation as a whole suffers from the same symptoms for the most part. There are only a handful of tracks, and most of them get recycled with different item/obstacle placements, getting passed off as new tracks. This is quite disappointing — tracks are what give a racing game legs, and this game doesn’t have many. Switching around on-track obstacles does not merit a new level, and the tracks on display are nothing special for the most part — lava, jungle, ice, outer space…the same old environments one is likely to see in this type of game. The graphics are naturally Gamecube caliber, doing nothing to really push the art design anywhere, but they are also not horrible to look at. Surprisingly, the soundtrack is the one feature that actually puts forth a semblance of effort. Some of the tunes are remixed versions of old Donkey Kong favorites (notably the final race track’s background), and as a whole, the musical selection does a good job at giving things an upbeat pace. The sound effects, on the other hand, get grating in no time, with characters constantly crying out ridiculously annoying yelps practically every time the player does anything aside from move left or right (DK sounds more like a drunken hobo than a gorilla). These sound effects work against the sound design since the music is actually not half bad.

Lastly, the single player experience to be had here is, as is often the case with this genre, a joke. Players will only have access to six characters at the get-go — three Kongs and three Kremlings. The standard grand prixs must be completed with Kongs in order to unlock the rest of the simians, and the Kremlings must be used to obtain the crocs. This means that the repetitive cups must be driven into the ground past their welcome in order to unlock duplicate racers with different appearances. The mission mode may provide a bit of challenge, but you can only play as DK, which makes little sense. The multiplayer lacks online support, a feature that non-mini-game titles are working hard on delivering, and the offline split screen isn’t all that exciting, anyway, since the main game mechanics are bland and awkward.

They’re crying on the inside, trust me.

 

Score: 2.5/5

 

 

Final Verdict:

After a mere couple of hours, players will feel as if they’re beating a dead horse rather than a pair of bongos — which isn’t even an option in the first place despite the clear theme of drums and the obvious Gamecube controller ports. Racing fans would be better off waiting a a few months for Mario Kart Wii, as the bizarre, no-steering, shake-until-your-wrists-hurt gameplay lacks precision and excitement. Once in a while, a sense of speed may be experienced, but it’s short-lived and certainly not worth the effort required to ignore every other flaw present. While Nintendo has been proving lately that core games are still important to them, it’s clear that this title was meant to be released a year or two back on the old Gamecube. The poor gorilla’s namesake has been slipping away in recent years ever since this “bongo” business came into play and every one of his recent games revolves around a simplistic control scheme. Despite how good some of those titles have been, this is a new low for the ape’s name, to be sure. Avoid this one, as it’s not even worth the time of casual racing fans unless they are truly desperate for a game that involves moving forward along the basic semblance of a race track, in which case, a brief rental should suffice.

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