DK: King of Swing is surely a unique game, as it only uses the game controllers two shoulder buttons, but its differences will likely frustrate most gamers.
Donkey Kong’s latest GBA game is a platformer. Unlike the standard control scheme of any basic platform title, by using the D-pad to move, and the face buttons to jump and attack, King of Swing provides a control layout that generates a feeling all its own. Movement, jumping, swinging, platforming, and even attacking are all completed strictly through the use of the ?L’ and ?R’ shoulder buttons. Anyone who has played NES’s Clu Clu Land will see an immediate resemblance.
The corresponding shoulder button gives the player control of DK’s corresponding hand. Each level is composed of pegs and pegboards in which DK can grab and swing around each stage. As soon as a peg is gripped, DK will immediately start to rotate in the corresponding direction – clockwise or counterclockwise. Leaping is calculated by the angle at which the player releases DK’s grip. For example, when rotating around a peg, if the player releases DK’s grip when he is facing straight up, he will launch himself vertically. Incorporating a decent mix of vertical and sidescrolling levels nicely situates the game’s balance.
The game’s story is quite basic and does not really play a big role in the gameplay. King K. Rool has stolen medallions for a King of the Jungle tournament and it is up to Donkey Kong to get them back.
King of Swing’s level design is very cleverly laid out. Since the player will only use the shoulder buttons to navigate each stage, gameplay could be assumed repetitive and boring. However, the developers have managed to create enough variety by adding different types of things that DK can grasp. For example, switches can be gripped to open new pegboards. Levers can be cranked in rapid succession to open gaps for short periods of time. Rocks can be gripped and thrown at enemies. Wind can give DK an added glide to his jump. Under-water stages decrease the game’s gravity.
Bonus barrels and other collectibles can be found within each level, giving the player an extra chance to collect bananas. But unlike other DK games, bananas have a few new functions outside of the standard ?gain 100 to earn an extra life’. Once ten bananas have been collected, they can be spent at any time to regenerate one missing health heart. Twenty bananas can give DK an extra boost of strength as he mercilessly plows through enemies and barriers – like Rosie O’Donnell at a Krispy Kreme. Both the health regeneration and power boost techniques are activated by pressing either ?A’ or ?B’.
Just like the Donkey Kong Country SNES games, there are items to collect in each stage. A crystal coconut and a medal are hidden within each stage. Sometimes these items are just placed in hard to reach places, or are held by enemies. Once these enemies are defeated, the resulting prize will then be dropped. It is in the player’s best interest to seek out these items as they unlock extra single and mulitplayer modes.
What would a platform game be without any form of attack? Well, in King of Swing if the player holds down both shoulder buttons simultaneously, DK will begin to glow. This glowing indicates that DK will lunge forward in barrel-roll form, destroying anything in his way. Attacking this way is functionally successful, but its design could have used a little tweaking. On the flip side – and making the game harder – it seems that DK’s lunge technique ends a little short. If this barrel-roll attack move had provided a little more forward thrust, it would have made the game a little easier on the player. Spending the twenty bananas to increase this attack adds a touch more power and strength, but the attack itself will not launch the player far enough.
At the end of each world is a boss battle. Given the somewhat limiting control scheme, boss battles may seem to grow somewhat stale and boring. However, each boss battle is different enough to offer variety and generate a unique feeling thanks to the well thought out boss and gameplay design. For example, the ?phoenix-like’ boss will up-chuck rocks at DK. The player must then grab these regurgitated stones and toss them back at the boss to inflict progressive damage. The underwater ?skeleton fish’ boss will only take damage if DK grabs the tip of his tail, and swings him onto the surrounding spiky walls. The addition of a boss at the end of every world is a nice way to wrap up each section of the game.
On a positive note, the game supports both single and multi-pak link modes for up to four players. Multi-pak link mode gives gamers a number of options. King of Swing offers many different types of battle and race modes. Not only are there many types of multiplayer, the game even gives the player a chance to choose their character. Donkey Kong is average in every category while lighter characters like Dixie Kong can jump with increased height but has a weak attack. So, depending on the type of level or style of gameplay that’s chosen, the proper character should be selected as well. This helps add depth and strategy to the multiplayer competition. And the more the single-player mode is played, the more multiplayer modes are subsequently unlocked.
Naturally, the single-pak mode is not as advanced at the multi-pak, but it is definitely worthy of a play through. Four players can play off one game pak and each player takes control of a different colored Donkey Kong. The game will play from three linear levels with the goal being a race to the finish. Plus, attacking has been eliminated from the single-pak link mode. However, the graphics and sound effects are just as clear as in the single-player campaign. This single-pak mode will not entertain players for extended periods of time, but it can definitely be appreciated.
The graphics are formed with a cartoony stylized theme. Everything is animated fluidly and looks clean on screen. The game’s visual quality is exactly where it needs to be, especially considering the game is released into an experienced GBA lifecycle. Although the game was created by Paon, the musical flare still retains the same theme as Rare’s Donkey Kong Country. The musical similarities between King of Swing and the Country series is a welcome and nostalgic correlation.
DK: King of Swing’s unique gameplay and control scheme should find its way into the cartridge slots of many GBAs. While the novelty will certainly be appreciated, the specific shoulder button control scheme may eventually annoy gamers. Because of the game’s tougher later levels, players will wish that King of Swing had the control scheme of an NES Mario game. Also, since the game only uses the shoulder buttons, gameplay is much slower than most platform titles. This is caused for many reasons. Firstly, when attached to a peg, the player must wait for DK to rotate completely around before jumping. Enemies and even DK move at a slower pace because the game must compensate for the waiting between jumps as well as basic left to right movement.
Next, many levels and bosses often become terrifyingly frustrating. This is caused through the awkwardness of grabbing things and rotating DK with the shoulder buttons. For example, when fighting the ?skeleton fish’ boss in the water level, the player must grab the very tip of the fish’s tail. But grabbing this single peg is incredibly difficult because of DK’s slow movements – such as falling speed and rotation. Plus, the fish moves quickly and in a random pattern. Another example is contained in the wind level. DK must use the wind to his advantage to propel his jumps to the next set of pegs. However, if he twists against the wind, he will be immediately blown away from his target. This gameplay pain could have been eased if there was an option to switch the hand DK is gripping with without jumping off. Not being able to switch DK’s direction when rotating on a peg without first hopping off is a major downfall.
Also, it might have been a better idea to spread health recovery items instead of healing yourself whenever it is wished (as long as you have enough bananas, of course). It almost seems like the developers added this instant health recovery function because they knew they’d inadvertently created some tricky and frustrating trouble spots.
Yes, there are a few design flaws, but that does not mean that DK: King of Swing should be missed. The unique gameplay structure definitely brings something new to the GBA table, and it even goes hand-in-hand with the newly released Donkey Kong bongo platform title for GameCube. King of Swing is like getting a new puppy; it is addictive and fun at first, but then the full reality of taking care of it finally sets in. Initially the game will be fun, but then frustration and (even) anger may eventually become the norm. The unlockable features and multiplayer modes will succeed in keeping the cartridge in gamers’ GBAs for a while, though. Without a doubt, King of Swing’s awkwardly inventive control scheme will take some time to grow accustomed to, but the original control styling exists as a double-edged sword; it is, by turns, the game’s greatest innovative asset and also its biggest exercise in frustration.