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Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast - Wii Review

Game Info
Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast

Wii | Paon / Nintendo | 1 Player / 2-4 Players (local multiplayer play) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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14th March 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

Nintendo's franchises sure have come a long way, and what better franchise to point to than that of Donkey Kong. DK sure has been around the block more than a few times, with a couple spin-offs here and there. Yet, never before has the series aimed for something quite as distinct as Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast. The idea of a racing game with DK-themed characters and environments does sound appealing but does the concept translate into good gameplay? Many critics have claimed that this is not the case, going so far as to say that the game is riddled with broken controls, and snail-paced gameplay. To be blunt, though, critics have failed to properly capture what Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast is all about; moreover, this reviewer plans to set the record straight.

    Also known as DK Jet Race, Barrel Blast has players using a set of rocket-powered bongos to race along environments in an effort to take the gold trophy. One thing the game gets right is the variety of modes. Rather than simply limiting players to a barebones setup, Barrel Blast features a few other gameplay modes beyond the ones you'd come to expect, including Cranky's School and Candy's Challenges. The game has over 10 characters to choose from, all hailing from the Donkey Kong universe. Even some unlikely characters show up in the roster such as Tiny Kong (who now has a completely new character model) and it's great to see such a wide selection of characters.

Variety is also extended to the game's race tracks, albeit it's not as strong as the other elements in the game. There are over 5 general environments - a jungle, an icy wonderland, a volcano, a scorching desert, a seascape and even a stage set in outer space. Many of the game's stages simply take place in the same environments with different track layouts. Thankfully, the tracks aren't all easy and some are rather challenging which is nice to see as it encourages repeat play in efforts of mastering each track. While it is commendable that the tracks are quite diverse, more unique environments certainly would've worked well here to add to the package. As is, the environments are quite detailed and the graphics look rather good (slightly above Gamecube-standard) and they are pleasing to look at. Best of all, though, the musical stylings found within the game are really catchy and they suit each level almost perfectly. There's even a fantastic remix of the classic Donkey Kong Country tune that most will appreciate. Nintendo/Paon did a great job with the music in the game and it's definitely worth mentioning that they exceeded expectations in that regard.

So what about the gameplay itself? Controls are very easy to get accustomed to and feel right for a game that uses motion controls extensively. The game lets you accelerate at a "steady" pace automatically so all you need to worry about is the actual steering. To turn left, simply shake the Nunchuk; to go right, shake the Wii Remote; shaking both controllers at the same time allows you to jump in the air for a short while. When launching out of trick barrels, hold the Wii Remote flat with the pointer towards the screen and jerk the controller in the indicated directions. The A Button will allow you to punch or kick characters, barrels or other obstacles out of your way. Item usage is mapped to the B Button at the start but in the event that you prefer an alternative setup, you have the ability to adjust the button configuration to your liking. The game registers each motion nearly perfectly (save for one or two times when you do something by accident) and it's pleasing to see they didn't turn out to be a clunky mess. 
tems can be collected by running into red- and blue-coloured balloons spread out throught the track. Depending on the colour of the balloon, items can give certain characters special advantages (red for Kongs, blue for Kremlings). Some tracks also feature animal friends and vehicles found on some of the tracks that you can use to your advantage. You can ride in a mine cart, jump on top of Rambi the Rhino from Donkey Kong Country, and even ride underwater with Enguarde the Swordfish. There's a great selection of items here and it's all really balanced (no Blue Shells here!) which ultimately adds to the overall experience.

    Probably the most noteworthy aspect about the game, there exists a special boost power that your characters can use to get ahead of the competition. Whilst cruising along the track, your character can pick up bananas that will increase your speed and fill up your Wild Meter. Once you get 50 bananas, you'll be granted one Wild Fire move. To activate it, you simply hold down on the Nunchuk to charge, and then let go of it to release. While you are boosting, you still have control over your character so you can still dodge obstacles and steer around the track at an even faster pace. Boosting will allow you to ram into barrels and characters and, as a result, build up combos depending on the number of obstacles you hit. After hitting an obstacle, you'll get thrust forward even further and this is when the combo begins, allowing for two to three seconds before the effect runs out.
This boost ability is what gives the game life, and it's something that isn't seen as much in other racing games. This particular aspect makes for some great gameplay as players boost from barrel to barrel, racking up a large number of combos and going really fast along the track. When the game is at its fastest capacity, players will be using quick reflexes to move in either direction to hit either barrels or other obstacles to extend one's combo for as long as possible. It's all rather fun and the simple controls make it even more fun to play.
    Despite this great feature, Barrel Blast has still been described by many critics as a slow racer. This may seem contrary to what is advertised on the back of the box which describes Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast as being a "fast-paced racer". Is this false advertising on the part of Nintendo? Well, no. You see, the game only starts off "sluggish" on the Beginner level but increases greatly in pace by the time you reach the Expert level. It can easily be compared to starting off on the 50cc class in Mario Kart and then later going onto the faster, and more intense 150cc/Mirror Mode. The problem is, not everyone will even make it far enough to see the game's pace pick up since some may give up early on, finding early speeds to be slow and monotonous.
However, to write the game off in its entirety as being slow is both premature and inaccurate. Those who stick with the game despite its tedious beginnings will find that the game gets so much more enjoyable once you reach the Expert difficult. By this time, players will find that the game really is a fast-paced racer despite what critics are leading people to believe. Even the game's Time Trial mode improves, whereby players are able to execute combo after combo, travelling at fast speeds along tracks. This function does have a good level of appeal for repeat play as it's rather motivating to face your best ghost on Expert, as you try to develop strategies to master each track.

    Sadly, the level of enjoyment that one may experience in the game's single-player modes doesn't translate into a fun multiplayer experience. While the game is enjoyable for younger audiences who may have trouble with running into walls in other racing games, the split-screen is just too confining for matches of 3 or 4. Unfortunately, the framerate also drops significantly during races with larger numbers and it's rather unappealing. 

    Although the controls are easy to learn, the tracks themselves take much practice to master before players can anticipate oncoming obstacles. Sure you could always play on the Beginner difficulty, but then you risk having your friends getting bored with it. Moreover, experienced players will surely have an unfair advantage over others and because of the balanced item system, it can be hard for inexperienced players to catch up. The multiplayer aspect just isn't an even playing field when participating in races with more experienced players, and this can be frustrating.

Online would've worked brilliantly with this game. With a balanced item system, and fast-paced gameplay, online really would've been more "fair" and skill-based than Mario Kart. Despite the response from critics who clearly didn't take the time to review the game properly, I can only hope that Nintendo will see potential to possibly issue out a sequel, improving on the flaws of Barrel Blast, and adding online play to make for a fun, enjoyable multiplayer experience.

    Deep down, Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast is a fun, fast-paced racer that has merit on its own regardless of its minor flaws. It has all the good aspects of a racer and more, with the Wild Move system adding to an otherwise standard racing game. Patient gamers who like the concept should give the game a try as it's quite likely that they may be surprised that the game isn't bad at all. Others who are not so patient will simply never be able to appreciate the game for what it really is, which is a shame. It definitely hurts the package to have multiplayer that may not be as enjoyable as other racers. But the fact remains that Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast delivers an enjoyable, and satisfying single-player racing experience that deserves a look, at the very least.

23/30 - Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Controls that anyone can get used to, game improves significantly on Expert, Wild Moves give it life
Presentation 8/10 - Well-developed tunes, graphics are nice with detailed environments, framerate dips in multiplayer
Enjoyment 3/5 - Can be a drag at the start, gets more enjoyable if you stick with it, multiplayer could be better
Extra Content 4/5 - Much to strive for: challenges, unlockable characters, trophies, A+ rankings, and motivating time trials
Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast
Review | Screenshot gallery | Trailer | Preview | Feature | Interview


Review by KnucklesSonic8

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