Donkey Kong Barrel Blast Review (Wii)

In spite of the GameCube’s performance, and before the Wii even thought about taking the gaming world by storm, Nintendo wasn’t exactly known for poor products. Quite the contrary, Nintendo is easily responsible for one-third of the most revered and popular game franchises, and its Mario, Zelda and Mario Kart games helped usher in the platforming, adventure and kart-racing genres as we know them. But that storied history and strong pedigree is what makes Donkey Kong Barrel Blast for Wii such a disappointment. We’re not used to Nintendo laying an egg, but this game is easily one of Nintendo’s worst releases to date.

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast began its life as a GameCube game, one that was designed to have players bang on the Donkey Bongo accessory to propel their on-screen character around a track on floating bongos. When it made the switch to Wii, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast scrapped its bongo-beating mechanic in favor of motion-sensitive Wiimote controls. Unfortunately, the sophistication of the new Wiimote is far greater than that of the old bongos, and gamers’ expectations are now much higher when it comes to the accuracy of interactive inputs. And accuracy isn’t exactly something that Donkey Kong Barrel Blast delivers.

The controls sound simple enough: shake the Wiimote and Nunchuk alternately like drum sticks to get your character up to Max Speed, shake the Nunchuck to move left, shake the Wiimote to move right, and jerk them both up at the same time to jump. Yet the game often confuses the acceleration motion with a desire to move left or right, and jumping is at times not recognized at all. This can be disastrous when players try to bash into a barrel or avoid an impassable obstacle, because a single misstep allows the computer-controlled characters to catch up immediately and, if the acceleration motion remains unrecognized, gain an insurmountable lead. Add to these problems a camera that often swings around a corner and misaligns your approach to a bunch of bananas, and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast tries to compensate for these issues with some gameplay depth, but like the controls, these mechanics simply miss the mark. The first attempt at depth comes straight from the Mario Kart games: the ability to attack opposing racers. Various power-ups exist such as swarming bees and momentum-reversing barrels, but they’re so sporadic that using them often becomes more of a “what just happened?” moment than one of strategic play. In addition, a Wild Move provides a temporary boost/nitro after accumulating enough bananas, but it’s so short lived (and really not all that fast) that it can’t come close to compensating for what’s best described as the AI’s “cheating tendencies.”

The most intriguing element, though, is the inclusion of power-ups in both red and blue balloons. If a Kong character grabs a red balloon, the power-up has double the strength, whereas a Kremling gets double the effect from a blue balloon. Pop the non-preferred color, and the result is 1x the impact. Even then, though, the effects of these power-ups is really so minimal that it seldom makes much difference which color you pop, which renders the inclusion pointless.

Gameplay modes aren’t immune from the snafus, either. Jungle Grand Prix, for instance, is the main single-player mode, but its implementation of rally-style cumulative scoring is so clumsy that players need to place first in every cup to unlock the next. Nothing for second, nothing for third”it’s first or bust. Considering the AI’s knack for miraculous comebacks, this can lead to some excruciating repetition. The Challenges mode, meanwhile, essentially breaks down individual aspects and makes them stand-alone challenges (blasting a set number of barrels, bumping a certain number of enemies into reverse barrels, etc.). On the surface this is fine, but you’ll get more than enough of this stuff while repeating the various cups, so you’ll not likely want to touch this mode in the first place.

Donkey Kong Barrel Blast clearly began its life as a game to justify holding onto the Donkey Bongos. During the GameCube’s existence, that would’ve been just fine. But Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is a Wii title now, and with that comes an expectation of Wii owners that games have accurate controls and provide something more than a proof-of-concept experience. Looking at the bigger picture, though, video game fans everywhere have come to expect high-quality products from Nintendo, and Donkey Kong Barrel Blast simply isn’t one. Considering the great leap Super Paper Mario made from GameCube to Wii, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is an utter disappointment.

– Jonas Allen

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