If the inconsistent controls aren't enough to steer you away from this fifth-rate Mario Kart clone, the frustrating AI and total lack of personality probably will.
- Chaining combos with the speed burst is kind of neat
- Plenty of mode options.
- Motion controls are the deadly combination of dull and imprecise
- Courses are generic and irritating to navigate
- Computer opponents have a knack for catching up out of nowhere
- Bland visuals and annoying audio
- Poor sense of speed.
Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast is one in a very long line of half-baked Mario Kart wannabes, and it's one that just so happens to be published by the Mario Kart maker itself, Nintendo. It's one thing when some other publisher apes the formula for the sake of cashing in, but Nintendo ought to know better than to release something so shoddy and genuinely unpleasant to play, especially considering Nintendo practically invented this genre. Barrel Blast certainly has a couple of amusing ideas, but the execution of this game is so patently flawed and devoid of personality that it's difficult to imagine anyone enjoying it for long.
In Barrel Blast, DK and his pals are actually riding around on weird rocket harnesses that just happen to be shaped like that bongo controller Nintendo put out for the GameCube a few years back. Shockingly enough, Barrel Blast was originally destined for the Cube, with bongo-flavored controls. Eventually production was moved to the Wii, and the bongo controls were scrapped in favor of a motion-oriented control scheme--and a rather lackluster one at that.
We're all in favor of the idea of rocket monkeys jetting around wacky tracks (and only slightly less in favor of the rocket lizards that make up the other half of the game's roster), but the gameplay pretty much wrecks any amusement one might derive from the game's concept. Essentially, all the characters move around the track on rails. They are always moving forward, and the way you make them accelerate is by drumming the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as fast as you can until you hit max speed. Max speed never feels especially fast, even when you're playing with the fastest characters, though over time you can collect roughly a bajilliondy bananas scattered about the tracks, which feed into a meter that gives you a meteoric speed burst that blows through just about everything in your path for a few seconds. Also, for some reason, busting through barrels rejuvenates your burst, so you can actually string together some combos for lengthier bursts.
Unfortunately, the speed burst is about the only entertaining gameplay element the game has on offer, and it never lasts for more than a few seconds. The rest of the time, you're putting around at this weirdly sluggish pace, periodically launching weapons like swarms of bees and exploding barrels at opponents, and just hoping not to run into anything. You do have a basic attack you can use to bust through some objects, but most simply need to be avoided, and unfortunately, the controls don't often allow you to do that with any precision. Turning is mapped to the remote and Nunchuk, and you turn by swiping either of them downward. Again though, there is no precision whatsoever to this. Trying to navigate tight bunches of obstacles is far more harrowing an experience than it needs to be, and there are times when the game will register you as turning when you're trying to drum to accelerate. There is simply nothing more infuriating than hitting an object, trying to drum up some speed, only to have the game think you're turning and drift you into another object to the right or left of you.
Well, except perhaps for having practically every computer opponent on the track catch up and pass you immediately following this, and that does happen a fair amount. Barrel Blast's artificial intelligence comes from the school of rubber banding. There's no way to get an insurmountable lead against them, and they capitalize on every small mistake. On the opening difficulty level, you can still win races in spite of this, but once you move on to the next difficulty stage, the game just decides that it's time for you to stop winning, and effectively turns you into one of those novelty devices where you press a button, and random expletives come pouring out. Long bouts of practice and track memorization will eventually get you winning again, but the frustration is such that you won't want to waste your time.
If you can give Barrel Blast credit for anything, it's that there's no shortage of things to do. Modes include quick race, time trial, challenge, and Grand Prix modes. Grand Prix offers up several cup challenges over multiple difficulty levels. The challenge mode has you taking on rather specific tasks, like breaking a certain number of objects in a race or coming in ahead of a certain racer after a couple of laps. There's nothing too exciting here, but at least the game isn't left wanting for content. You can also play the game with up to three friends, including the grand prix mode. While adding other folk to the mix does alleviate some of the catch-up AI business, it doesn't make the controls any less flimsy, meaning you'll probably just end up with a few frustrated friends at the end of it.
You can't say much for Barrel Blast's presentation, either. The graphics are about on par with an above-average GameCube game, which is perhaps fitting given the game's roots. The game isn't awful looking by any means, but the animation doesn't stand out, the track environments are painfully generic, and apart from a few neat visual effects here and there, there's not much to please the eye. Audio consists of a bunch of music that sounds like it was recorded for a Japanese game show filmed inside a salsa club, and a bunch of screechy, oft-repeated exclamations from the various characters. Not exactly pleasant stuff.
It's impossible to know whether or not Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast would have been any better with bongo drum controls instead of Wii Remote action, but in truth, it doesn't really matter. The lackluster track designs, inconsistent difficulty level, and no-personality presentation are more than enough to sink the game all by themselves, and when you throw in the wonky motion controls, that just sinks things even deeper. Skip out on Barrel Blast.