Donkey Kong Jet Import Hands-On

We check out the Japanese retail version of this bongo-beating racer.

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Originally announced for the GameCube as DK Bongo Blast at last year's E3, Donkey Kong Jet is a racing game in which the titular gorilla and friends fly using bongo-powered jetpacks. Originally designed to take advantage of the GameCube's bongo drum controllers, Donkey Kong Jet is no longer a game that will make the owners of said underused peripherals feel better about themselves. Rather, it's a Mario Kart-style racer that, at least based on our time with it thus far, would be a lot more fun if it offered something resembling a conventional control system.

Like other racing games of its ilk, Donkey Kong Jet features a sizeable roster of recognizable characters from its game universe. There appear to be a total of 16 characters including eight good guys and eight bad guys, though only three from each group are unlocked at the outset. Each character handles a little differently because they have ratings of between one and five stars for power, speed, and turning. With that said, none of them handle as well as they would with a regular control setup; call us crazy, but pretending that Wii Remotes and Nunchuks are drumsticks just doesn't feel like an obvious or particularly enjoyable way to control a flying primate.

If you've played any racing game before, ever, you know that a single button makes a perfectly adequate accelerator, and if you've ever played a game in which you needed to jump, you'll know that this particular action is every bit as easy to control using a single digit. Donkey Kong Jet does away with these long-established control conventions in favor of a system that requires you to repeatedly move the Wii Remote and Nunchuk up and down alternately when you want to accelerate (which is pretty much all the time), move them both up and down simultaneously when you want to jump and, just for good measure, move only the one in your left or right hand up and down when you want to steer in that direction. The controls for the game's jetpacks are perhaps best compared to those of a rowboat or a canoe, although moving either of those in real life is arguably far less taxing.

Many of the game's features will be familiar to fans of the Donkey Kong country series.
Many of the game's features will be familiar to fans of the Donkey Kong country series.

The course designs in Donkey Kong Jet, at least those that we've raced on to date, are more or less what you'd expect from a racing game that's inspired by a series of platform games. Circuits weave their way through jungles, around lava-spewing volcanoes, along beaches, and even underwater. We've yet to encounter an icy or snow-covered circuit, but we wouldn't bet against there being at least one in there--you get the idea. Things to look out for as you're racing include bananas that can be collected to power turbo boosts, balloons that contain any of around 16 different power-ups, and various barrels that need to be either avoided or aimed for depending on their markings and on your current status. Most of the barrels are simply obstacles that will slow you down if you collide with them, for example, but hitting those same barrels while using one of the aforementioned turbo boosts extends the boost's duration. Those of you who've played any of the Donkey Kong Country platform games will have no trouble spotting the barrels that you should try to jump into in order to be propelled forward while bypassing obstacles, though you'll find that many of them are positioned in such a way that their reward doesn't come without some risk.

Donkey Kong Jet supports up to four players simultaneously in split-screen modes of play, and unless we're very much mistaken, one of the screenshots in the Japanese manual shows a ghost mode that will let you compete against your own best times. We'll bring you more information on Donkey Kong Jet as soon as it becomes available (read: until we find someone who can translate the manual); maybe we'll even get to see an English-language version at E3 next week. Fingers crossed.

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