Review: After more name changes than Prince, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast finally arrives on the Wii.
Donkey Kong Barrel Blast has had a complicated history. Nintendo first unveiled the simian themed aerial racer at E3 in 2006. The company originally planned to release the game (then titled DK: Bongo Blast) on the Gamecube. It was to utilize the DK Bongos drum controller, made famous by the Donkey Konga rhythm series, as its principle input device. Soon after the game's unveiling Nintendo chose to push Barrel Blast (along with Super Paper Mario) to the Wii. Now, more than a year and two name changes later, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast is here for the Christmas season. The burning question for hungry Wii owners then is whether or not Donkey Kong's latest outing was worth the wait. Sadly the answer is a resounding no. What could have been the next Mario Kart is instead a dull, needlessly frustrating wannabe.
The game's control scheme is its fatal flaw. Barrel Blast's developer Paon decided to strip all bongo support from the final version. Nevertheless, the influence of that peripheral is readily apparent in the controls. To accelerate, the player must approximate beating a drum by rapidly shaking the Wii Remote and Nunchuck up and down. Once the player hits maximum speed they can stop drumming and then steer by tapping the Nunchuck and Wii Remote left or right respectively. Meanwhile jumping is accomplished by simultaneously pulling both controllers upwards.
While steering is cumbersome, it is the constant ?drumming? required to accelerate that wins the prize as the most frustrating part of the game's controls. Racers slow to a crawl any time they hit an obstacle or fall prey to a rival's weapon. To recover the player must again ?drum up? to maximum velocity. Since each track is littered with obstacles, the player will be intimately familiar with this arduous task by the game's end. This constant drumming makes racing a chore. It also serves to make Barrel Blast one of the most physically taxing Wii titles to date. The player will probably have to take breaks in between tracks just to relax. This is supposed to be fun, right? Who needs Wii Fit when one can have arms the size of tree trunks through playing Donkey Kong Barrel Blast?
Even if the player can somehow tolerate the controls, all they have to look forward to is a largely uninspired racer. Each competition boils down to the player collecting as many bananas as possible to earn boosts, and then blasting their way to the end while attempting to avoid the numerous obstacles strewn about the courses. Paon did add some strategy into the title's boosting system by enabling players to extend the speed boosts by hitting barrels along the track. In theory, one could speed through entire sections by stringing together barrel combos. In practice though these combos are difficult to pull off since steering is so unwieldy.
One small carrot is that the tracks possess a great deal of visual variety. Donkey Kong fans will recognize familiar landscapes from previous games. These settings range from the prerequisite jungle to a molten volcano. The game's arsenal of weapons is rather generic by comparison. Included are objects like fiery banana peels, throwing barrels, and rocket launchers. The selectable racers follow suit. The player can pick either a member of the Kong family, or the reptilian Kremling horde, with little variety in between. Six characters are selectable at the game's beginning with more becoming available as the player completes races and challenges.
All this being said, the gameplay is not without its small charms. Numerous shortcuts serve to break up the tedium of racing. Players can access these secret paths by jumping into specific barrels. One for instance will shoot the racer into a subterranean shaft for a quick mine cart ride. Certain barrels also blast the racer through the air and allow the player to perform mid-air poses by gesturing with the Wii Remote. Players receive extra bananas upon the successful completion of these shows of aerial vanity.
Barrel Blast's graphics ? from the backgrounds to the character models ? would be considered just average even on the Gamecube. They lack even a stylistic flair that gives less technically sophisticated games like Super Paper Mario their sense of charm. The graphics also hurt the gameplay. It is often difficult to see what is coming up ahead on the track. This throws salt in the gaping wound that is the broken control scheme. The player will constantly careen into barrels and other obstacles simply because they are difficult to see. Some barrels will even appear in front of the racer, making avoidance near impossible.
The sound fairs little better. Aside from some nostalgia inducing Donkey Kong Country tunes, the music is completely forgettable. The character's voices become quickly annoying as they grunt and groan incessantly during a race. This might not be so bad if the quality was not so downright abysmal. Donkey Kong consistently sounds like he is having an asthmatic attack.
Alas there are few extras to spice up the experience. The lack of an online multiplayer mode immediately places the game a few rungs below the competition. Instead it relies on the same split screen multiplayer that gamers have experienced since Mario Kart 64. Of what remains, the most noteworthy extra is Candy's Challenges. Here the player must complete various trials ranging from avoiding all the obstacles on a track to collecting a certain number of bananas. While a nice addition in theory, these challenges are not compelling enough for the player to have to further tussle with the controls.