DK: KING OF SWING / Nintendo / Gameboy Advance
Hay guys, let's make a Donkey Kong game that's all about having a horrible, counterintuitive control system and a super-sluggish pace!
DK: King of Swing was farmed out to Paon, a company made up of Data East refugees with no real experience on their own prior to this. Even though this is backed by Nintendo rather than Rare, they keep all the developments that Rare injected into the series during their time stewarding it, like the crocodile bad guys, and the return of a lot of the popular music in remixed form.
This is more like Mario v.s. Donkey Kong than the DK Country games though; rather than platforming, it's a whole new sort of game with its own bizarre mechanics. The entire game is basically controlled with the L and R buttons. You press one down to walk in that direction, press both to jump, and press and hold until you glow red to launch yourself upward in an attacking spin. We're using this awkward scheme because the entire game revolves around pegboards, most of which stretch up vertically for a good duration, which Donkey has to climb himself up by swinging and launching. After you jump, while you're drifitng through the air, you grab a nearby peg with either the L or R button (for Donkey's respective hands, continually frozen in one stiff posture.) Donkey then slowly rotates in circles around this peg, and when you are ready you let go of the button to launch yourself in whatever direction you've chosen. The cannon barrels and rubber tires of the Country games also mysteriously make appearances sometimes, floating in mid-air to provide a boost to the next batch of pegs. Of course, the Kroopa Croca army or whatever the fuck they are called complicates the works by sending flying enemies out to try to ram you in mid-air, and sometimes occupying pegs with spinning miscreants who try to smack you back to the earth below.
And there's the crux of the problem. You've got a life bar, but you're much more likely to simply quit the game in frustration rather than actually die. The level structure consists of long periods of climbing, and if you make a mistake you're getting knocked backwards to potentially undo quite a bit of that climbing. So really, you end up covering the same repetitive ground over and over and over again. The game is far more likely to bore you into turning it off rather than kill you.
Compounding the problem is the slooooow pace at which everything occurs. Donkey walks slow, he drifts through midair slow, he rotates slow. This leads to further waiting and time-wasting when you (inevitably) have to re-do a challenging series of jumps and launches.
This could still have been salvaged as a gameplay system if the speed were upped, and if Donkey didn't stiffly and comically hold one posture in mid-air as he jumps. Seriously, it looks ridiculous - he refuses to move his arms even the slighest bit, simply squeezing his hands over and over when you tap the buttons. Imagine a system where Donkey actually swung realistically between things like branches and vines - you know, like a monkey - and was able to move his arms about to grab things both in front of and beneath him as he swung. Something like Bionic Commando, really, just with shorter range than the grappling hook. Sound fun? Sounds a lot better to me than what Paon came up with here.
I guess the music is passable, but the graphics look extremely simplistic, even primitive for the time. The game isn't exactly a joy to behold in action, and really looks like a sub-$20 budget title. It enhances the whole "we didn't really think this all the way through but we went ahead and released what we had anyway" aspect of the experience.
In spite of all this, the gaming press has largely given King of Swing a free swing thus far - out of about forty reviews I've only seen one harshly critical of the game, just about all of the rest laden with the usual borderline-ad-copy jargon like "breathtakingly innovative" and "uniquely challenging." I don't have to worry about appeasing advertisers or jockeying for interviews and previews, so I'll tell it like it is - the game is boring, repetitive and slow, and the "breath of fresh air" control system is really just a clumsy mess.