one of the games that i played a lot when i was a kid and really liked was clu clu land for NES. there was an expansion-like sequel released for the famicom disk system and some rereleases of the original, but otherwise the game has been sorely neglected. the controls definitely take some getting used to, but the game is loads of fun, esp. with another player, and it gets to be fast paced and manic since your character spends much of her time bouncing off walls and the other player. the boards also feature pac-man like tunnels to help you get through stages more quickly and avoid the spiny enemies. it’s also worth noting that the character is named “bubbles” and is female, although i’m not sure what the official sources for that information are. in any case i highly recommend it.
anyway, i’ve always wanted to play more clu clu land, so when i heard that there was a GBA game that used similar mechanics (so much so that bubbles even makes a cameo appearance), and a donkey kong game no less, i was really looking forward to finding out more. DK: king of swing was released in 2005 and when i first tried it out i was disappointed that it only superficially resembled my beloved clu clu land. somewhat like the GBA game drill dozer, king of swing features a unique control scheme and relies heavily on the L and R shoulder buttons. like clu clu land, king of swing has your character use his arm to latch onto a point and then rotate around it by pressing and holding a button. however, in the former you rotate and let go quickly to navigate a single-screen 2-D board, whereas in the latter you’re actually working your way through a level and oftentimes you’re holding onto a peg or peg board and waiting to avoid a spike or enemy, rotating all the while. in other words, instead of a fast and frantic arcade game, king of swing is actually a platformer with a unique control scheme. oftentimes you’re also moving from the bottom to the top of the board, and missing a peg board and falling down and then having to climb back up gets to be tedious.
this disappointment carried through the first world and boss and into the beginning of the second, and then suddenly the game morphed from a somewhat ho-hum experience to a completely and utterly enjoyable one. the key was that i had finally gotten over the hump of internalizing the game mechanics. in that sense the game is like super mario bros. 2: in that game you had to get used to the physics of throwing vegetables, specifically predicting the arcs they’ll travel in based on how fast you’re running or how high you’re jumping, and in this game you have to get used to the physics of launching DK off of a peg board, depending on what the angle is when you let go. one thing that actually helps with this is playing against the computer in the handful of multiplayer games that are included, which are otherwise all pretty shallow and pointless. similarly, replaying the first few levels and hunting down the crystal coconuts (one in each of the main levels) is also a good way of learning the ropes (or peg boards, i should say).
once i gained a better mastery of the controls i was able to completely enjoy the brilliance of the game. like my other favorite platformers, the game does a great job of introducing new elements in pretty much every stage, but all using the same basic mechanics of navigating series of peg boards. the controls are smooth, and the donkey kong universe makes a perfect match: leaping from peg board to peg board and climbing up peg boards, left and right hands alternating, feel more simian than any other donkey kong game i can think of, with the exception of the great donkey kong jr. everything else you would need or want in a classic platformer are here, including fun bosses, bright and attractive presentation, fun music, and great replay value in the form of diddy mode, in which you have less life, and for the hardcore a truly challenging time attack mode. one small drawback is the last level before the final boss which will have you pulling your hair out but which, as with most games, is fairly straightforward once you master it. the only other complaint is that although the game feels like a complete experience, it does feel a bit on the short side. but i was psyched to see that there’s a sequel. i can’t imagine that the original sold that well, but despite my initial apathy the game has quickly shot up into my list of favorite games of all time. i’m hoping that the sequel will be equally impressive, while at the same time still waiting impatiently for the day that clu clu land makes its return.