Thursday, November 15

Jungle Beat Game Design

I've been playing alot of Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat as of late. Jungle Beat is a title for the Gamecube developed by Nintendo EAD, the very same studio behind Super Mario Galaxy, as a matter of fact. Jungle Beat is an amazing game. Besides the fact that its just plain fun, the design behind the whole thing is nothing short of genius. Playing as Donkey Kong, players employ a bongo peripheral to roam through a series of side-scrolling levels. The game is divided into seventeen kingdoms, each represented by a different fruit. Each kingdom is divied into three levels that must be played in consecutive order to complete the kingdom as a whole. The first two levels of each kingdom are side-scrolling, platforming stages, where DK must reach the fruit at the finish of each stage to move forward. The final level of each kindgom is a boss fight.
This is an outdated screen. The bar along the top is actually in the bottom-right corner, in a much more aesthetic form.

The goal of the platforming stages is to earn "beats," which itself is achieved by collecting bananas. Bananas come in single form or in bundles; however, the quantity of beats players earn from bananas is determined via a combo system. And the combo system is entirely skill-based, and robust. For example, bananas net greater beats from being clapped than being touched. Also, players can string together combo points by chaining together aerial tricks; the bigger the combo chain, the greater number of beats will be awarded players per banana collected while the combo is in effect. After each stage is complete, players play a minigame to collect as many bananas as possible in a short time limit before the next stage begins.The final level of each kingdom is a boss fight. Here is where the game changes, and becomes so fascinating: no bananas and no beats can be earned from boss fights. Instead, the beat count from the previous two stages coalesce into a health bar for DK. The entire goal of the boss fight is to win without getting heart. Because each time DK is damaged during a boss fight he loses health, and therefore beats.When the boss is defeated and the kingdom complete the final beat count is tallyed. This final tally awards players a rank for that kingdom, given in the form of crests, of which there are either bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. Simply finishing the kingdom, one beat, awards players a bronze crest. 400 earns a silver crest, 800 a gold, and 1200 a platinum.

The crests serve to unlock new kingdoms. Kingdoms come in sets, four kingdoms to a set. Completing a set unlocks a new set. But crests unlock kingdoms within the sets. It may take 16 total crests, earned by completing multiple kingdoms, to unlock a higher kingdom.

The moral of the story is this is genius game design. The gameplay has a progression, which can be seen as follows.
  1. Player Skill
  2. Beats Earned
  3. DK Health Bar
  4. Boss Battle Skill
  5. Final Beat Count/Player's Score
  6. Crests Earned
  7. Kingdom Unlocked/Award for Player Skill
Thus, we can see that the player's skill in the core game feeds into everything else. Players who use the game's combo system and fight bosses effectively are awarded with a high final beat count, which doubles as a representation of their gameplay skills. Players are awarded with crests for playing well, and subsequently awarded with new kingdoms to play in. And the cycle begins again. See? Genius.

And this is what makes Jungle Beat so awesome. It focuses on what video games do best: gameplay. It utilizes a system both relient upon and rewarding of player skill. Therefore, players feel compelled to play well, for reward and for the satisfaction of that ever-elusive high score count. You can always play better.

Which brings me back to the beginning. All of this would be moot if Jungle Beat didn't have a robust combo system in place. The whole reason this progression system works is because the gameplay is so deep. The combo system is highly functional. Beats are reflective of player skill, and "skill" only exists because the gameplay was specifically designed to be dynamic, to allow for variance in play and play style.

Oh! And for the record this creates amazing replay-value, which people seem to value so highly these days. For some reason.

p.s. Sorry about the image-quality. All Jungle Beat images online are of this terrible quality; its the best I could do.

p.s.s. For more information on specifics of Jungle Beat please see Jorik Mandemaker's FAQ. Or just buy the game.

p.ssssssss....Can you believe the L-Block won!