Between 1999's Donkey Kong 64 and 2010's Donkey Kong Country Returns, Nintendo's great ape served a cool-off period of sorts when it came to straight-up platforming adventures. He had no huge releases to his name, but that didn't mean he was on the backburner entirely. The 2000s were a time to utilise Donkey Kong as a showpiece for some new concepts — there were some bongo-based titles on the consoles, but also a couple of fresh ideas on the GBA. One was Mario vs. Donkey Kong, which has since spawned a small army of sequels and instalments. The other is DK: King of Swing, which has just one successor on the DS. The king has returned on the Wii U Virtual Console, though, and its unique control scheme finds a reasonably good home on the system.
King of Swing has no desire for your precious D-pad, instead employing shoulder buttons for the vast majority of work. Stages are comprised mostly of pegboards and other objects DK can latch onto, and the L and R buttons grab with his left and right hands, respectively. When holding onto a peg with one hand, DK will rotate around it with his other hand stretched out. You can either grab onto another object within range to climb along, or let go entirely to fling the ape in whatever direction he was facing at the time. Baddies will also be occupying the stages and its pegs, but they can often be dispatched by latching onto two objects and holding down both shoulder buttons to charge up a leap attack.
The fundamental gameplay concept is simple and becomes intuitive after just a bit of practice; Cranky Kong is on hand to offer a useful game-opening tutorial to help you settle in, as well. There are naturally items to collect such including medals and bananas — the latter serve an interesting role, being currency to exchange for a hit point recovery or engaging a temporary powered-up mode.
King of Swing's main adventure offers some very good level design, with stages that reach vertically or horizontally. Certain mechanisms or quirks are also introduced to help keep things new, such as levers that need to be pumped to open pathways or rotating pegs that need to be ridden like Ferris wheels. Even so, a feeling of repetition can still sink in at times. Some stages can also prove either highly challenging or highly frustrating, depending on your tolerance for setbacks and starting over. Falling in some areas can mean a long climb to recovery.
The visual style really stands out with this game as well, giving the Donkey Kong universe a more cartoon-ish approach than seen in many other titles. It can be found colourful and appealing in its own right (we certainly thought it was), but its deviation from the expected look of DK might unfortunately put some players off. Then again, this isn't much like anything else in the jungle repertoire, so who really loses out here? Either way, the music does a pretty good job fitting in with the standard Donkey Kong feel, keeping a nice beat without really standing out in any way.
Although King of Swing had a competitive multi-player mode using linked GBAs, this is sadly unavailable on the Wii U. Its single player functionality is suited very well to the GamePad, however, and the its smaller screen will likely be the preferred viewing portal of choice.
Although it probably borrows a few lines of inspiration from Clu Clu Land, DK: King of Swing maintains a refreshingly unique feel even today. Its areas of repetition and difficult spikes might not keep everyone's attention to the end, but it's worth checking out for those looking for something new who missed it the first time around. Just keep your fingers on the shoulders and don't go in expecting your everyday Donkey Kong.