Nintendo hopes to keep its Wii audience happy with Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast, an alternative racing game that features monkeys (and other characters) flying around with barrel-shaped boosters. That sounds reasonably fun, especially when you consider that the monkeys are recognizable faces from the Donkey Kong Country games. Unfortunately, crucial mistakes leave this Barrel empty.
The game was originally conceived as a project for the Nintendo GameCube, to coincide with the Bongo controller, a peripheral that shipped with the Donkey Konga games and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. Due to changes in the market, the big N decided to shift it to the Wii, reconfiguring the controls for the remote and Nunchuk.
To accelerate, you wave your arms up and down to reach a "max speed", then strike objects as you go. To turn, shake the Nunchuk (for left) and the remote (for right). To jump, shake both together at the same time. The analog stick finds use here, but only to charge up a super attack, fueled by energy acquired from bananas all over the track.
It sounds simple, but someone screwed this game up, big time. Because of the insipid configuration, you'll find yourself frustrated by the bungled starts. Instead of getting right up to speed with the boosters, you'll steer right into a barrel when you didn't expect to, killing your speed entirely. Furthermore, the artificial intelligence cheats like crazy, using items like homing birds (which work like Mario Kart's turtle shells) and bothersome bees to slow you even further. Just when you think you've got a race clearly won, you fall to seventh place. Even worse, you never feel like you've got complete control, which makes the game seem more like an on-rails experience.
A few interesting techniques come into play, like jumping through a stunt barrel and performing aerial motions to score extra bananas. Unfortunately, that isn't enough to save this botched control scheme.
It's a shame, because the rest of the game looks decent. The tracks vary in design, from a lava-spewing volcano to underground caverns (complete with mine carts). Audio is made up of fun calypso-like tunes (including a few selections from the Donkey Kong Country games) and decent sound effects. The "monkey-speak" could've been done away with, though. It sounds like gibberish you'd hear from cranky tourists, rather than fun-loving monkeys.
Last but not least, Barrel Blast has several modes to choose from. Quick Race, Time Trial and Grand Prix are available, along with the option of taking a crash course in controls from Cranky Kong. Multiplayer is also available, with up to four people able to join in on a racing match at the same time. Unfortunately, online play didn't make the cut.
Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast could've been a great racing game, but the awful controls keep it from being enjoyable. It's without question one of Nintendo's poorest Wii games.