Jungle Rumble Review: One Tap Forward and One Tap Back
Jungle Rumble, developed by Disco Pixel and released last Thursday on iOS and Android, is a two dimensional rhythm-based game where you as, “the Great Spirit”, control a plucky group of monkeys spurred on by their mystical leader to prevent bananas from being taken by a rival tribe, the nefarious red monkeys.
A deep, involved narrative isn’t the reason most players gravitate towards games of this type. All that is required is a brief set up of the conflict, preferably dire, while leaving some room for it to become direr in order to keep the player motivated later in the game. This is the narrative thrust of Jungle Rumble: Bananas are the key to your tribe’s survival, so get as many as you can before the ‘red’ tribe can do the same. There are some minor twists and turns in the story and they are used pretty effectively to set up the introduction of new, more complex gameplay systems.
What isn’t explained is why the ‘red’ tribe is less deserving of those bananas than the Mofungo tribe, which is the one you are controlling. I suppose that an antagonist is essential at motivating the player to accomplish their objective and the law of the jungle doesn’t require deeper motivations than wanting to survive. As the ‘Great Spirit’, I wanted a little more of justification at the outset to help me understand why the Mafungo tribe is my chosen one.
The basic gameplay of Jungle Rumble requires you to tap your fingers on top of your monkeys following the four beat rhythm of a song. The most basic of these movement commands, moving forward requires you to tap once on the monkey, tap again on the next movement tile (represented by a tree branch) then tap the monkey again and finally tap the movement tile to move your monkey one step closer to victory. There is also a tactical element introduced early in the game where you can pick up coconuts if they are on the tile, and then by tapping twice on your monkey and then once on the enemy monkey you can knock the other monkey off their perch. Group movement is also introduced early on, and requires you to not miss a beat in order to generate enough ‘mojo’ so that you can multiply your coconut throwing potential and have a better chance of achieving a gold medal.
Mobile games’ popularity and longevity are tied very closely to their ability to provoke a score chasing mentality in its players, either against themselves, their friends, the public or even the game’s developers. Your performance in each level of Jungle Rumble is measured by whether you were able to keep the members of the Mofongo tribe alive, vanquish the red monkeys and you finished the level as quickly as possible. How fast do you need to finish a level to achieve gold? As fast as the game requires, but doesn’t tell you. My advice is, don’t miss a beat and your chances of getting gold are pretty good.
Each new command is introduced in a very brief tutorial that displays a finger, representing yours, showing you how to perform the commands which you are then asked to try. I found myself becoming frustrated that I couldn’t seem to perform the actions within the designated time quickly enough despite feeling like I was matching the rhythm of the song being played. That was, until I discovered a bar at the top of the screen with a ball running through each beat that represented the timing between your taps. After that revelation my frustration melted away, but was replaced by concern.
Prior to ‘Jungle Rumble,’ the mobile version of ‘Rock Band’ was the only rhythm based game I’d ever played on an i-device. Even though I didn’t have a plastic instrument in my hand to represent a guitar or set of drums ‘Rock Band’ was able to make it seem like I was impacting the track that I selected through a variety of visual and aural cues. ‘Jungle Rumble’ does provide good visual feedback in the form of making the branch that you could move to as well as the beat bar flash as you tap as well as a slight glow emanate from the edges of the screen as the beats progress, but the underlying music that should serve as the foundation for the gameplay is both muted, and lacks a sufficiently impactful number of notes that should aid in the flow of the movement and combat.
From the opening moment your eyes are bombarded with vibrant colors and heavy cell shading. The environments are sparse but clean, which may have something to do with my playing the game on an iPad, as the developer assuredly didn’t want the screen to be too squashed when played on a phone’s smaller screen. That scarcity and cleanliness greatly eases your ability to read the map and plan your moves ahead of time. The music, made up of suitably tropical music is pleasant and doesn’t grate on you when you replay the same level for the fortieth time. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variety to it.
In a mobile landscape rife with endless runners, consternated avian derivatives and precious stone reorganization simulators Jungle Rumble stands out as being a game worth playing. Its story is simple yet effective at making you care about your little group of banana-starved monkeys (even though the red monkeys may not have had their day in court). The gameplay is sufficiently varied and well-paced to keep you from boredom or abject frustration. Visually pop and give real vibrancy to the world. It is unfortunate that there aren’t quite enough musical cues to direct your movements, or general musical variety for that matter. To keep players coming back some more detail should be added explaining the criterion for getting a gold medal, especially in terms of how long you have to complete each level. If those issues could be addressed by a patch, and I don’t see how they couldn’t, I know my monkeys greatest fear will be a potassium overdose.
+Progress is well paced
+Great visual style
-Tutorials don’t explain enough
– Lacking musical variety and aural feedback
-Time limits aren’t given