Originally designed for mobile devices, Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas from developer Disco Pixel has found its way onto Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Its silliness is evident not just in the title, but in the colorful visuals as well. Don’t let those factors fool you into thinking this is a game aimed at children, however, as the rhythm-based gameplay can be challenging to players of all skill levels; particularly if you’re gunning for gold.
Perhaps the most logical comparison here is Patapon, the rhythm game for the PlayStation Portable that was successful enough to warrant a pair of sequels. So while Jungle Rumble doesn’t have the same level of depth or polish (nor should it considering the downloadable affair costs a fraction of what the retail Patapon games did), the concept is the same. You need to tap the screen in time with the beat in order to move your monkey(s) around the screen and avoid/fight your enemies.
The basic setup has you tap the unit you’d like to move, an adjacent square you’d like to move to, then back to the original and again on your destination to complete the four-step process. As you progress you’ll gain two more moves: throwing coconuts (tap three times on your unit with the fourth tap used to select a target) and hot stepping (you’ll need to double tap on the third beat, at which point you can move two spaces instead of one with the fourth).
Enemies are present in many levels as well. Some remain stationary, some patrol a designated area and others actively pursue you. You’re not necessarily obligated to engage them as certain levels only require you to reach a bunch of bananas (or a bulldozer) to advance.
If you’re looking for gold, however, you must defeat all enemies on the screen. You’ll also need to finish under a set time and not lose any of your monkeys along the way. While there is some variance in how levels with pursuing monkeys play out, most of them are as much about memorization as reflex, making it something of a rhythmic finger exercise.
Although Jungle Rumble has a pleasant look and solid gameplay, it definitely has its share of drawbacks that erode away at the fun. One of the main ones is the music itself, which is a problem when everything revolves around listening to its cues. The sparse bongo drums wear out their welcome before you finish the game, but unless you’re adept at keeping the beat in your head you’ve got no choice but to suffer its endless melody. It’s a real deterrent for longer play sessions.
More problems stem from the way you hold the Vita. You’ll tilt it vertically and tap the screen, which can become tiring given the weight (at least of the original unit with the OLED display). Tapping also causes chunks of the screen to become obscured by your own finger — maybe there’s a way to get around that, but the only way for me to successfully keep the rhythm caused lots of blind spots. On levels where you can take your time or face stationary enemies it doesn’t much matter, but it’s simply too easy to lose track of a mobile foe.
There’s a story here as well, one that starts goofy with monkey sages and one liners before moving into Rise of the Planet of the Apes territory with a factory destroying the monkeys’ habitat. It’s weird, though I guess it helps provide the impetus to finish the game’s 60 stages spread across three locations — as if you need reasons to finish something with happiness and bananas in the name.
While Jungle Rumble: Freedom, Happiness and Bananas isn’t a bad game, most of its issues can be found in crucial elements (music and controls). If you really dig rhythm games there’s enough here to justify a $5 purchase. Otherwise you’re better off looking elsewhere.