Reviewed: March 3, 2003
Released: February 28, 2003
It’s very rare that a game comes across my desk that truly surprises me, and when that game is something as simple and wonderfully charming as Ubisoft’s new The Jungle Book Rhythm n’ Groove game it makes me glad to be a game reviewer.
Ubisoft has taken a few stabs at Disney games in the past but nothing nearly close to the quality of this excellent title that’s fun for the entire family. At first glance you might think this is your typical adventure or platform title but the truth is right there in the name. This is a rhythm game following in a long line of music games like Britney Spears, Dance Dance Revolution, and even games like Frequency, although not nearly as difficult or high-tech as that title.
This game is obviously targeted towards younger kids, but I’m guessing that parents and older teens will be secretly dragging out the dance pad and playing this game after the kids have gone to bed. What surprised me the most is that this game is based on the original Jungle Book movie and not the sequel that has just hit theaters. Either way, there is still enough Jungle Book fever going around to bolster sales of this title.
Gameplay doesn’t get much simpler that this. The entire game revolves around tapping the D-pad and face buttons or using a dance mat (not included) to match symbols as they trickle down the side of the screen and pass through a pair of circles. Your goal is to tap the appropriate direction/button just as the round symbol passes through the circle. Timing is critical yet there is a certain degree of forgiveness based on the skill level you have chosen. Novice is very forgiving while Hard and Crazy mode require exact and precise timing.
Each tap registers a Bull’s eye, Perfect, Good, Average, or Miss with a corresponding point award for each rank. Consecutive taps earn you combo bonuses and additional points. But all of this is pretty standard gameplay in the world of rhythm games. What really makes this game shine is the enchanting Disney themes and characters plus some of the most addicting tunes I’ve heard in a long time.
There are single and two-player challenge modes. You will need to work through the story mode at least once to unlock all the chapters, but after that you can go back and replay any of them in any order at any time. The two-player games come in a Dance Marathon mode and a Power-Up Confrontation. You are required to play as Mowgli during the story mode but are free to choose from any of the fun characters found in the story when playing the other modes. Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa, King Louie, Shere Khan and even the little native girl, Shanti are just a few of the ten characters you can choose from.
The story mode does a great job of summarizing the entire movie with excellent cutscene that lead into nine musical numbers ranging from classics like “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” to new songs with modern flavors like reggae and even a musical number by the Vultures that parodies the Beatles, or perhaps more accurately, the Monkees.
You must complete each song without falling more than three times. Symbols are color coded and go from green to yellow to red the more you miss and if you miss a red symbol you fall but if you start hitting them correctly they will go back to yellow and then green. The number of symbols and the speed at which they fall is based on the skill level and how far into the story you get. Most of the time you only have to hit one direction at a time but later on you will need to be hitting two directions at once and in very fast succession.
During the songs a power-up display will appear and give you a short pattern of directions that you can key in between normal beats. Completing this sequence will give you one of 24 power-ups or challenges. You might get a wall of fire that eats up a bunch of symbols for you or you may invoke a challenge mode that shrinks the symbols or makes them flash or covers them with flowers. This power-up method is also used to engage in a few boss battles throughout the game. You will need to defeat King Louie and Shere Khan by triggering three power-ups before they do.
The game works surprisingly well with the Dual Shock but the fun really happens when you break out a dance mat. This turns the game into a dance simulation and on the harder difficulty levels will have you working out harder than a Richard Simmons video. The excellent 20-page manual comes with complete lyrics for all the songs and is complimented by an excellent video and/or slideshow tutorial that gives you explicit instructions on how to play the game. This is by far the best tutorial I have ever seen, both in production value and usefulness in my 12+ years of console gaming.
WOW! I look at this game and I look at the trailer for the Jungle Book 2 movie that’s included on this disc and it really shows just how much Disney has sold out to make a buck. The art and animation that they want you to pay $5-10 per ticket to see in theaters is a joke compared to the lush 3D worlds and characters created for this game. It would have been so easy to simply digitize a bunch of clips from the original theatrical release, but instead, the designers have recreated entire sections of the movie in stunning 3D. It almost makes me wish they would re-release the entire original movie in this style.
The superb graphics of the cutscenes translates seamlessly into the actual dancing sessions with wonderful little animations for both Mowgli and all of the characters he dances with and against. Often, it’s hard to appreciate all the subtleties that have gone into this game since you are concentrating on those falling directional symbols, but when you get to sit back and watch somebody else play you can really start to enjoy the incredibly fluid motion and animation.
The interface is fairly straightforward with a simple menu system. The display within the game is comprised of a score, an indicator showing how many times you have fallen, the power-up display, and the brightly colored symbols as they drop down the screen. Some power-ups create a background behind the symbols that change their visibility for a short duration. My only minor complaint with anything graphical is that the two target circles are often very hard to see, even during normal gameplay. But after awhile your reflexes take over and you just “know” when to tap the buttons.
There are two MPEG videos that are of excellent quality. One is the tutorial video that shows you how to play the game using a dance mat and the other is the bonus Lou Bega video that you need to unlock.
As you might expect of a rhythm game, there is a bit of music involved. There are nine songs, some from the movie and several new tunes. They have all been rerecorded and remixed to contemporary themes including pop, reggae, rock, and dance. This is some great stuff and I can’t count the times over the past week when I’ve caught myself humming “The Bear Necessities” long after the PS2 had been turned of.
The voices are all excellent with plenty of great sound-alikes for the original characters and more than a dozen supporting cast voices to bring a cinematic quality to this title. The music and voice work combine to create a splendid audio package. While it’s not presented in Dolby surround there is excellent use of stereo separation that lets you hear characters walking across the screen or from off-camera.
When you are tired of dancing to the beat you can go to the Jungle Gallery and try the Dancing mode where you can pick a character and a song and just sit back and watch the wonderful animation as they dance by themselves. There is also a Theater mode that plays all the cinematics in sequence and a special King Louie dance challenge that will reward you with a cool movie from Lou Bega. And if you want to start practicing for next year’s American Idol there is even a karaoke mode that plays the songs with karaoke style lyrics along the bottom of the screen.
For such a simple concept, there is really a lot packed into this title and for only $19 there is no reason this shouldn’t be in everyone’s game library.
This is by far one of the most enjoyable Disney titles I have played in a long time. It might not be as action-packed as Tarzan or as time-consuming as PK: Out of the Shadows, but The Jungle Book Rhythm n’ Groove offers it’s own unique addiction that will have you popping this game into your PS2 whenever you need a cheerful break from reality or just a taste of old-fashioned Disney goodness with a modern twist.