For me, Nintendo could do no wrong. And then they released the Wii. Say what you like about it, as far as I'm concerned, it's a novelty console, the one that you'll spend an hour or so on with your mates when you come back from the pub, or something to entertain your younger sibling's friends with. I'll say no more. Where Nintendo does still rule though, is in the handheld arena. Despite the fact that I own a PSP - and some fairly decent games for it - the handheld games machine that goes everywhere with me is my DS. When it comes to portable gaming, Nintendo - put simply - gets it right.
The main reason that Nintendo's handheld really rules, aside from the fact that the DS is a brilliantly designed machine, has to be that the company's track record in first-party published games is second to none. And this is proven yet again with the latest Donkey Kong title, Jungle Climber.
As is traditional with Nintendo games, it's not sufficient that they just offer an incredibly addictive arcade title, but they have to give it a back-story. For me, if I'm controlling a talking - well, okay, mumbling - ape, who has to battle all manner of strange beasties and collect floating bananas, then I really don't need a long convoluted plot to explain why I'm doing it. But plot there is, and Nintendo's writers have excelled themselves this time, reaching new levels of weirdness with DK and pals coming to the aid of a race of walking, talking alien bananas (I'd say you can't make this stuff up, except that somebody obviously did). What this entails is leading Donkey Kong, with a little help from the likes of Diddy and Cranky Kong, through a variety of tropical islands, each more treacherous and tricky than the last.
Every game from Nintendo featuring either Mario or Donkey Kong always seems to introduce some new gameplay mechanic, and Jungle Climber is no exception. As the title suggests, the key to this game is climbing, and this is accomplished with a slightly different control system than you might otherwise be familiar with. Pressing the A button makes DK jump, but rather than utilising the d-pad for direction, everything is done via the L and R shoulder buttons. Press L and DK grabs with his left hand (paw?), press R and he grabs with his right. Press both L and R together and... well, you figure it out!
Each level is populated with loads and loads of pegs, which DK can grab. Once a peg is grabbed, DK then rotates automatically around the peg unless you stop him by grabbing another one. What looks at first like a fairly laboured way of movement quickly turns out to be a surprisingly intuitive system, and before long you'll be grabbing and swinging your way around the multidirectional-scrolling landscape like a natural.
As you progress through the stages and the different islands, extra abilities and new hazards are introduced, each one preceded by a quick, simple tutorial from Cranky Kong. Additions include the use of Diddy Kong, who acts as a kind of hairy projectile weapon, different types of peg, barrels that you can destroy for bonuses, others that suck you in and fire you across the screen and the ability to fly like a big fat hairy bird for short periods once you've collected a set number of magic crystals. So basically, with each new level, more features are added to ensure that you never get bored.
Add to the main adventure mode a mini-game mode which offers solo challenges, and also the chance to take on up to three friends at various jungle-themed trials via single-card download play, and - once again - you've got a DS title that's going to keep handheld owners hooked for quite some time to come. If I was wearing a hat, I'd doff it to the DS development team at Nintendo, who for me can do no wrong... or rather I would, except that I need both hands to control DK, so maybe it's best that I'm not wearing one. This is though, another definite winner from the big N.