As Thanksgiving gets closer, I find myself, like most of my fellow Americans, taking some time out of my day to reflect on what I’m thankful for. Some people are thankful for good health. Others are thankful for family. Me? Well, I’m thankful for DK: Jungle Climber, the forgotten sequel to the equally-forgotten Game Boy Advance adventure, DK: King of Swing. Without this game, I might not have become a Nintendo fan. Funnily enough though, I didn’t become a Nintendo fan because I liked Jungle Climber, really. It was my general disinterest in the game that brought a copy of New Super Mario Bros. into my life, and that title truly got the fandom ball rolling.
Let’s rewind for a moment, and focus on the fateful day that put DK: Jungle Climber under my Christmas tree. At the geriatric age of twenty, I’ve forgotten exactly which year I received my Crimson Red Nintendo DS Lite, DK: Jungle Climber, and LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I’d reckon that this was probably in the ballpark of 2007 or 2008, but ultimately that detail is unimportant. What truly matters is the fact that Santa gifted me a Nintendo handheld all my own.
shaping my love of nintendo
I immediately loved it, and almost immediately discarded DK: Jungle Climber in favor of LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. But, having played LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy to death on my PS2, The Complete Saga was kind of old hat. Besides, I knew enough to know that it wasn’t a Nintendo game, and that Nintendo’s exclusives were the lifeblood of the DS library. Unfortunately, all I had on that front was Jungle Climber which just didn’t cut it for me.
For those unaware, DK: Jungle Climber is a very peculiar platformer that is controlled largely with the L and R buttons. The game is very much physics-oriented, as you fling the perpetually-moving Kong from pegboard ledge to pegboard ledge by hitting the shoulder button which corresponded to his left or right hand, respectively. The entire game is a bit of a haze in my memory, but I do distinctly remember Donkey Kong being hard to control as a kid. This fundamental gameplay concept was too tall of a hill for little Abram to climb (pun retroactively intended), and I simply found this title too frustrating to be fun. I haven’t played Jungle Climber in well over a decade though, so I might find a much more enjoyable experience here, now that I’ve gotten older and have fallen in love with the Donkey Kong Country games.
Regardless of any modern enjoyment that I might find today, I found little enjoyment back in 2007(?), and convinced my dad to get me another DS game. This time, as I noted before, I swung for the fences and ended up with one of Nintendo DS’ most ubiquitous titles: New Super Mario Bros. For most, it was a revival of their childhood nostalgia, cultivated by titles like Mario 3 and World. For me though, it was the gateway into Nintendo and the Mario Bros. baseline which informed my perspective on the series.
NSMB made DK: Jungle Climber into a quickly-overlooked oddity in my incredibly small DS collection. For me, it was all Mario all the time. I have countless fond memories with the title. This was one of the first games that I “finished,” recruiting my dad to clear Bowser’s Castle at the end of world eight. I distinctly remember peeking over his shoulder as he traversed this final gauntlet that I simply couldn’t defeat. I also remember spending many afternoons in the multiplayer with my aunt, and many more afternoons with the mini-game modes by myself. The sights, sounds and ideas of New Super Mario Bros. are forever seared into my imagination.
Like most Mario fans however, I’ve cooled down on the NSMB series as a whole. But, the overt aesthetic homogeny and iterative design between entries does little to undercut all my fondness for where this sub-series began. I owe New Super Mario Bros. a larger debt than I even owe DK: Jungle Climber. While Donkey Kong’s romp might have been my first Nintendo outing, New Super Mario Bros. was the first game to show me how wonderful and imaginative Nintendo’s worlds could be. Mario and company are such friendly, inviting faces, and the Mushroom Kingdom is a timeless locale that’s home to generations upon generations of memories.
the shifting culture of nostalgia
This notion returns to a point I touched on earlier in passing – New Super Mario Bros. was my Super Mario Bros. 3. But, that’s a personal narrative of nostalgia and memory, which contrasts against the universal narrative of nostalgia and memory. Within the gaming industry, someone’s nostalgia is always in style. This is a storyline that exists within a rolling window and ages alongside whichever generation is old enough to set the tenor around gaming conversations – both their opinions and their pocketbook. For so long, it was NES and SNES nostalgia that dominated, as the players who grew up with those systems stood at the forefront. Calling NSMB my Mario 3 is a function of how long this generation stood in the sun.
Then the window started to shift, and N64 reverence dominated conversation as that generation of fans became the controlling demographic. The Ocarina of Times and Star Fox 64s got the remakes and attention. If your Mario game was Super Mario 64, then you were in luck. It was your turn to celebrate with Super Mario 64 DS. After that, we sort of sat in a holding pattern here for a long time. Nostalgias from third to fifth generation intermingled on Virtual Consoles and the aesthetics of games like Super Mario Odyssey. My generation, the one that held Wii and DS games near, just wasn’t old enough yet to be leveraged like those which came before.
Now though, we seem to have crested that hill. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are widely beloved by people my age for returning them to their childhoods. Skyward Sword is surging back to the cultural forefront. We’ve gotten to a place where, on a macro level, the idea of New Super Mario Bros. being my entry point into Nintendo’s world isn’t so strange anymore. Gen Z has jobs and a loud presence online. We also have an appetite for media that appeals to our childhoods, just like those who grew up with the systems before ours. But, there’s something cynical about this idea. Can the industry really do nothing new? Do we have to recycle these increasingly newer ideas in order to flip a quick dollar? All signs point to yes, and this notion extends beyond gaming. I can’t help feeling a bit deflated by this inevitability as I buy my Spider-Man: No Way Home ticket on the premise of Tobey Maguire returning, and Brilliant Diamond on the premise of re-experiencing something I’ve enjoyed since I was eight. Nostalgia sells, and nostalgia just keeps getting younger.
Ultimately though, this is supposed to be a heartwarming Thanksgiving tale, not a jaded examination of corporate exploitation. Super excited to buy a new laptop on Black Friday, by the way! Anyway, macro discussion about commercialized nostalgia aside, there is undoubtedly something exciting about seeing your childhood favorites come back. I was raised on the games of the mid-2000s, and naturally their resurgence will mean a lot to me. I wouldn’t be the Nintendo fan I am now without them. Without these titles, I would not be writing this article. So, I guess that you all should be thankful for DK: Jungle Climber and New Super Mario Bros. too 😉