Post Game Wrap-up: Donkey Kong 64

Posted: January 17, 2014 in Post Game Wrap-up, Retro Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

DK64

Coming off a very successful trio of Donkey Kong Country games for the Super NES, it was obvious that Nintendo would want a title for the Nintendo 64, it was just a matter of when it was released. Rare answered the call with Donkey Kong 64 and, like most franchises during that period, it took advantage of more powerful hardware by going 3D. Recently, my son requested I play through it again (he likes watching me play), so I revisited the world of DK Isle.

The Set-up:
You are Donkey Kong, chilling in your hut when, once again, King K. Rool attacks. He’s captured your four friends along with your banana horde and has his currently broken down cannon….gun….weapon ship pointed at your island. You must rescue your friends, Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky, as well as your precious bananas, and stop K. Rool before he can arm his weapon and take you out. Luckily, Cranky, Funky, and Candy Kong, as well as Snide, a former worker for K. Rool, are present to help you out.

K. Rool's Ship

Place your bets!

The Story:
As pointed out above, this is typical Donkey Kong fare. You’ll encounter “Mad Scientist” Cranky Kong fairly quickly, as well as “Arms Dealer” Funky and “Music Afficiando” Candy. You’ll set out to find your lost bananas and your friends by journeying into different worlds via portals located on DK Isle, which acts as the hub world, but also has bananas for each Kong hidden away to find (Golden Bananas are Kong specific). To advance to new worlds, you must obtain both bananas and boss keys that will open locks on the locked away misfit, K. Lumsy, who was just too kind to be a kremling. With each new removed lock, K. Lumsy will bounce in celebration, leading to movement on DK Isle opening up new worlds.

Like Rareware’s other works (Banjo-Kazooie, Conker, etc…), DK64 is filled with humor and plays the story for laughs at every opportunity. By and large they succeed, right up through and including the final battle with K. Rool. There are very few parts of the game that won’t make you laugh at least a little. I still chuckle about the kremlings with sheets over their heads pretending to be ghosts in Creepy Castle. Even when swapping Kongs out in the change barrel, each has their own reaction to being chosen. The most humorous being Chunky Kong, the biggest and strongest of the troupe, actively trying to encourage you to not pick him (as he’s obviously afraid). When not in the spotlight, the other Kongs will wave and motion for you to select them. It’ s a fun little gag that never gets old, and is just one of many little touches that you’ll find throughout the game.

The Gameplay:
This is a platforming gaming. Anything else beyond that is just gravy (or a curse). While you initially begin the game with only Donkey Kong, soon enough you’ll free his partners in crime: Diddy Kong, Lanky Kong, Tiny Kong, and Chunky Kong. I do have to pause here to wonder what made Rare go with only Diddy as a returning character. Tiny is an obvious stand-in for Dixie Kong, whereas Chunky could have been easily swapped out with Kiddy Kong. This doesn’t affect the game or the gameplay at all, but is just one of those things that makes me go “hmmmmmm…”

Anyways, each Kong has their own special abilities, gained from one of the supporting cast of Cranky, Funky, or Candy. Cranky provides general special abilities (Diddy’s now popular jet pack, Tiny’s ponytail twirl), Funky gives each Kong a gun with differing ammo, but are otherwise virtually the same, and Candy gives each Kong an instrument and will twice increase their life by an extra watermelon. These aren’t just passive gifts used as an excuse to include these characters. You’ll find these new abilities to be a must as you work through the game. At least one Golden Banana in each world will require special abilities to collect, and it’s usually more than just one.

Guns also come with an FPS mode. Who needs COD?

Guns also come with an FPS mode. Who needs COD?

Speaking of collecting, DK64 will definitely have you collecting items. I can honestly say that I’ve never played a game that had more stuff for you to watch out for. For each individual Kong, every world holds five Golden Bananas and 100 regular bananas, along with scattered banana coins. Totalled, that’s 500 total regular bananas and twenty-five Golden Bananas. You’ll also be hunting for banana fairies to capture with a special camera so that they may be returned to the main banana fairy. This doesn’t sound like much when listed here, but when you realize that only a certain Kong can pick up their specific items, it becomes quite the task. You also can’t just skip over the banana collecting because, to access the boss, you must feed the boss door guardians (?) a specified number of regular bananas. Also, each world has a Portal Guardian that will only go away if you have the correct amount of Golden Bananas, allowing you access to the world. There are 201 Golden Bananas in the game and you must have 150 to finish the game, to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.

For the most part, the collecting of these items, and the platforming in general, is quite a bit of fun. There are camera issues, but they’re only slightly worse than anything else from the N64/PS era, mainly rearing their head during a couple of boss battles. Most of the game is very reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64, in both graphical strength and gameplay, which is pretty high praise.

Camera issues do make this battle much harder than it otherwise should have been.

Camera issues do make this battle much harder than it otherwise should have been.

The biggest negative I have with DK64 is the mini-games. And trust me, this is a very big negative. All too often, after completing some kind of task to get what you think is a banana, you’ll get a banana barrel instead. These insidious spawns of Satan will launch you into one of about six or seven different mini-games (they repeat and get more difficult as you progress). If the games were at least interesting, it wouldn’t be so bad, but all too often they’re just exercises in frustration. One game has you firing watermelons at snakes so that they’ll continue to spin a turtle on their tails. That sounds even dumber typed out. It’s not hard, it’s just dull. The most offensive one is Beaver Bother. In this little irritation, you as a Klaptrap have to herd the generic DKC beaver into a hole, except they don’t want to go into that hole and you can’t just push them in. These got so bad that I did just give up on a few of them. There’s no fun in them at all, only tedium.

It's even worse than it looks...and did I forget to mention that it's timed?

It’s even worse than it looks…and did I forget to mention that it’s timed?

This also happens a few times outside of banana barrels. One such instance is a race between you and a scarab that is very reminiscent of the slide in Mario 64. The difference here is that the scarab is hard to beat and, while fending him off, you also need to collect 50 banana tokens. Oh, and you lose three of those if the scarab bumps into you. By the way, there are only about 70 tokens, so you can only stand to miss a few. It’s hard enough just winning the race, but the collecting of tokens is absurd. It’s these moments that ground the game to a halt and make you not want to play anymore, and they show up too often to be completely ignored.

Conclusions:
Despite the shortcomings of DK64, and how frustrating they can be, it is still a strong entry into the series and a game I would still recommend for the Nintendo 64. The platforming is very strong, as I said earlier, and the writing and animation of the characters is top notch for the console. Yes, you will get frustrated from time to time, but *most* of the time it is possible to simply move on, unless you’re after the 101% completion rate. I think this game compares favorably with Banjo-Kazooie (I actually prefer it, but think most people prefer Banjo). If you can see through the faults, you’ll be rewarded with an entertaining game that culminates in one of the most inventive and entertaining final boss battles you will ever experience.

You knew a reference to this was coming.

You knew a reference to this was coming.

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Comments
  1. Hahaha, spot-on about the minigames. I miss DK 64, I wish it would hit the Virtual Console so I don’t have to always lug out my N64 to play it. =/

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