Review by Retro
"Bigger isn't always better"
Welcome back, Kongs!
Me and Donkey Kong go back a long way. I've spent a few quarters to play the original Donkey Kong in the arcades, and I didn't regret it. Before I was even eight, I was playing Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior on the Atari 2600, and I always liked them. When the teenage years rolled around, I received a Super Nintendo with a copy of Donkey Kong Country; I liked it so much I later purchased Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest with my own money the very next year. To this day, I would call those two games all time favorites of mine. So when I became an adult, remembering that there hadn't been a single Donkey Kong title that I wasn't at least a little fond of, how could I not be eager to own Donkey Kong 64?
A crocodile that has a keg for a belly, King K Rool, has been the Kongs' biggest headache since 1994 when Donkey Kong Country was on top of the world, and he's back again as the king nemesis in this 64-bit update named Donkey Kong 64. He and his most famous unpaid workers, the Kremlings, have a new motorized vehicle, or island. Wouldn't you know that they just happen to run into an even bigger island called Donkey Kong Island? Seeing that this island that resembles Donkey Kong's face is the ugliest piece of land he's ever laid eyes on, K Rool decides to shoot it to bits with a laser. Unfortunately for him, the laser needs recharging. K Rool is in a mischievous mood, so he steals the Kongs' mountainous heap of golden bananas and kidnaps a few of Donkey Kong's friends.
Almost all of the original members of the Kong Krew are back once again. Cranky, that smart ass trash talker that we all love is here to equip you with each and every one of your special moves and powers in exchange for some gold. Wrinkly is a ghostly spirit who offers you several pointers at the entrance of each world. Funky Kong is looking funkier, yet uglier than usual, but he is useful for supplying the Kongs with unique weapons that they can shoot at will. And of course, Candy Kong is here to look sexy once again, and she likes to promote her interests in music to her family.
Finally you have the real heroes, the sometimes invincible Donkey Kong, the cartwheeling, ball cap wearing Diddy, and three one of a kind newcomers. Tiny Kong is a lot like Dixie Kong from Donkey Kong Country 2; she can twirl her head to glide through the air as she slowly descends, and she can even live up to her name by shrinking down to where she's not much bigger than a flea. Lanky is extremely limber and he can run on his hands almost as fast as he can on his feet. The last newbie is Chunky Kong. He has the ability to increase by about ten times in size so he can defeat certain enemies or open new doors by literally punching them out. He's surprisingly tough for a guy who resembles a fairy in his movements and for one who plays a triangle while dancing like a ballerina on his tiptoes.
It's a collecting extravaganza!
You begin the game with only Donkey Kong being playable. You must find and rescue Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky before you can use their skills. On top of that, each character has his own musical instrument, weapon (an item that they can shoot), and loads of special moves that must be learned. For example, Donkey Kong plays the drums and he can use a coconut gun to hurl rock hard coconuts long distances; Tiny can shoot feathers and play the saxophone, and so on. The weapons, or shooters, are commonly used to open doors by shooting the respected item into a switch that has a picture of that item (such as a plum) on it. The instruments, on the other hand, aren't used much, but when they are used, they can destroy nearby enemies and open up new pathways in your quest.
Along with the seemingly peaceful overworld of Donkey Kong Island, there are eight huge, and I mean huge worlds to go through as you collect your goodies. You'll brave it out in a desert that comes packed with gale force winds and quicksand that would like a monkey or two for a snack; explore a land where the difference between night and day may only be a matter of seconds; morph into Enguarde the swordfish as you swim where no monkey has swam before in the icy blue seas of the water world.
The eight worlds are more than full of things for the Kongs to do and items for them to collect. In each one, there is 500 regular bananas to collect, 25 golden bananas, and a slew of other much needed items to (such as crystal coconuts, orange bombs, watermelons for energy, coins for purchasing new weapons and upgrades, etc.) rack up on. This means that the five Kongs each have one hundred bananas and five golden bananas to hunt down. Not to mention that you must also use a camera to capture fairies by photographing them throughout your long journey.
With all this stuff to collect, the color-coded bananas (Diddy's bananas are red, Donkey's are yellow, etc.) and golden bananas are your top priorities. There are several different ways in which you can earn the precious golden bananas. Many of them are quite easy to get. You see a golden banana behind a bamboo stick door with a switch over it that has a pineapple on it. What do you do? Simply switch over to Chunky (the only one who uses the pineapple shooter) and shoot the switch with one of the spiked fruits, and then get the banana when the door lowers.
But the majority of the golden bananas aren't so easy to get. You must complete such tasks as using Diddy's jet pack to closely follow behind an owl as you fly through each ring that it leaves behind. Make Tiny shrink down to size so she can venture through the tiny (no pun intended) holes that no other ape can squeeze into. Several of the challenges are timed; a door may open up for 30 seconds and you have to make it inside before the clock's digits reach double zero. Throughout your 3-D platforming adventure, you'll constantly run into Snide, a sly fox who stays in a small shack in each world. There are five blueprints (one for each Kong) that are being held by a certain breed of enemy. Destroy these foes and take the blueprints to Snide and he'll award you with a hard-earned golden banana.
Most importantly we have the bonus games. You'll be jumping inside more than enough shiny bonus barrels with a banana on the side of them, and you'll go to bonus stages at times when you do other things such as jump off of a switch that has Donkey Kong's mug on it. The bonus stages can be anything simple from shooting enough Kremlings with a gun, to shooting Donkey from barrel to barrel and eventually blasting him through a DK star. Even more of the bonus stages are pretty challenging. Having to cautiously tiptoe through a maze of watchful enemies without being spotted by a single flashlight bulb, and controlling a mine cart around and around train tracks while you avoid one or more deadly bombs that are hot on your ass can both prove to be quite tough.
Second to the golden bananas is the need for gathering up all the regular bananas that you can. Even though they are monkeys, these fruits are not for supplying any Kongs with a snack. Instead, when you think you've collected enough regular bananas and you feel pumped up enough to take on the world's ferocious boss, you must find a portal with an obese pig and a fat hippo on its cover. The hippo is taller, but he appears to be just a bit slimmer than his piggy friend, so therefore, he demands to eat your bananas, with none going to the hog! Make his tummy happy enough and the tall, wide doors will slowly open and the atmosphere will suddenly turn dark, cold, and haunting. You'll then be greeted by a boss such as an armored armadillo that has producing earthquakes and shooting blobs of fire down to an art, or a jack-in-the-box who loves chasing you by jumping from from the top of one building to the top of another one constantly. Sending a boss to its grave earns you a key to the next world.
Some of the chances at getting golden bananas can actually be a good bit of fun. There are always good times to be had when Tiny takes the controls of a racecar and races a living racecar as she tries to collect enough coins and win (she can ''cheat'' by shooting missiles into the opposing car to slow it down a bit). It's also fun to ride a speeding mine cart (the Kongs love mine carts) into what appears to be a haunted cave full of huge sets of alligator jaws that open and close, muscular enemies that try to smack you with wooden clubs, and deadly jumps from one set of tracks to another.
I also like how the game has numbered pads for quickly transporting from one part of the world to another in a matter of seconds; it's equally convenient how you can find one of several spinning, airborne barrels with the Kongs' faces on them and just jump in to change characters. Those two tactics save gamers from several extra hours of tediousness.
My favorite thing about Donkey Kong 64 is the nice extras it has in store for you provided you photograph enough banana fairies. Find and do well enough in the original arcade blockbuster, Donkey Kong, and it's yours to keep from then on! Rare even included the very first game they ever made, an Atari 2600 game called Jet Pac, in which you're an astronaut dodging and destroying flying aliens as you assemble a rocket and then fly up to and land on the next level of the moon. Even better are the Rambi and Enguarde mini games. Use Rambi the rhino to ram into as many bucktoothed gophers as you can; try to hit several in a row while you're in the air to score huge bonus points. My favorite of all is the Enguarde game. You control Enguarde the swordfish and make him swim and jump out of the water to go through as many DK stars as possible before time runs out. Me and my brother have played this for hours and we're convinced that the highest score possible is 375!
Most of the graphics, sounds, and controls are on the good side of the fence. Look at the lush green forests of palm trees as you listen to a catchy jungle beat in the background; explore the huge island of DK Isle as soothing keyboard and steel drums sound from your television set. The best thing about the graphics, however, is by far the characters' details and animations. All of the Kongs and enemies move fluidly with several frames of animation without any hint of slowdown, and they all seem to have their own personality. The controls, for the most part, are also well done. It's easy to do almost anything whether it's using the crosshairs to accurately aim your shots, running around kicking and punching your enemies to death, or even swinging from vine to vine with precision while you're seemingly hundreds of feet in the air.
Unfortunately, not everything about Donkey Kong 64 is great. Attempting to control Diddy's jetpack can be a major pain; some of the backgrounds in the game look a bit lackluster, and the monkey rap that plays when you first turn the game on is just plain retarded. A few of the challenges and bonus stages border on the edge of impossibility. You'll see what I mean when you race a rabbit or a monstrous beetle, and when you're expected to herd beavers into a small hole in the center of the screen in Beaver Bother.
Donkey Kong 64 has multiplayer games that up to four players can enjoy, or try to enjoy, at a time. In one, you simply fight each other on a big silver platform, and in the other, you can choose from a few levels and duke it out corridor shooting/fighting style. But what's the point? The regular fighting one gets boring after one or two rounds, and the shooting/fighting levels never end since you can fill up on all the extra energy you can find (and you can find it everywhere!).
But all of that is nothing when compared to the downright tediousness of having to collect all the stuff for each Kong in every world.
You're Lanky Kong running down a path collecting blue bananas (Lanky's represented color). You round the corner and what's this!? You see a whole row of green bananas straight ahead. So you turn around and venture back a piece to the Kong barrel and switch to Chunky. Chunky goes back to the same area and collects all those bananas with a big smile on his face. But then he reaches a dead end and sees nothing but a Donkey Kong switch on the ground. You deeply sigh and walk all the way back to the barrel, again, to change over to the flea-bitten ape that calls himself Donkey, even though he's a monkey. Once he spends about a minute walking back to the switch, he stomps it into place to open up a door, only to find several different paths, one for each different Kong, spread out in differing directions.
The verdict is in
That's what kills Donkey Kong 64 in the end, its size. Overall, it's a fun game that's a good bit like previous Nintendo 64 3-D platformers such as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, only it's a lot bigger and you have to do so much exploring and collecting that the adventure soon gets boring and feels more like a job than it does entertainment. I'm usually a very patient person when it comes to playing video games, but Donkey Kong 64 even goes beyond my patience limits at times.
All in all, Donkey Kong 64 is a terribly overhyped platformer that is slightly above average. I enjoyed the game a lot until I got to Frantic Factory (the 3rd or 4th world). From then on, the game was hit and miss for me, with more misses than hits. If Rare would have toned it down and realized that fun and replay value is where the answer lies, rather than believing whole-heartedly that bigger is better, this game could've possibly been a classic.
I haven't played through Donkey Kong 64 from start to finish but twice, and I doubt I'll have the urge to do it again before at least five more years become nothing more than a memory. The one-player adventure itself gets a 6 from me, but since I do find myself jamming in this cartridge more than often to play the extras, such as the original Donkey Kong and the Enguarde game, the score gets bumped up to an overall 7.
Are you a very, very patient gamer who loves platformers? If so, I do recommend getting Donkey Kong 64. Just be prepared to take a lot of breaks when the tediousness starts running full stride, and don't expect the game to be much like the groundbreaking Donkey Kong Country series from the Super Nintendo, because it's not. It's not as good.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 01/08/03, Updated 01/11/03
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