Donkey Kong 64 review
Bronze banana


Donkey Kong is that one name that manages to stick out amongst people, no matter who they are. If it's not the Country trilogy for the SNES, it's the arcade classic, which is quite a pioneer in the gaming world. Of course, when Donkey Kong 64 was on its way (and about time, at that), everybody and their mothers wanted in on it. They had just finished Banjo-Kazooie for the 55th time and are starving for some new platformers. With news of an expansion pak enhancing the graphics of the game, people were going ape for the game. Literally, everybody with an N64 wanted this because of the inclusion of the expansion pak to enhance the graphics! How did it turn out? Good, actually. There's some bits that make me think the jump to 3D wasn't as successful for the big ape as it was for our elven and plumber heroes, but was still noteworthy for being fun and enjoyable most of the time.

King K Rool and his crocodile-looking cronies prepare to destroy Donkey Kong's home after they apenap his friends Diddy, Lanky, Tiny and Chunky, and steal all of the golden bananas he treasures so much. Originally, K Rool wanted to just smash it to bits, but since the rocks were too sturdy, the ship breaks down. The smart reptilian bloodshot tyrannical ruler has a better idea - fire a high powered laser at the island, but since the smash destroyed the generator... I guess he has to wait. A parrot flies over to Donkey Kong's treehouse and tells him whatever it was I just told you, and now he embarks on a quest to retrieve the bananas and rescue his buddies.

Now, this game just teased my dick in the beginning scene. How? Voice acting. Yes, voice acting, something that isn't done all that often on the N64 (Lylat Wars has voice acting, but A) it was of somewhat low quality, and B) Slippy Toad made me want to kill myself, and Conker's Bad Fur Day, another title made by Rare, has voice acting throughout the whole thing too). K Rool and a random crone speak, and goddamn, that quality is sexy, as well as K Rool's voice! It made me expect more, but unfortunately, the rest of the dialog in the game is through either thought bubbles, or some lines at the bottom whenever you enter a level. No more voice acting, which is a bit of a pain in the dick. A minor setback on their part, and maybe it was due to limitations (hint: expand the power of the expansion pak.. oh, wait, I'm 11 years too late now haha), but an annoyance nonetheless.

The rest of the audio department fares well. In typical Rare fashion, the composers manage a fun loving soundtrack that manages to suit the location. The Aztec level has a few desert tunes going - one for outside, and one for the ruins, while the water level has a chill song for the land area, and a more atmospheric tune for the other sections. Based on that, each level has at least two tunes accompanying them. This is a nice addition, since the levels are massive, and hearing the same song for over a half hour, as good as each tune is, would get tiring. Furthermore, there are songs for each situation, like when you're flying in a jetpack as Diddy, or larger than the hulk as Chunky. Again, each piece of music accommodates its setting very well.

Now, let's see how that expansion pak does...

Well, it doesn't seem to do much in terms of enhancements. It just looks slightly better than Banjo-Kazooie (which is nothing more than colorful looking locations, some pretty nice looking models for the late 90s, and some decent textures here and there for then), though the enhancements must be in the fact that it can store more shit in it, like the larger environments and Kong-specific stuff. Though maybe it's just me, but this game lags like hell at times. Sometimes when there's a bit too much going on screen, the game lags. Typical, it happens to the best of us during the first half of the first decade of the new millennium, but for boasting new technology, it makes the game feel like it lacks degrees of finish, like they overlooked something during the play testing.

Let’s get down to business, people – the gameplay. If you’ve played through Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, this is mostly nothing new to you. You explore big environments, jump some gaps, swim, and – most importantly – collect the golden bananas in order to progress through all of the levels leading up to the big showdown against K Rool. There are some differences, like the ability to switch characters while in the level, but yeah, it’s mostly familiar territory…

…seriously, who gives a shit if it’s nothing new? It’s fun, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Yes, because of the resurgence of two classic arcade titles, Donkey Kong and Jet Pac. Yes, because a few of the mini games get frantic and get you excited. Yes, because the bosses are a delight to fight. No, because traversing through a level 5 times to collect 5 sets of collectibles is *bleep*ing redundant. No, because some mini games are either flawed or just stupid.

The basic gameplay, however, is just moving around the large levels Banjo-Kazooie style. Suffice it to say... there isn’t a whole lot of platforming to do in the actual levels. Yes, there’s a vine here and there. Yes, there are a few ledges either too far apart, or too high. Meh. Banjo-Kazooie and Mario 64 has a hell of a lot more than this, so really, to call it a platformer is a bit misleading. It’s more of an adventure game that takes cues from platformers... regardless, exploring levels seem interesting the first time. However, due to the fact that the only real interesting aspects come from the mini games and boss fights, going through levels more than once is pretty boring. There isn’t a whole lot to really do on the actual levels themselves, except maybe upgrade your weapons and learn new moves while locating the bananas. Whoopee.

I mean, one could argue that Banjo-Kazooie could suffer from that, but here’s the difference – Banjo-Kazooie’s levels allow for a fair amount of platforming, the occasional puzzle solving moments, and, above all else, the ability to only really explore it once. If it’s not the look and feel of Donkey Kong 64’s levels that feels drab in comparison to the competition, it’s certainly the amount of times you have to explore them. There may be bits only a certain Kong can explore, but goddamn *bleep*ing witch titties, the levels still feel like going through the motions... and having motion sickness, at that.

Some genius over at Rare decided that in order to complete the game, multiple characters have to explore the levels in order to satisfy the minimum requirements; that being a certain amount of golden bananas to enter the next level, or an aggregate amount of regular bananas between the 5 Kongs in order to feed a fat hippo to get the chance to fight the boss. And let me tell you a secret – the bananas, both golden and regular, aren’t all in obvious locations. Sometimes, you have to explore every nook and cranny in order to get them all. With the appeal of a second rate soda drink behind it, you just don’t care, but you have to, because you can’t get to the boss without getting the goddamn bananas!

Before I have a panic attack over the levels, I’ll switch over to the mini games. Varying from vine jumping to trees to collect coins, to swimming in order to collect coins, to shooting little alligators so they don’t eat the fairies, to shooting the gold banana AS QUICK AS POSSIBLE without shooting one of the Kongs (that timer waits for no man), to... other mini games... Essentially, most of them can be pretty fun. I’ll admit, there are duds, and just some plain average ones. The average ones are so average, I can only remember the objective, and that’s it. As for the bad ones, I’d rather contract AIDS than describe in great detail how crap they are. To sum them up, they’re either so damn uninteresting, you feel more like exploring these drab levels than playing these games (ie. Slot machine), or they’re so far up a gorilla’s asshole, it stinks of shit due to shoddy programming (ie. That one where you have to scare beavers into a hole).

However, the ones that are fun... they’ll be the ones that hold you over. The feeling of killing a bunch of alligators in barrels kind of like a whack a mole game is awesome. How about the feeling of killing more of them with your guns? Hell, why not just smack them out to let fairies through? They get pretty frantic, and usually, you really get into them, because you want to beat them, and rub it in its face, but at the same time, you can’t help but play this because it’s so satisfying winning through sharp reflexes and/or sheer badassery. Hell, you get to ride on a mine cart, dodging whatever comes your way. Anybody with half a brain will tell you that these sections are a lot of fun! Reflexes galore towards the end, but it’s always worth it with a smile on your face, and the satisfaction of conquering an awesome challenge.

Once you have enough regular bananas, you fight a boss. Are they as intense as the awesome mini games, or as drab as the actual levels? Surprisingly enough, there’re pretty damn good. Each boss carries their own set of tricks, like the dragon who needs to be hit by exploding barrels, or the armadillo packed with more firepower than Rambo. Of course, you have to combat them with some quick thinking. Use what’s around you is the strategy. See a barrel? Wait for the boss to stop and then throw it. See some switches? Wait for the boss to stop and then activate. It’s all good, rewarding, etc etc. This is one of those things you have to try for yourself, since it’s not exactly the easiest thing to explain without making absolutely no sense at all.

Donkey Kong 64 isn’t a terrible game; just one that lingers on redundancy. Mini games and bosses are quite a treat, evoking feelings of excitement; the actual levels are just boring to explore, and asking the player to do this 5 times per level is just rude. The graphics aren’t as impressive as they could’ve been, given that the expansion pak was meant to enhance the performance of them, not just feel the same. But hey, the soundtrack was pretty cool, and the voice acting that was there was actually quite good, though more would’ve been excellent. It’s hard to recommend, since it doesn’t have the same spark other Rare classics do. Eh, what’s the worst that could happen if you play this... I mean, it’s not like it’s a bad game or anything...

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