Donkey Kong 64 review
It's not the size that matters; it's how you use it that matters

The good:

It looks nice and at least controls alright. It's got some good ideas here and there too, and the boss fights are actually quite good, as are the few mine cart sections.

The bad:

It just feels like a generic platformer. It's also pretty tedious, and just a nightmare when you're going for 101%. Add in some lag, some technical imperfections and a surprisingly mediocre soundtrack, and yeah, this just doesn't really work.


Released in 1999 by Rare, Donkey Kong 64 is a fine example of shitting all over a legacy in favor of doing exactly what everybody else is doing, and adding many flavors of tedium in a vain effort to differentiate itself from the competition. I'm sorry; it's just that the Donkey Kong arcade games (not including the third game and that math "game") were pretty good for their time and the Donkey Kong Country trilogy is fantastic, and to make the transition to 3D like this... this generic platformer that feels less like a 3D Donkey Kong Country and more like an extremely inferior version of Banjo-Kazooie.

King K Rool has had enough of Donkey Kong and his shenanigans, so instead of kidnapping and stealing, he's just going to kill them with a death ray. Fortunately, his ship crashes, causing the machine to malfunction, so he has his goons kidnap Donkey Kong's buddies and steal his stash of golden bananas to buy him some time until the machine is fixed. But with Donkey Kong on the case, you know that K Rool will not succeed! There ARE some cutscenes, although apart from the introductory scene and the last few scenes, they serve as funny little parts before you enter a new level. At least this is done alright.

In Donkey Kong 64, each level is connected by a singular hub world, though not all of them are immediately accessible. In order to access them, you must go to levels that you can access and collect the keys to a cage by defeating a boss, on top of collecting the golden bananas K Rool had stolen. Already, I'm getting images of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie in my head, but that's alright, because the former set up the template for 3D platformers and the latter was made by the same company.

However, it's not alright to screw up the FUN. Let me put it in simple terms - this game feels like a tedious collectathon. When you rescue all of Donkey Kong's mates (which will happen in level 3), you'll find yourself having to go through each of the 7 levels about 5 times, just to collect 5 lots of golden bananas, regular bananas and coins, shoot 5 lots of switches, and play 5 lots of music instruments to activate 5 lots of scripted events. Even if you're going for the bare minimum, you'll be required to switch characters frequently just to collect their items because the one you're using right now can't collect those red bananas - only yellow bananas, and he can only shoot coconut switches, not peanut switches, and he can't use jetpack barrels; only invincibility barrels. There are also instances where you'll need to have multiple characters access a building. What this means is that you have one open it up, have him do his stuff, then switch to another character that can enter, and repeat the process, including the opening of that building. It doesn't sound bad, but later along the line, this ends up getting rather tedious because you're simply going back and forth.

And man, for a game based on using 5 characters, it feels like it was meant just for one. Typically, you have to shoot a few switches, play your musical instrument somewhere, play a mini game, smash something, play a mini game, navigate a building, kill a certain type of enemy and play a mini game. I don't understand why we need to have 5 characters for this, because they are all interchangable as far as I'm concerned. There are so few truly character exclusive bananas, like ones requiring Diddy's jetpack, or Tiny's/Chunky's size, that it just boggles the mind. Honestly, they did have some great ideas, but the execution just feels like they phoned it in and decided that quantity is more important than quality. It's especially evident in the level designs, which are mostly barren, with maybe a few enemies in an area... again, they had good ideas; it's just tedious to go through it, that's all...

..and by the way, the coins are used to purchase moves, weapons, musical instruments and their upgrades. Upgrades and a couple of moves only require one character to purchase them, but everything else requires that all 5 of them purchase them with their own coins. I'd love to say that it all makes the characters unique, but not necessarily. The moves, yeah, they do their job. Whether it lets Chunky giant, Tiny tiny, Diddy fly in a jetpack, Lanky inflate like a balloon and walk really fast with his hands, and Donkey Kong become invincible... again, it feels likes they had some great ideas, but usually, one banana per character per level require them. As for the weapons and musical instruments... they're practically interchangable. If there's a difference between Chunky's pineapple launcher and Donkey Kong's coconut shooter, or Diddy's guitar and Tiny's saxophone, it's nearly impossible to distinguish.

God help you if you are going for 101%. You'll be at these levels for hours and hours. I understand that Banjo-Kazooie's shortness was a little unforgivable, but that's because we wanted more of a fantastic platformer. This? About 30 or so hours in, and honestly, I want them back.

What really annoys me is the amount of times where you have to play a mini game in order to get the golden bananas. I suppose that's not a bad way to go about it because Rare had practically written the book on 3D platformers - entitled Banjo-Kazooie - and they felt like shaking things up, but the execution isn't quite there. Thankfully, they're kept simple, but they're not exactly fun. Some mini games have you shooting Kremlims (bipedal crocodiles), some have you shooting something else, one has you sneaking around, one has you swatting flies, and one is a *bleep*ing broken pile of shit-- I-I mean has you scaring beavers into a hole. Some of these are fun, like anything that involves shooting those pesky crocodiles, but some, like swatting flies and scaring beavers, are just really tedious. Oh, and it commits the sin of repetition - that is, you have to play a mini game more than once. Sorry Rare old chap, but only Mario Party can do this because Mario Party's mini games are snappy, fun and can be played with multiple people! I don't mind playing the fun mini games more than once, but bad ones like the slot machine and the one where you scare beavers? No thank you. Once is plenty.

As a bonus, you get to play the original Donkey Kong game, and one of Rare's earliest games, Jetpack. Both of them are arcade classics that are very simple by today's standards, but they're still fun, plus you get some rewards out of them. But I have to be honest... I had more fun with those two games than this one. Those two games had simple goals that focused on the quality, which this was more about the quantity of items and the size of levels as opposed to actually utilizing them properly.

It could've been a great game too, because it does do a few things right. For one thing, it has warp zones, so you can warp from one bit of a level to another. Man, this just helps make the game more bearable. Not enough, but it helps ease the pain at least. Plus, there are a fair few barrels that let you change characters, although constant back and forth when gunning for 101% or even the minimum required to proceed can be a little annoying, but at least they're trying, so at least they're trying to make things good...

Another thing are the mine cart parts. You only get a few of these in the game, but they're enough to keep you awake. The aim is to have 50 or more coins before the end of the ride, though there are many obstacles to keep you at bay. But these obstacles do a great job of keeping the adrenaline running as you go through these sections - something that the rest of the game has trouble doing. They may not be as hard as those found in Donkey Kong Country... but maybe that's for the best, because those levels, while fun, were initially quite frustrating and not necessarily satisfying (the one from the first Donkey Kong Country game, especially) - this is fun and once it ends, you'll end up wishing there was more.

Lastly, there are the bosses. Although having to collect the regular bananas required to enter was a little on the annoying side, it pays off, because the boss fights are fun! The fights revolve around dodging attacks and then retaliating by throwing an object (usually an explosive barrel), and then rinse lather repeat. But the way that they go about it is just fun. Perhaps it's because it actually felt like a quality > quantity thing as you're not throwing multiple objects at once while pressing down on 3 switches in a specific order; nope, you're dodging a series of attacks while/and then countering with an attack of your own.

...I've ommitted multiplayer from the review, mainly because it's shallow, boring and not even worth your time. Simply put, you either fight each other, or set aside your differences and fight waves of enemies off. Although it, in a sense, sets up the foundation of multiplayer games to come (Gears Of War, especially, comes to mind)... I'd like to think that it's because this didn't do a good job of it.

Now, Donkey Kong 64 was the first game to require the usage of Nintendo's then-new Expansion Pack, which increased the system's memory. This was necessary in order to support the giant levels, although even the system thinks they're too big, because it has a tendency to lag sometimes. I guess it, at least, explains why the graphics, although nice looking, aren't all that good technically. I mean, the animations are smooth and the colors are vibrant enough, but the levels look a bit jagged, the textures are a bit flat (flatter than Banjo-Kazooie, actually), and the levels, especially the hub world, are empty... actually, I take that back - it doesn't explain shit! The graphics simply look nice, but don't really cut it when you actually look into them!

As we all know, Rare games tend to have fantastic soundtracks, ESPECIALLY DONKEY KONG COUNTRY! So you'd think with a 3D successor that they'd bring their A-game. Nope. More like their C-game, because the soundtrack is actually rather mediocre. It sounds alright, at least it doesn't hurt your ears, and they do have the appropriate ambiance to go with the levels, but as far as memorability and overall quality goes, it just doesn't do anything right. It's like a song that just goes in one ear and out the other; nothing's happening, nothing's happening.. it's over; everybody looks pissed. But I must hand it to whoever did the voice acting, because it is actually good. K Rool sounds really menacing, and the goons definitely feel like goons. Sadly, that only lasts for one scene - afterwards, it's just words at the bottom of the screen. I am one disappointed person.

Oh, and the DK Rap... it's cheesy, but enjoyable, even if it's whiter than Vanilla Ice...

Gameplay - 4/10 - There are a few things done right, like the bosses and the few mine cart stages, and it does have some good ideas, but actually playing through the game is tedious due to how big everything is and how much stuff there is... and yet, you're only really doing the same few things again and again. It feels less like a platformer and more like what would happen if Mario Party was a platformer instead of a board game and it had some bad mini games with a few good ones.
Controls - 3.5/5 - They can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, especially ones involving Z and the C buttons, but after a while, they start to feel very natural. Everything responds quite finely, so no real issues here... unless you're controlling Diddy Kong's jetpack - in which case, good luck with stiff controls.
Story - 4/5 - The first scene does a good job of exposition, and the rest of the scenes are at least entertaining enough.
Graphics - 4/5 - From first glance, they're not that much better looking than the N64 games that didn't require an Expansion Pack, though given the scale, eh, I guess it looks good. It lags a bit here and there, though, and there are some lackluster bits and pieces.
Sound - 3/5 - The soundtrack is alright, though hardly catchy, and far from Rare's usually high standard. The voice acting in the first scene was good... just wish they kept it up. Love the DK Rap, though.

Overall - 2.5/5 - Donkey Kong 64 is a game that could've been another Rare classic, had it not been so bloated with collectibles! Quantity > quality was on its mind from day one, and that's what ultimately destroyed it.

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0 thumbs!
EricF Jan 10, 12
I've always found it tough to execute a good review from a game I disliked, but you've done it really well in this piece. Sort of made me want to write up my next review (of a game I was rather disappointed by!). Very well done, keep it up!
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