Donkey Kong 64-Frustration Review
Welcome, internet! Do any of you by chance remember a company called Rare? I believe they were called Rareware back in the day, but now are simply called Rare. You remember, right? They were responsible for such games as Perfect Dark, Conker's bad fur day, Goldeneye 007, and the ever popular Banjo-Kazooie series. They were also the creators of the Donkey Kong Country series, as well as many games within the Donkey Kong franchise. Today, they've made games such as...uhh...Kinect Sports: Season Two? I read that was one of the most pirated games of 2011. It must have been good, right? I don't know, I never played or pirated it. I did, however, play a game from back in their Golden days. It was an era I feel that I can call the golden days of gaming in general.
For those of you still guessing, you probably haven't read the title, or looked at the very first screenshot right there. I'm playing Donkey Kong 64. If you have played this game before, I think you'll agree with me when I say this game was fun, but frustrating. Despite that, the game shows itself off very well, and has the substance to back it up. This game once held the record for most collectibles in a platform game. It was so large, in fact, that it needed a RAM extension pack that was sold with the game just to play it. It had all of this content, plus it was enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. Unless Rare brings back a tried and true “Banjo-Threeie” I doubt they could best themselves with something like this under their belt. (Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, TNTHusky... can't forget that one)...Shut it, you! Yes I can! I can forget it, and the rest of the world should. It doesn't come close to any of the other games Rare has developed for the N64!
and so it begins
Ahem, unmentionables aside, Let's jump into Donkey Kong 64. As soon as the game loads up on your system, you see a nice little rap to introduce the characters you'll be playing as. There's the main man (ape) Donkey Kong, his sidekick Diddy Kong, the long armed Lanky Kong, the adorable but dangerous Tiny Kong, and the gigantic Chunky Kong. Once this is done, or if you skip it (I did every time, so I won't judge), you'll go to the Banjo-Kazooie like intro screen. Why am I telling you this? Because it leads to a very cool looking start menu with Donkey Kong hefting a giant barrel over his head. This is great because is psyches you up for the adventure ahead. It really made you feel like something big was coming, and it was. When you began a new game, you were dumped into a nice, tight little tutorial ground to learn the ropes of the game, but as soon as you finished there, you saw the Kong Isle for the first time. That environment was the thing dreams were made of (banana and monkey themed dreams, of course).
This brings me to the level design. It's so well merged, none of the areas feel out of place, despite looking and seeming so vastly different. They game is full of open environments, with small teleporters you can link together by walking over them so you don't have to back-track as much as you would without them. They also implement these into some of the more puzzle-like portions of the game. While I'm on the subject of the level design, let me go ahead and point out two flaws within this game. These don't interfere with the gameplay very much, but they're two problems many different N64 games were cursed with: The controls were very loose, and the camera operated badly. It would get in your way more than it did help, and the controls themselves are loose enough to feel like you're walking on ice sometimes. This was especially painful in hard platform areas later on in the game.
There is one bit of the control scheme where it feels pretty satisfying. When you swim underwater, the controls feel like they're at that sweet spot between control and vision. This makes the underwater levels much more fun. If there's a part of the controls I hate in particular, it would be using Diddy Kong's Jet pack (more on that in the later paragraphs, but for now) it hardly feels good to use in flight, mostly because you have to hold the button and control your elevation. I didn't learn you could hold your position in the air by using Z until I was close to the final boss, and it was still seldom useful.
Some other good things this game does, however, is that it makes the different characters feel unique. In this day and age, many games that offer different characters simply re-hash the same controls with different skins or animations. It's admirable when a game makes the characters different and distinquishable. In this case, you have Donkey Kong, who you not only begin with, but also need in order to get past certain “death trap” areas by jumping into a special barrel that makes him invincible, or the classic Donkey Kong “Barrel blast” segments which test your timing, and are undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of the game. Diddy has his awkwardly controlled jet pack and a long jump pad. I've mentioned how frustrating it can be to get diddy's jet pack taking him in the right place when under pressure (which you often will be later on in game), but When your only limitation is the standard crystal coconuts, it's actually kind of fun after fumbling with the controls.
Lanky Kong can do a handstand to climb up steep slopes or get a huge burst of speed in his barrel. He can also inflate himself to reach certain heights. This might feel more awkward than Diddy's jet pack, but only because it's hard to be sure of the timing when you do it, and when it will run out. Then you have Tiny Kong who can (as her name implies) shrink in size to access smaller areas that the others couldn't reach, or teleport to special places the other Kongs can't access. She also has a gliding maneuver she does by twirling around by her pigtails. This makes platforming sections a breeze with Tiny Kong.
Finally, there's Chunky Kong's abilities His first one, and one of my favorites aside from being invincible, is to grow huge. It's especially fun in one of the boss battles where you have to grow huge to beat a bug back into the lava he flew out of. Then we have one of the most dissatisfying abilities in the game. Not bad, or useless. Just Dissatisfying. Why? Mostly because certain obstacles can only be gained when Chunky uses this ability. When he steps on a pad with his face on it, he becomes invisible. Enemies can't see him and won't be alarmed by him. Certain things can only appear when he's invisible, as well. It's dissatisfying because you never actually need to avoid enemies with this ability. In fact, there's a level where being invisible is the ONLY thing you need to do in order to get a banana. In the cavern level where you get the invisibility power, there's a cave only Chunky can punch his way into. In this cave is a pad with Chunky's face on it, and a few bananas. There also happens to be a golden banana in this room. How do you get it? Super frustrating mini game? Nope, and im actually glad for that. Interesting challenge to take on? Nope, there's no challenge to it at all. You just turn invisible, and there's the banana. That's all there is to it. Let me justify myself here, though. This is one of the later levels in the game. It's one of those levels where you're prepared to face any challenge. You've learned the things you need to, and you're ready. Bring on that interesting, possibly frustrating challenge!...Oh...there's the banana...yay.
I know I've already said this, but this game is loaded with frustration, and not because of unfairness. It's a very fair challenge, but it's crafted in a way that will make you rage hard. First, let me mention the time limits. Boy does this game have a lot of them! Going for that first banana? Time limit. Need to get past that door? Time limit. Need to awkwardly fly through some stars? Time limit. There's even time limits within the time limits! In the last level, you have a certain amount of time depending on how many blueprints you've acquired throughout the game (blueprints are only picked up by the matching color kong, and taken to a guy named snide for golden bananas) you get an extra minute for every blueprint you've acquired. So, there's that time limit to complete the last level. In order to complete the last level, though, you need to finish a bunch of timed mini games, meaning you have time limits within time limits, and NONE of these timers stop when you're in a mini game, or reset when you fail a mini game (the blueprint based timer doesn't) Like I said earlier, Loaded with frustration.
Next, I want to talk about the bosses. These guys start off easy, until you get to level 3, Frantic Factory. Here you find the most annoying, and difficult boss in the entire game (even more so than King K. Rool). His name is Mad Jack, and he may be mad in the crazy sense, but he's going to make you mad in the angry sense. You have to use Tiny Kong to jump from platform to platform to avoid Mad Jack until he stops. If you fall off even once, you have to start all over from that point. If you do manage to avoid him long enough, he'll stop, and two switches will appear. You have to jump over to the switch on the matching platform in order to electrocute him while he throws fireballs at you with an accuracy that none of the previous bosses come close to. You will rage while fighting this guy.
All in all, this game was a lot of fun, and a lot of frustration packed into a cartridge. It shows exactly what kinds of games Rareware was capable of, and managed to make a solid transition into the 3D spectrum of gaming. I would love to see another 3D Donkey Kong game in similar fashion to this one, but there is no way I could pick this game up again after the three days of frustration it caused me. I couldn't even finish this game. I managed to get to the final boss, but I couldn't beat him. Not that he wasn't beatable. I just couldn't deal with that kind of frustration anymore. Who knows? Maybe you can. But if you really want to see the amazing things Rareware did back in the day, do yourself a favor, and pick up this game as well as an n64. Seriously, you can buy an entire console and multiple games for the price of most games out there if you know where to look. I, however, am not going to go looking. Instead, I'm going to go play Harvest Moon for a week, and do research on the theraputic effects of simulation games like harvest moon, animal crossing, and other such games. In the meantime, see you guys soon!