Donkey Kong 64 Review
If Nintendo and Rare had an agenda through subliminal messaging then I present to you the game that is the king of repetition: Donkey Kong 64.
As always I like to delve into my personal history with this game. I got the N64 for my birthday as a surprise present from my two older brothers and I was a happy camper. It came with Banjo Kazooie and I was quite smitten with this game. The 3D levels and exploration where just fascinating and I had a fondness for the weird repetitive noises the characters made when their dialogue boxes appeared. Banjo Kazooie turned out to be a very evil game maybe even worse than smoking because it was probably my first venture into a collecting style game. Where in order to progress in the game you have to collect multiple items to get further and further until you finish the game and then you are left to go cold turkey, cold and shivering in the corner. Where do I go from here with my life? Why am I here? Sorry, I got distracted. So these collecting games were huge especially on N64. Mario 64 did this (even though I didn’t play this till a lot later). Over on the Playstation the Spyro series did this (very well in my opinion go listen to that podcast and read the review, please). Rare worked on Banjo Kazooie and I think they must have thought, “how can we take collecting to the next level?” and “what can we do with that Donkey Kong fellow?” Well along came Donkey Kong 64 which is a game that took the collecting concept and turned it up to the max and beyond. I brought this game (with the required expansion pack) and was expecting a nice casual collecting experience. Instead I ended up getting a monkey rap song in my head, which still leaves an imprint on my consciousness to this day and venturing on a collecting journey which took me well over a year to finish in its entirety. I left the cave that was my room with my first fully grown beard ready to return to reality and life again having never looked back since, until this game club. Now jokes aside I actually really liked this game a lot back in the day and it wasn’t the only one I played throughout the year. This was actually a common pattern for me oddly with N64 titles. Even Orcarina of Time took me over a year of on and off playing, I was just that type of gamer then. Donkey Kong 64 felt like a title I really got my moneys worth, not only because it was long but because I got the expansion pack which enhanced some of my other games like Turok 2 (any excuse to mention this game). Sadly I lost my N64 collection to one of my brothers who probably went on to sell the collection so I lost my original copy and my 101% save file. So to prepare for this Game Club I decided to go for the WiiU virtual console version and bravely start from scratch and try to finish this game in a month instead of a year. But that’s enough excessive babbling about my history its time to review this game today.
Donkey Kong 64 by Rare gets you pumped for the tone of the game by introducing you to the DK rap. Yes, the first thing you watch in this game is a cheese ball 90s monkey rap that introduces you to all the playable characters in this game. Now, many sources claim this rap is awful but I call total poppycock on that and state this rap number is genius and anyone who says it sucks probably still sings it in there head with pleasant joy. This song drills into your head and it will never leave, and its goofed up brilliance that Rare was well known for at this at the time. You’re then greeted to a ‘press start’ screen which demo’s gameplay of the experience. I don’t know why, but, I really miss this games. When you exit a game session and return to the screen you will see different demoed footage and its refreshing to see in a game today especially with its cheery music.
When you start the story you’re greeted to a goofy cutscene of bad croc K-Rool capturing some of the Kong family and take over Kong island. Of course silly K-Rool misses Donkey and his bare naked ass (which you will have a vivid view throughout the game) and he begins a quest to save the Kongs and his golden bananas, oh and the island of course. Donkey Kong soon bumps into a giant imprisoned Kong known as K-Lumsy. Who is locked in a giant cage and needs 8 giant keys to free him. Are we starting to see a theme yet? So your goal is to free this dangerous yet loveable giant croc to take down K-Rool. In order to get these keys you need to visit levels which you can only enter with golden bananas. To get the keys in the levels you need to collect coloured bananas to unlock the boss room to get the key. As you progress in the game you will rescue the other four Kongs which become playable. You can switch between the playable Kongs by entering particular barrels which are scattered around the levels. Each individual Kong can collect 5 golden bananas per level as well as collect 100 little bananas all of which can only be obtained by the specific Kong. If this is starting to feel like a check list its because that’s what the progression of this game feels like. You collect and collect until hurts. You will have to revisit older levels once you have unlocked all the Kongs to hunt down all the collectables as well. More golden bananas unlock more levels but you actually only need 50% of the total golden bananas to reach the final segment of the game. Of course if you are a keen collector you will be quite driven to collect as much as possible. I have to say the collecting is a lot of fun in this game if you like that sort of experience. Golden bananas are generally obtained by completing mini games and through light exploration. Certain mini games particularly one called Beaver Bother made me want to track down my original copy of the game and fling it out of a window. But since I went digital for this experience I had to settle for the WiiU tablet instead. Nothing felt impossible though, even if you get knocked out in the game (if you die basically) you just begin at the start of the level but anything you collected is automatically stored so you never have to collect anything twice. The WiiU version allows a save state feature so if you really struggle with some of the mini games this will help you get through some of the more aggravating experiences if you need it.
Each Kong has their own personality and controls pretty well in the 3D platforming space. You can unlock specific abilities for each creature although many are similar. Each ape can be armed with a hilarious monkey gun like the Coconut shooter that Donkey Kong sports. This game was deemed suitable for all ages in the UK but I found it kinda fun that every time you equip your wooden weapon your Kong would let out a psychotic cheer (remember guns are bad kids unless they’re made of wood and fire fruit). It all adds to the quircky charm of this game and you’d have to be pretty thick skinned not to laugh at some of the goofy humour in the game. The only problem I had with the controls was the camera can get a little awkward at times sometimes it just won’t centre when you want it to. There are segments in this game where you will require pretty good 3D platforming skills under a quick time limit and the camera just will not play ball under these stresses. The game feels most suited to the N64 controller but the WiiU does let you map the controls to your liking which I did and I created a control layout that worked for me.
The boss battles are enjoyable in this game most of the encounters require you to learn the pattern and strike at the right moment. Unfortunately two of the boss encounters are repeated with some mild alterations (like the mini games) which gives the impression this game was somewhat rushed in its production. However, the final boss encounter is pretty epic and well worth reaching as your in for quite the challenge and once again the goofy humour carries over into these fights.
Donkey Kong 64 also has has a habit of providing some pleasant surprises. There’s the opportunity to play through a prefect emulation of Donkey Kong arcade in the game as well as one of Rares classic games Jetpac that was released on the ZX Spectrum. You’ll have to master both games to see this game to the end but if you collect enough banana fairies (yet another game collectable) you can unlock the games to play at your leisure in the main menu.
Overall, I was initially terrified to play through this game again but I ended up having a great time. The collecting aspect feels like a gameplay style that seems to have gone away in games today. Although we may see a resurgence of this style in the form of Yooka Laylee which at the point of writing this review is yet to be released. Donkey Kong 64 is a casual platforming, collecting obsession which you can dip in and out of at your own leisure. The humours great, its great to see an old game not take itself too seriously. It’s also worth mentioning this game very much stands quite uniquely we’ll probably never see a game like this in future since the Donkey Series has currently returned to a 2D style and with Rare in bed with Microsoft these days, this game stands up well today. A treasure from the golden era of 3D platforming. I do recommend not rushing this game, take your time, remember to go outside now and then (you should do that anyway), also shower hygiene is very important. If you hate collecting games stay well clear otherwise boot this game up and listen to the rap, it might actually make you forget the Ducktales theme, or maybe it won’t. One thing is for sure this game will make you have banana filled nightmares for years to come “ooooh banana.”
Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)
Donkey Kong 64 is available on the Nintendo 64 where it requires the 4MB expansion pack to play, so be sure your console is equipped when purchasing a used copy. It can alternatively be found on the Virtual Console, but only on the Wii U and only in the US and Europe.