Donkey Kong 64
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Rare
  • Publisher:
    • Rare
  • Released:
    • US 10/31/1999
    • UK 12/06/1999
    • JP 12/10/1999
Score: 65%

This review was published on 08/11/2012.

Donkey Kong 64 was the first and last Donkey Kong game to be released on the Nintendo 64 console. It's an exploration heavy 3-D platform game in the same vein as Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. After the success of the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo, Rare was assigned with the task of creating this game as the 3-D follow up. Rare had already proven they could make a solid 3-D platform game by making Banjo-Kazooie, so Nintendo felt comfortable in allowing them to handle this beloved franchise for its first foray into the 3-D realm. The hype for this game was immense. Donkey Kong 64 itself was also immense; so immense that it's one of three N64 games to require the Expansion Pak. The Expansion Pak gives the N64 additional memory to do more than what the system was originally designed for. There was a lot on the line with Donkey Kong 64. The process of transitioning a pre-established 2-D series into the 3-D realm is a perilous one. Donkey Kong 64 was poised to be one of the greatest games in history, but is instead a tremendous disappointment.

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King K. Rool, the reptilian antagonist from the Donkey Kong Country series, returns in Donkey Kong 64 to do more evil deeds. Donkey Kong is the hero of this adventure, and he must put a stop to K. Rool's evil schemes once more. This time the lizard king decides to kidnap all of Donkey Kong's friends and steal away all of the golden bananas. I'm not sure about the motive behind this plan. Sure, it's an evil plan, but why is a lizard interested in capturing monkeys and stealing their bananas? Something doesn't add up here. It never does. King K. Rool resides in an island fortress of sorts, one that can sail the seas and mount assaults on other islands. I have to admit, that's cool. What's less cool is that his minions moronically crash this island fortress into Donkey Kong's home island. Donkey Kong then awakes from his slumber and ventures forth into enemy territory, where he discovers an enormous lizard locked inside a cage. The lizard's name is K. Lumsy, and King K. Rool locked the lizard away for being such a goody-two-shoes. Donkey Kong agrees to help the clumsy K. Lumsy by going out to six varied worlds and collecting the six keys necessary to open the cage. This seems like it has nothing to do with anything, but it's actually your main objective in the game. Donkey Kong would sooner assist a shady reptile than save his imperiled friends. That doesn't speak too well of him.

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The first thing you'll see, or rather, hear when you turn on Donkey Kong 64 is the DK Rap. It's perhaps one of the goofiest rap songs ever written. Rap is totally inappropriate for a game like this, and this isn't even good rap. That said, it's hard to say whether or not this increases the game's appeal. On the one hand, this is an ill omen for things to come. On the other hand, this rap is hilariously bad, to the point where it's almost enjoyable. It's safe to say that Rare or Nintendo shouldn't be in the business of writing rap tunes. I can't fathom what they were thinking when they came up with this. I'm assuming Nintendo or Rare wanted to capitalize on rap's increasing popularity at the time. Most people would consider this a lame thing to do, especially since these companies weren't hip enough to understand the rap sensation that was overtaking the United States. These companies aren't even from the U.S. Despite that, they tried their hardest to appeal to the younger demographic with a sad attempt at hip hop. The hop was there, but they forgot the hip part.

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The big draw to this game is the large cast of playable characters. There are five of them in all, and first up is Donkey Kong. Donkey is equipped with the typical abilities a platform hero normally has: he can run, jump, climb trees, swim, and do a butt stomp that will shake the ground. It's also possible to perform a high jump or long jump. These are abilities shared by all of Donkey's friends. While Donkey Kong is the all around type, the other Kongs specialize in different abilities. Diddy Kong, Donkey's trusty sidekick from the past, is nimble and can jump higher than the rest. Diddy can also use a jetpack to fly around in some areas, which is cool. This is the ape of choice for getting around. Lanky Kong is a funny looking ape with a clown nose on his face. Lanky can walk on his long arms to get up steep slopes, and he is proficient underwater. Tiny Kong is like the spiritual successor to Dixie Kong from the Donkey Kong Country series, being a blonde, female monkey that can use her hair to twirl in the air to briefly hover over the ground. Tiny's hair comes in handy for tough platform challenges. She can also shrink down to size and enter small areas. The last Kong is Chunky Kong. Chunky's main ability is brute force, being that he can lift heavy things and smash stuff with his immense strength. You must enter a tag barrel to switch characters, because you can only control one at a time. With the exception of Donkey Kong, you'll have to rescue all the other characters as you play through the game. It's a nice reward to acquire a new character when solving a puzzle, and this is a reward you'll get to experience four times.

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Donkey Kong 64 goes about its game play just like the games it copies: there is a hub world that leads to other worlds, and you explore these worlds to find collectibles in order to open up new areas. The game Donkey Kong 64 takes the most inspiration from is Banjo-Kazooie, because even a lot of the sound effects and music sound alike. Mario 64 had you collecting stars, and Donkey Kong 64 has you collecting golden bananas. These golden bananas are the main form of progress in the game. You usually have to solve a puzzle or beat a mini-game to find golden bananas. The game unabashedly copies Mario 64 in a few spots with on foot races and slide races, both of which aren't as good as the source material it copies. If you thought Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie were collect-a-thons, then you should see Donkey Kong 64. This game practically invented the term. The sheer amount of things to collect in each level is overwhelming. The five playable characters each have to collect 5 golden bananas per level, 100 regular bananas per level, banana medals, blueprints, banana coins, and much more. It's just overkill to have this much stuff to collect. Rare should be notified that having more collectibles doesn't necessarily make a better game. The collectibles in this game are also character exclusive, which is another problem. That means only Donkey Kong can pick up yellow bananas and yellow coins, only Diddy Kong can pick up red bananas and red coins, etc. If you see bananas, coins, or any item of any other color, another one of Donkey's friends will have to pick them up. I don't see why you can't pick up the items with any character. It's an annoying method to force the player to utilize every character equally. The amount of times you'll have to switch characters gets very irritating later on, especially considering the cumbersome process of doing so. On the bright side, every level has a few teleport pads that can be used to quickly teleport to key locations. This isn't enough to alleviate the core issues, but it helps.

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Donkey and his friends all have a weapon they can buy from Funky Kong's weapon shop and an instrument from Candy Kong's music shop. The weapons are what you would expect; you can shoot stuff like coconuts and peanuts for a long range attack that will activate switches or defeat foes, provided you picked up enough ammo. Candy's instruments are a bit less useful, but no less necessary to complete your journey, because many areas in the game can only be unlocked by playing a particular instrument. In addition to all of that, all the characters can pick up and throw grenades. The Kongs sure are packing a lot of heat. Cranky Kong is a scientist this time around, and he makes potions that your characters can buy to learn new moves. Sometimes the moves require crystal coconuts, which you can pick up throughout the levels. Lastly, a weasel named Snide will give you golden bananas for any blueprints you find. If you think this all sounds too convoluted, that's because it is too convoluted. The controls for the weapons, instruments, gadgets, and various moves quickly become confusing, due to there being so much to keep track of. Almost every maneuver requires the player to hold down the Z trigger and press one of the C buttons. This is uncomfortable, especially when it comes to pulling out your weapons. The Kongs can't run or jump too well when wielding their equipment, so you have to immediately put it away once you're done. Again, this requires pressing the same, archaic button combination. Some of the moves are just flat out stupid, as well. The perfect example of this is a move Donkey Kong learns to pull levers. I don't see why he wasn't able to do that before. You don't need special moves in other games to do something as simple as pulling a lever. I think even an ape can figure out how to do that one.

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Two things are needed to access new worlds: golden bananas and the giant keys. The giant keys will unlock paths to new worlds, but you won't actually be able to enter those worlds until you've collected the necessary amount of golden bananas. Initially, it may not be clear what you need to do in order to complete a given level, besides collect everything under the sun. The objective is to find the boss door inside the level and fight the boss to win one of the six keys. Of course, it's never that simple. In order to actually fight the boss, you will need to collect a specific amount of bananas. Thankfully, the game will add up all the different colored bananas you've collected with every character, which helps in reaching the required number. Unfortunately, finding the specified bananas becomes a huge stumbling block later in the game. These bananas are small, hidden in devious ways, and there are vast quantities of them. This makes gathering them a problem. You'll need hundreds of bananas to unlock some of the latter boss doors. Life in Donkey Kong 64 quickly amounts to the player aimlessly wandering about, trying to scrounge up as many bananas as possible. Once the amount of bananas is finally gathered, the boss door opens unceremoniously. Each boss can only be fought by a particular character, and that character's unique abilities are occasionally pivotal to the boss' demise. There isn't anything remarkable about the boss fights themselves. You figure out how to hurt the boss, and then you perform that same action enough times to defeat it. Donkey Kong 64 doesn't do a whole lot to spice up this formula. The first few bosses are tolerable, but the latter boss fights tend be tedious. Rare decided to re-use a few of the bosses, which gives me the sense that the game may have been rushed. The only good thing about the bosses is that they can be visually impressive for a Nintendo 64 game.

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Donkey Kong 64 is a perfect example of what not to do in a 3-D platform game. There are too many things to collect, too much backtracking, too much character switching, and too much of every other element that makes a game repetitive. The worlds in Donkey Kong 64 are all designed to befuddle players as opposed to delight them with exploration. Donkey Kong 64 isn't a terrible game, but its many faults prevent it from becoming the spectacular title that it tried to be.

Word Count: 2,046

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