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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Rare PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 31, 1999 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

Ohhh! Banana!

Donkey Kong 64 would definitely get my award for "Game With Most Expletives Shouted At It In A Single Playthrough". It was definitely a controller-smashing experience and an f-bomb festival. Donkey Kong 64 is a game that I both hate to hate and love to love, yet I must love it and hate it at the same time. It has the best of intentions and is, essentially, a solid title. However, by the same token, there are simply some aspects of the game that frustrated me to no end and cannot be ignored. ...and yet, I cannot say no to a game like this. So let's form a Kong-a line and make our way into the world of DK64.

The game takes place on and around DK Isle, home of the famed Kong troupe... well, okay, only some of them are famous. If you actually purchased this game, you should likely already be familiar with the main man, Donkey Kong. And if you followed the SNES games, you should know about his cap-donning nephew, Diddy Kong. But three new characters are added to the family: Tiny Kong, the younger sister to master ponytail floater Dixie Kong; Lanky Kong, an orangutan with the ability to stretch his arms out in elastic fashion; and Chunky Kong, who's supposedly Kiddy Kong's older brother from DKC3 and is, well, really big. Plus you have all the other staple members of the D.K. Crew, though their roles have been greatly twisted, perhaps not always for the better. Funky Kong, the former surfer, jet barrel maintainer, and boatswain, has now transformed into a military junkie whose primary purpose is to sell you weaponry and ammunition upgrades. Like that's what we need: more army fanatics, especially amongst the tranquility of DK Isle. Cranky Kong, the resident cantankerous miser and naysayer to new technology in video gaming, has now become a chemist and sells ability potions at reasonable prices. And as for the local schoolteacher, Wrinkly Kong... well, she's dead. But she is still hanging around in ethereal form, ready to give some free advice on where to find secrets. I don't know where Swanky Kong went, but hopefully he suffered a similar fate. And let's not forget the oft-cached Candy Kong. Formerly the operator of a Save Barrel Booth, she has now opened a Music Store to give you the musical instruments you need and, of course, extra melons for your life meter (Candy's melons... oh, I get it). She also boasts unusually pointily rendered oversized novelty breasts and is basically the sex symbol of the game. Just look at Donkey Kong's face when he goes to visit and you'll understand. Are there too many Kongs in this game? The philosophical debate continues...

But beyond the spiky breasts of female apes lies the aforementioned DK Isle, and that nasty King K. Rool has a problem with it: it houses his arch-enemies, the Kongs, and he wants to destroy it. Aboard his rickety steel ship (shaped quite similarly to his own rotund physique, I might add) lies the Blast-O-Matic, a prototype weapon with the power to demolish an island... perhaps one we've heard of? Unfortunately for them, it IS just a prototype and has not been fully tested, so when it arrives by DK Isle, there's still some time for the Kongs to strut their stuff and thwart K. Rool before the testing is complete. Juuuuust long enough for Donkey Kong and his friends to save the day. Also attached to K. Rool's vessel is a separate island, housing a giant Kremling with a heart of gold, K. Lumsy, in a large cage. More on his usefulness in a little while. Anyway, to keep you busy, K. Rool snags all your beloved Golden Bananas AND manages to capture all the Kongs except for Donkey, so that's all you have to start out with. Make sure you go around and save your friends... or else it'll be a pretty short game. Then do your best to collect as many of the (get this) 201 Golden Bananas scattered around the region. And you typically have to do something special to snag each one... they're not all out in the open.

With five playable characters, each with his or her own special moves and abilities, there's a wide range of gameplay mechanics here. Donkey Kong has the ability to blast around in barrels like the games of olde; Diddy Kong has a jetbarrel for flying around; Tiny Kong can shrink in size and float with her ponytails; Lanky Kong can sprint with his flexible arms and puff up like a balloon; and Chunky Kong... well, he can get really big and punch the banana peels out of things. These definitely make for some interesting puzzles throughout. You'll need to buy potions from Cranky Kong to "learn" most of these moves. Keep track of what button combinations are associated with which type of activity, or else you could find yourself in a horrible predicament. For example, holding down the Z-button and pressing the C-left will whop out your weapon, while using the Z-button and C-up in tandem will have your character play their musical instrument. You get the hang of it, but in the heat of the moment, don't get confused! ...Huh? Yes, I said weaponry. Each character also gets their own type of long-range weapon, such as Donkey's Coconut Shooter or Chunky's Pineapple Launcher, later enjoying a sniper mode and homing ammo just to make things interesting. It's a bit unusual to see apes packing heat, but you won't get far with them. Same for the musical instruments: each character gets their own, such as Diddy's guitar or Lanky's trombone, and they can use them to wipe out foes in a room quickly (and they might serve other functions, too). Still, some controls fail to feel natural, particularly flying and swimming. Sometimes the game seemed to have a mind of its own when I was trying to get somewhere by air or sea;

Back in the days of the Nintendo 64, Rare was always known for their heavy emphasis on collectables in their games, and Donkey Kong 64 has this in spades. In every "level" of the game, there are 5 Golden Bananas for each character to find (so, 25 in all, if I do some basic math), so that should keep you busy for many hours. But wait: there's more! There are also 100 regular bananas for each character to find (500 in all) in every stage, usually in the form of individual bananas, bunches of five, or balloons equal to ten which must be popped by your weapon. Each character's bananas match the colour scheme of the character (Diddy's are red, Tiny's are purple, Lanky's are blue, etc.) and cannot be snagged by anybody else. The bananas are typically out in the open, but some will be well-hidden, so keep your eyes peeled for them at all times. And, naturally, weapon ammunition, grenade oranges (yeah, really), and health boxes are scattered around as well, so you hopefully will not run out so quickly. There are individually-coloured coins as well, suitable for purchasing potions, weapon upgrades, and instrument upgrades -- and you should be able to find more of these coins than you will ever use. Each level also has an Arena Pad; step aboard and you can head out to the arena and battle off a stream of enemies until the clock runs out. Win yourself a golden crown for your efforts! Eventually, you'll also have to (well, I say "have to", but it's not absolutely integral) capture scampering Banana Fairies via banana skin photographs using a camera. Every time you do so, you get a slight increase (and refill) of your inventory. Photograph them all, and you'll get... well, I won't say! Go find out yourself, lazy bum! And last but not least, grunting around each are five Krushas (with five different hairstyle colours... matching the Kongs, by chance) who must be defeated for their blueprint pieces of K. Rool's ship. Bring them to Snide the Weasel; each piece gets you a Golden Banana, so it's definitely worth the effort to look for them. Collectables? You bet your fanny we got 'em! With so much to see and do in each huge world, thank goodness for Bananaports: though they need to be physically activated, you can warp around the level with ease, turning a long trek into a brief one.

Just to keep your eyes occupied, here's a picture of Chunky Kong!

And what's the point of collecting all those individual bananas, you ask? Well, even if you didn't ask, I will tell you. In every level, there is a boss fight to be had! Did you think we could get through a Donkey Kong game without any boss battles? Hardly. But the porcine brothers, Troff 'n Scoff, require a certain number of regular bananas in each area to open the boss door. Collect enough and you can go in... though each battle can only be tackled by a predetermined character, so you can't play favorites. Boss battles are typically tailored to a specific Kong anyhow. Boy howdy, are these bosses interesting. They range in difficulty from pretty easy to downright crazy. That damn jack-in-the-box one nearly killed me, but I blame the poor camera for that one. I am quite impressed at how they handled the final boss fight, boxing ring style -- the penultimate showdown. Each boss bears that weird Rare humorous charm that I've become so accustomed to. Once you defeat a boss, they'll drop a key, which you can use to unlock part of K. Lumsy's cage (you thought I forgot about that guy?); he'll be quite overjoyed and will hop around, revealing new areas from his tremors.

Still, the question remains: how do you get the rest of the Golden Bananas? Well, you may have to hunt some down by foot and solving brief puzzles along the way, but many of them are achieved by successfully completing mini-games, and here lies the heavy frustration factor. Although some mini-games are easy, many of them are downright cruel and test not only your thumb agility but also your mental capacity to suffer. If a race is starting up, you know there will be trouble, as the CPU character you're racing against is usually pretty quick and sly. Mine-cart runs are quite hazardous as well. But games such as rounding up beavers into a hole (while they clearly try to stray away from it) within a short time limit is nasty business and will require too many retries. There are many other mind-blowing moments, so patience is a definite virtue before starting up this game. Too many expletives were used in the duration of this game, and it doesn't get much friendlier the second or third time through. Rare loves to torture us, as they did in their other N64 platformers. In its defense, at least they included the original Donkey Kong arcade game (fully intact with all four levels, instead of only three like the other home console versions), and the old Rare (then known as Ultimate) arcade game, Jetpac; they serve as more than just extra icing on the cake: you can get nice prizes for playing!

Rare has also gone beyond the call of duty a bit and included a multiplayer mode, though it will likely be overshadowed by the main quest, which is already too massive for man to handle! It's basically a shoot-out for up to four players, similar to the multiplayer action in GoldenEye 007 (also developed by Rare), where you run around and try to kill each other. Mindless fun, but another aspect of the game that will not have heads turning.

As far as graphics are concerned, they are among the most charming to date on the Nintendo 64. This game REQUIRES the memory expansion pak, which you insert directly into the top of the console underneath a removable tab, which allows for some nicer graphics. Now granted, there are some rough textures and images, but that goes with the N64 territory. Every character and enemy looks great and has their own unique animations to give them a charming flavour. And as I mentioned, the levels are massive, but are still quite detailed and pictoral. The music is equally pleasant, though most of the levels use the same tune, just remixed to suit the atmosphere. However, it absolutely MUST be noted that the infamous "D.K. Rap" at the beginning is atrocious. Catchy? Perhaps, but with awful lyrics such as "His coconut gun can fire in spurts/If he shoots ya, it's gonna hurt", Donkey Kong has solidified his status as non-gangsta material. And whoever actually voiced that song had their rap career end as soon as they left the studio. But I do like the remainder of the vocal talent, even if they are limited to grunts, groans, shouts, or one-word phrases.

I like Donkey Kong 64, and I believe it to be a solid title in the Nintendo 64 game library. But it could never be my #1 game of all time, simply because of the high expectations of some of the mini-games. Granted, you can get by with only collecting half of the Golden Bananas, but that's like going outside to your pool, jumping in at one end, popping out at the other, and then drying off and heading back inside. It's important to examine everything in order to attain the full DK experience. Still, I'll recommend this one -- though it doesn't seem likely that it will pop up on the Virtual Console anytime soon. Looks like you'll have to blow the dust off your Nintendo 64 and pop in than banana yellow cartridge to get the thrill -- but be advised that you might tear some hair out. Best to buy a stylish toupée before playing.

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