Donkey Kong 64 Review
Posted by Andrew Donaldson
Donkey Kong’s first foray into 3D, but is it more chump than chimp?
With the success of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo, it wasn’t surprising when fans of the series called out for a next-gen instalment on the Nintendo 64. And so, in time for Christmas of 1999, Rare obliged as gamers were introduced to Donkey Kong 64. In a change of direction for the series, DK64 would take the form of a 3D platformer along the lines of Rare’s earlier N64 release Banjo-Kazooie, rather than following the established 2D platforming perfection formula of DKC.
This time the story sees King K. Rool attempting to destroy DK Island with his ultimate weapon, the “Blast-o-Matic”. Luckily for the Kongs, the weapon malfunctions and their complete obliteration is avoided - at least temporarily. Meanwhile, however, all of Donkey Kong’s golden bananas are stolen by the Kremlings. Playing as Donkey Kong or one of four fellow apes, it’s your job to retrieve all the golden bananas and send K. Rool packing before he can fix up the Blast-o-Matic.
Rare have succeeded in ensuring that the game is packed with their trademark charm and humour. K. Rool’s broken-down weapon sounds more like an old clapped-out Vauxhall Astra than a weapon of mass destruction, while jumping into the tag barrel to change characters will see each of them clamouring to be the one that you use (apart from Chunky Kong, who despite his name and bulky frame, is an utter coward!). Each Kong has been given their own distinct personality and special abilities which are needed to complete tasks on every level. Certain objectives will only be able to be met by a particular member of the DK Crew: Lanky can handstand to climb steep slopes while Diddy can take to the skies with his barrel jetpack, for example.
DK64 pushes the Nintendo 64 to its graphical limits and displays some of the most impressive textures on the console. The fact that the game had to be bundled with the N64 Expansion Pak says it all, and the huge multi-zoned levels dwarf most of those on offer from Super Mario 64, with each hiding 25 golden bananas. There can be no doubt that DK64 is a big game, with plenty to keep the player occupied for a while.
Rare also included a multiplayer deathmatch mode which allows up to four players to knock lumps out of each other using the Kongs' unique weapons and abilities. However, it feels a little tacked-on and can’t compete with the superior four-player offerings of other N64 games like Goldeneye and Mario Kart, let alone stand out amongst today’s games.
The in-game music is of a high standard with some atmospheric and memorable tunes. Fans of the epic Donkey Kong Country soundtracks may be disappointed though, as DK64’s music has more in common with that of Banjo-Kazooie, having been worked on by Grant Kirkhope rather than David Wise. Donkey Kong 64 is certainly one of the most senses-pleasing games on the N64, in terms of both graphics and sound.
However, while still of an entertaining standard, the core gameplay of Donkey Kong 64 leaves slightly more to be desired. Although classed as a 3D platformer, there isn’t actually that much traditional platforming to be done in DK64. Platform games, both 2D and 3D are all about making precision jumps over lethal gaps and chasms, with the mistiming of a leap usually resulting in you plunging off the screen or down a hole and losing a life.
However, in DK64 there’s not a bottomless pit in sight and very few floating platforms. With this in mind, and also due to the generous amount of health Rare provided, it’s actually quite tricky to play badly enough to die, aside from one of the eight boss levels. Rather than featuring good old solid platforming, DK64 is notorious for having fallen into the trap of merely requiring the player to collect a large amount of random objects scattered all over the game world. Think Banjo-Kazooie but with even more needless objects.
DK64 also liberally borrows other basic game mechanics from similar games. The controls are basically identical to Banjo and Mario 64, and furthermore N64 gamers once again find themselves in a hub world where collecting enough of item “A” will open the door which magically leads to the next world. Rare have made no attempt to come up with a new idea; even worse is the fact that DK Island has now taken the form of a giant rock shaped as DK’s head. It doesn’t make sense. What happened to the beautiful looking island that comprised the map screen in Donkey Kong Country?
Most of the golden banana challenges involve racing against the clock or a non-playable character, completing memory puzzles, shooting switches or jumping into golden banana barrels and beating a minigame. Most of the time these minigames are easy and the same formats will crop up multiple times during the course of the game, getting slightly trickier each time. Rather than coming up with unique missions for every stage, it seems Rare have taken the lazy option and forced the player to complete abstract minigames which, upon completion, inexplicably yield a golden banana as the reward.
In some ways, Donkey Kong 64 is similar to the now infamous DK Rap which greets the player at the start of the game – loved by some, loathed by others. To some, it’s the pinnacle of 3D platform gaming on the Nintendo 64, while to others it’s the biggest, most pointless collection-fest ever programmed – albeit hiding behind a glossy coat of graphics and sound.
Undoubtedly, DK64 pushes the N64’s capabilities to the max and will keep most gamers busy for a good amount of time but there is a danger that some may become bored of collecting long before they can reach the game’s brilliantly inspired finale.