tiistai 27. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong 64 (1999)

GENRE(S): Platform
RELEASED: November 1999
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Donkey Kong, his family and friends had appeared in a number of 64-bit games by 1999, but up until the early goings of that year, a 64-bit sequel to the Donkey Kong Country franchise had been all but vaporware, a rumour spawned from the releases of even the most unlikely installments in a whole lot less prominent franchises. In the end of the year, Donkey Kong 64 finally became reality. The game was well received by critics, however it wasn't promoted too well, and its sales didn't match those of Donkey Kong Country in its time, so it is a game forgotten by many casual gamers. To me, the Donkey Kong Country series was food for the gods, so without any doubt or prejudice, I headed into Donkey Kong 64 with extremely high hopes for one of the best games I've ever played, like Super Mario 64 was before it. I came out extremely disappointed. Exactly what do critics see in this game?

A monkey for a cameraman

Grant Kirkhope : Donkey Kong
Kevin Bayliss : Diddy Kong / Tiny Kong

King K. Rool has a new weapon named Blast-O-Matic, which he plans to use to blow DK Isles to smithereens. The weapon malfunctions and needs some time to be repaired. To keep Donkey Kong busy while his Kremlings are working repairs on the Blast-O-Matic, he kidnaps some of DK's friends and once again swipes his fabled banana hoard.

For quite some time, I wasn't even sure if this game was ever made. I remember hearing rumours of it, lots of them. By the time the game was released in Europe, I had lost all interest in the Nintendo scene - the game's one of the major titles of the era in which I missed most games released exclusively for Nintendo's systems. I, of all people, should've taken note of the game - Donkey Kong Country was still very certainly one of my favourite video games of all time, not to mention Diddy's Kong Quest. Well, I was bound to take it on sooner or later. Donkey Kong 64 is much closer to the stylistic patterns of Super Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon than Donkey Kong Country, which isn't much of a surprise, but considering how great those games were, and how great the Country trilogy was in its own league, I expected a lot more out of it. It has some good ideas, some great ideas, but at times, even terrible execution.

The graphics are quite good - when Donkey Kong Country originally came out in 1994, describing the graphics as "quite good" would've sounded ridiculous. Rare pushed the envelope with all three games in the series, as well as Killer Instinct, earning the reputation of one of the most audiovisually capable developers in the world. Considering that, and the fact that Donkey Kong 64 came out in such a late phase of the N64's cycle, it does leave a little to be hoped for. Diddy Kong Racing came out earlier and it looked better; to give a point to Donkey Kong 64 in contrast to that statement, this game is in full 3D, and the environments are quite large. The camera is the worst problem in the whole game, period. The camera work is simply horrible - I've never had this much problems with the camera in any basically playable game, not to mention a game of this commercial caliber. It's impossible to learn to use it, you can only learn to live with it... and even that's hard.

Classic enemies do not make a classic game.
The game features quite a bit of voice acting, as well as several different voice samples, such as DK's retarded grunts voiced by composer Grant Kirkhope. The "acting" is just as impressive as it was in most N64 games that had any - not very, but there's a considerable amount of it, which is technically respectable. The occasionally crappy audio quality, though, calls for subtitles that are nowhere to be seen... except in the infamous intro of the game - the music video for "DK Rap" - quite likely the worst theme song of a video game, ever. The quality of the music in general is far from what we've grown accustomed to in games by Rare. Kirkhope composed all of it, ripping some bits off David Wise's old works to somewhat create a link between this game and the 16-bit franchise. If the gameplay was anywhere close to Donkey Kong Country at its best, maybe he would've succeeded.

Without further due, let's split and reassemble this son of a bitch. DK Isles is divided into seven areas: Jungle Japes, Angry Aztec, Frantic Factory, Gloomy Galleon, Fungi Forest, Crystal Caves and Creepy Castle. Finally, there's a "Lost World" of sorts. Everything you could expect out of a traditional platformer is there, and as all of you avid players of at least the first Donkey Kong Country game can imagine, many of these areas are influenced by earlier concepts. There are no stages in this game, these are all open areas in which you have many optional, as well as non-optional jobs to do, before you can move on to the next one.

You start out as DK, but as you will very soon discover, playing as him won't get you too far in this game. Actually, to complete each and every area in the game, you need the help of four friends: a trio of newcomers calling themselves Tiny, Lanky and Chunky, and of course, your old pal Diddy. Each character has his/her own set of special talents, his/her own musical instrument which is used for a special instrumental attack (I fucking hate this musical angle of the game all thanks to that God-awful rap), and finally, his/her choice of projectile weapon made by Funky, and used on enemies, as well as door panels. I like the idea of having this many playable characters and the large, open areas where every single one of them is needed, but the controls suck bad, and the camera sucks even worse. That "kind of" tones down the fun factor, as well as the fact that all of the characters have their own collectables - even the standard bananas come in four different varieties. Changing to another character basically means that you have to scout the overs and unders of the same large playfield over and over again using a different character to make sure you've cleaned it out. A total of four times. I'm pretty sure I've seen games that are more exciting.

It's not all that bad, though. If you're lucky, you'll grow used to the game's quirks rather quickly and it can turn out pretty addictive, just 'cause there's so much stuff to do and so much to collect, if you have any respect for the mere idea. Let's start with the new endeavors of the Kong family. Cranky's taken a turn to science and he can grace your characters with new abilities by testing his strange potions on them. As previously mentioned, Funky sells your characters projectile weapons - which are the worst part of the nightmare that is the game's control coupled with the issues with the camera. Snide the Weasel collects blueprints that are acquired by disposing of certain types of rare enemies, and which ultimately give you a better chance of surviving the "Lost World" of the game. Candy provides the Kongs with their damn instruments. The ghost of the late Wrinkly Kong gives you clues to the locations of the Golden Bananas stolen by the Kremlings.

Three animal buddies return. Rambi appears in Jungle Japes, Enguarde in Gloomy Galleon and Squawks is there... well, every step of the way, since he's been charged with tutorial duties. Also, he can carry Tiny in the vintage Country way, and he also might throw you a few freebies of the most prominent collectable items if you rub him the right way. Let's go into the collectables right now to wrap up the review some day.

Jungle disco.
Worst things first: Banana Fairies, led by the Banana Fairy Queen (...put a bullet in my brain...) are clearly a continuum to the damn birds in Donkey Kong Country 3. Collecting them unlocks all sorts of stuff excluded from the standard single-player adventure, which makes them count for jackshit on my watch. To go from one end to another, the hoard of Golden Bananas is, in every way, the most important collectable in the game, since collecting them directly affects your progress in the game - they're still hidden, though. You can't just run through the game like you could run through each game in the Country and Land franchises if you didn't feel up to attempting 100% completion. In each area, there's one for each character to collect and they're used as payment to continue to the next area. Regular bananas are also very important, since collecting 100 of them - surprise? - unlocks a boss fight. Beating a boss results in you getting one of the eight Boss Keys, which are used to free a turncoat Kremling from inprisonment and thus make your way towards the 100% mark. Coins that look like the regular banana tokens in Diddy's Kong Quest are used to buy new abilities, instruments and weapons, all of which you need to complete the game. You can try your luck in K. Rool's Battle Arenas, where you are pitted against a number of enemies. Finally, there are a couple of one-off minigames hidden within for you to capture the rarest of items.

Sure, Donkey Kong 64 packs a lot, and if it would be of the same all-around quality Super Mario 64 - a game released three years prior - always was, it would probably be everything that was expected out of it, and a lot more. Perhaps not any less than one of the best platformers in history, a game that you just cannot quit playing. Wait a minute... why am I reminded of each Donkey Kong Country game by what I just said? Donkey Kong 64 just doesn't feel the same. I really can't say what bothers me most about this game. It's fun for five minutes at a time, then it falls into some slump, then it's fun again, and then falls into another slump, every step of the way. Ultimately, I have no interest in going for any goals that are less than absolutely mandatory to reach the final credits.

It feels like it was made in 1996, and that it was just forgotten on the shelf. The camera is so unbelievably enfuriating, the controls, especially the weapon and underwater controls, are far from perfect, the music's lackluster, exploration is tedious, and finally, the game doesn't even look that special! ...Whew. After all this extremely harsh criticism, I admit I do acknowledge the better moments of Donkey Kong 64. It's just such a huge disappointment after such a grand run on the SNES and the obvious great expectations it brought upon the game. I've read the reviews, apparently most critics still love the game. I don't, but I don't really hate it either. That's honestly the best compliment I can give to the game. I grew up in the Country - this ain't it. 

SOUND : 6.0


GameRankings: 87.71%

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