tiistai 27. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - L.A. Noire (2011)

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: May 2011
DEVELOPER(S): Rockstar Leeds (PC), Team Bondi
PUBLISHER(S): Rockstar Games

The debut title of Australian game developers Team Bondi took an unparalleled seven years to make. It has been hailed as one of the most dramatic and cinematically stunning games of all time, which is no wonder since it was mostly developed under the advisory and supervision of the masters of modern video game storytelling - Rockstar Games. It's called L.A. Noire, and it takes us players back in time to Los Angeles of the 40's, where we strap on the boots of a newly appointed, highly intelligent detective of the L.A.P.D.. The game is far from a traditional action game, instead it's a series of mysteries, in which your intuition very often is a far more lethal weapon than your pistol. I've been waiting to get this game in my hands for years. Perhaps L.A. Noire doesn't quite live up to the hype, or the fabled name of its publisher, which always raises the bar of expectations a little too high nowadays - but it is a great, mostly well written and well presented game, and a unique experience die-hard mystery fans will love.

The dark side of the badge

Aaron Staton : Det. Cole Phelps
Gil McKinney : Jack Kelso
Michael McGrady : Det. Finbarr "Rusty" Galloway
Adam John Harrington : Det. Roy Earle
Sean McGowan : Det. Stefan Bekowsky
Keith Szarabajka : Det. Herschel Biggs
Erika Heynatz : Elsa Lichtmann
John Noble : Leland Monroe
Peter Blomquist : Dr. Harlan Fontaine
Andy Umberger : Dr. Malcolm Carruthers

Los Angeles, 1947. Former Marine and World War II veteran Cole Phelps goes from an L.A.P.D. patrolman struggling to get noticed to a highly distinguished detective in record time after playing a pivotal part in solving a well-publicized first degree murder. As Phelps slowly makes his way to the top of the L.A.P.D. food chain, he realizes he is one of the few decent lawmen in a city overrun by organized crime and corruption; just the tool the police department needs for improving their status in the press.

Rockstar Games is the Konami of this generation. Of course Konami's still very much around, but the quality of their games has varied by a substantial lot during the last decade in comparison to the 8- and 16-bit eras when eight out of ten games stamped with "Konami" were guaranteed to blow your mind. Rockstar Games revolutionized sandbox action to the point of getting imitated by just about every damn developer out there - some have succeeded in their endeavors, but Rockstar has seen no real competition in the field of sandbox games since the release of Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. For the first time in years, Rockstar agreed to publish a game made by someone other than themselves - and it's not a sandbox game, really. There are some elements of a classic sandbox in it, such as freedom to roam the city and go on the hunt for collectables, and do side missions, but officially, there's always an ongoing, brain teasing investigation that you must focus on above all else, and which often downright requires you to ease up on your trigger finger or the pedal of your car. Every mistake you make counts to your case report and case-specific reputation. You can steal - or rather borrow - cars for police business, but regardless of the hurry you are in, you are sworn to serve and protect the citizens of L.A.. You can't even draw your gun without good reason. You are a good cop - you don't have a say in it. Still want to play the game? If your answer is "yes", even a reluctant one, I can vouch for L.A. Noire. You've made the right choice. But, I must also come clean with it: it's a tad disappointing.

Cole's first murder case... it's not really his, though.
He's just a nosey bastard.
Despite being a very unique action title from the get-go in every possible way, perhaps the most intriguing hooks of L.A. Noire are found from its setting, atmosphere and design. Unlike games developed by Rockstar themselves, L.A. Noire isn't all fiction. First of all, most of Cole's cases are based on entries in actual police archives from the 40's, most notably the Black Dahlia murder which is the beautiful centerpiece of the Homicide chapter of the game. Also, the Los Angeles infrastructure in the game is very real; it's a genuine, digital recreation of the City of Angels, based on actual aerial photography. Team Bondi and Rockstar obviously worked very hard to create an authentic 40's atmosphere, and they totally nailed it in every single detail noticeable by the common man. The atmosphere is what makes the game so addictive from the start, even if turns out a little repetitive game with an admittedly slow beginning.

The cinematic style of L.A. Noire is kind of hard to compare to any TV show or series of movies, although it clearly progresses like one. L.A. Confidential is an obvious influence to the whole backdrop of the game and the development of the main plot, but it's just one movie - the game needs more than that to go on. It has some perhaps subtle references to tense, pre-Psycho Hitchcock thrillers such as Vertigo - the music, Cole's clothing and the many chases across rooftops, to be precise. Obviously I'm seeing a lot of C.S.I. here. Columbo might be an influence (rest in peace, Peter Falk), but in that show the mystery was handled very differently - we knew the perpetrator's identity with a positive certainty the whole time, so it wasn't really a mystery. The show's gimmick was Lt. Frank Columbo's brilliant mind - it was always exciting to see how this downtrodden son of a bitch that dressed like a hobo managed to catch the perfect killer, and on what possible grounds. As strange as it may seem, the style of the game somewhat reminds me of House M.D. as well. Quite a lot, actually. Even after all this pointless reminisce of some of the crown jewels of TV and movie history, I'm not saying L.A. Noire wouldn't be original at all. Let's analyze the game's story and its development for a brief moment before finally getting to its most important qualities.

Cole's journal, the Bible of all things suspicious.
Like I said, the writers at Rockstar Games are the masters of modern video game storytelling. Of course, they didn't work on this game directly at all, but they made damn sure Team Bondi knew what they were doing. After all, Rockstar does pay attention to what they slap their logo on to these days - they've got a reputation to hang on to, although that awesome reputation would certainly not be lost with the release of just one bad game. Last year's Red Dead Redemption was an outstanding game with an even more outstanding story noted by many critics - me included - as one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game, and it's no surprise at all that L.A. Noire was made to issue a challenge to the ballad of John Marston. Although it might seem inconsistent at first due to including mostly unrelated cases and portraying your character just going through the motions, L.A. Noire does have a very intricate backbone - it just takes a lengthy while to really present itself, and by the time it does, you'll have forgotten most of the clues to the story that were given in the beginning of the game. The story's written well, but its tempo is somewhat off and confusing. The big conclusion practically forces us to replay a game that really isn't from the most replayable end, step by step instead of just going back to some specific cases. Cole Phelps really doesn't strike me as too loveable. He's arrogant, bossy, loud and naive. To put it simply, annoying. Most of the other characters are like great ideas from Rockstar drawers that just never fit into their own games of mayhemic destruction - phenomenal. My favourite's the straightforward, somewhat mysterious Jack Kelso, who would've gotten my vote in the hunt for the starring role instead of the whiny Phelps.

Let's talk about some more phenomenal things about this game: the graphics. The guys working at the department of motion capture technology including facial expressions and lip-syncing - I would so love to land a big, wet, juicy French kiss on all of their pieholes. I mean, God DAMN! Speaking of French, I thought Heavy Rain looked awesome. While Heavy Rain did look better in general, which is no wonder since it was far from a game of this size and it was essentially an interactive movie, even it didn't have characters and all-out character design that were this realistic. As today's fad dictates, all of L.A. Noire's central and major supporting characters are modelled after their voice actors. Although most of them are relatively unknown, there are some familiar names on the HUGE list - and L.A. Noire is the first unlicensed game in which I've nearly yelled out something like "that's Matt from Heroes!". Or "that's Dead Meat from Hot Shots!!". Or "that's the crazy guy at the cafe from Mulholland Dr.!". By watching the game, at the very least the interrogation sequences which are all about observing the characters' faces, from a certain distance, you wouldn't even tell the difference between a game and a movie. General movement looks kinda stiff, but I'm not going to nitpick when there's this much graphical effort involved in some very central elements of the game, and the proportions of our lil' playground they know as the City of Angels should also be taken into serious consideration.

The brief licensed part of the soundtrack consists of carefully remixed 40's jazz classics by Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday among others, but most of the in-game music is written by the multi-influenced Andrew and Simon Hale. It's a balanced mix of suspense music and some more jazz. In addition, we have a few songs by the modern jazz outfit The Real Tuesday Weld, and sung by Propaganda vocalist Claudia Brücken, playing in some key scenes. The car radio almost never gets old, since it balances between all the music in the game, as well as some genuine excerpts from the Jack Benny and Charlie McCarthy shows.

Cause of death: a huge fucking hammer to the
skull. Any more questions?
It's still got Rockstar's logo on it, so you know exactly what to expect from the voiceover work. It's time for me to quit beating around the bush and come out straight with it: it's PERFECT, just as in Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption before it. I'm not as good with names as I am with faces, and I know there are a lot of other people like me out there, so the best way to go for a round of spot with this game is to play it. Ever since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas broke the barrier, exceptionally explicit language has become standard for games. Well, no game has gone as far as L.A. Noire, ever, not on that or any other front. It's all straight up with this game - the cruel reality of life. Brutal imagery that bows down to no one, from naked, brutalized female bodies to victims of ugly, self-inflicted overdose. Very vocal takes on racism, politics, warfare, necrophilia, child abuse and all other taboos of yesteryear. Completely shameless use of authentic terminology. Harsh words that ring very true. Rockstar keeps pushing the envelope - or helping someone else push it for them. Rockstar Games - the honest choice.

If you are one for stubborn comparison, you could say L.A. Noire is like any Grand Theft Auto game - without the freedom to on for hours without doing one storyline mission, and the perspective being that of a person from the opposite side of the law. The games have the same extremely simplified nutshell: your primary mission is to rise to the top of your appointed food chain. As Cole Phelps, you start the game as an ambitious patrolman who has a tendency to stick his nose where it doesn't belong, but that extra work of his spawns results. About an hour into the game, you're promoted to detective. By solving strings of crimes, that are sometimes directly related to each other such as the Homicide cases, you get transferred from unit to unit - Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and finally, Arson. Regardless of your area of expertise and jurisdiction, most cases involve a murder of some degree, or at least an attempted one. All the while you're out investigating, random crimes happen on the street. You can play the role of the hero and solve these crimes in the midst of your primary case up to a certain limit, if you want more action and EXP points than what the game itself can provide. You can also search for rare vehicles, or go out to see the sights and spot a few L.A. landmarks. But, the crimes do not solve themselves.

After changing your patrol uniform to a tacky leisure suit, most investigations that are not that crucial to Cole's own personal storyline, start operating according to a certain formula. You drive to the crime scene, search for clues and evidence, examine the possible (and likely) dead body found over there, make a few calls, talk to a few people, and interrogate suspects. Usually there's an action sequence or two thrown in for good measure, such as a fist fight, shootout or chase (by either car or foot). Here's the interesting part: you don't have to do the action sequences at all. If you fail three times, the game actually prompts you to skip the sequence and carry on with the narrative. How about that? Why didn't they come up with something like this in the days of Journey to Silius? "Can't beat the boss? Poor thing! Want to skip to the next level?" Seriously, this option watered the game down quite a bit for me the first time I saw it given to me. I never skipped one action sequence in the game, of course I didn't - it's not the way to play a game. However, the game can be very glitchy at its worst, and the controls aren't perfect - I could've done it on those grounds in a few missions.

Conjuring up evidence is the sole key to success.
The magic of L.A. Noire lies in the effective use of evidence and the delicate interrogation of suspects or informants, but it's not all there. First of all, many cases are no-brainers from the absolute start - they're not really mysteries, they're just about squeezing out a confession from the sloppy idiot you've known to be the perp from the very start. Getting a confession is extremely hard - cornering even the most likely suspect with the most likely evidence doesn't always work. OK, so I'm at this weasel's little gambling den and find a basketful of morphine in one of his slot machines. His wandering eyes tell me that he's full of bullshit right off the bat, and he says I can't prove he has anything to do with the drugs. Can't I? One of his personal machines is full of those drugs, and he's obviously trying to fuck with me. The obvious answer: ...NO, I can't prove it. Not enough hard evidence. There's just one particular, correct piece of evidence coupled with each question, so accusing anyone of lying in this game is very hazardous. Doubting them in the case their faces tell stories is usually safer, but it won't get you very far in this game if you don't bust a downright lie every now and then. Although it has ways of constantly pissing you off and even if it gets just as repetitive as the whole game rather quickly, the interrogation system is very cool and unique as a mere idea. We've come a long way from 24 - The Game.

Intuition points usually make things a little easier for you, but you must work for them. Intuition points are used on crime scenes, and during interrogations, and you get one each time you level up. EXP is gained from everything in this game: every sequence, every unlocked item, be it a landmark or a new vehicle, and every case including the street crimes. On crime scenes, you can mark every important clue on the minimap at the price of one IP. During interrogations, you can play a little game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? - the "Catch a Bad Guy" edition. Literally. Using one IP either lets you remove a wrong response (Truth / Doubt / Lie), or ask the community, which in this case is the Rockstar Social Club. That's right, by keeping your console online while playing L.A. Noire, you can hack into the answers of all registered users of the Social Club. First, before you make your decision of using the option, the game tells you how many players found the right answer by asking the community. After choosing to trust the Club, the genie of the Social Club grants your wish and shows the percentage of users for each answer. You can then decide for yourself whether you want to have faith in the masses, or be a total contrarian, which usually is the way to failure. Remember, though, that you still need evidence to back up your direct accusations, and the IP does not point you to the right evidence during interrogations and interviews - it only gives you a direction.

The option to go out and solve street crimes - which range from robberies to having to deal with jumpers to regular Joes waving guns on the street in broad daylight - is good, but they are often announced via police radio at the worst possible moments, and they're usually taking place as far away from your primary destination as they possibly can. "Any units in the vicinity"... "vicinity" is a term used very loosely. You can make your partner drive if you want to skip travelling between destinations relevant to the main case, but you'll have to drive to the scenes of the street crimes yourself. If you get stuck on doing these, you'll be in for an endless round trip.

I know it seems I've only bashed the gameplay thus far, but L.A. Noire has strong attraction, which lies in subtleties beyond all of its quirks and problems. For example, the magnificent script. However, once again I find myself turning to its dark side: severe inconsistency. First, the game is wholly driven by the cases, then suddenly by the characters. Phelps, the annoying bastard he is, becomes the center of attention as the game progresses; some light is shed on his past as well as his connections to certain key characters spoken of and seen on the side. The flashbacks and newsflashes in which they appear are very important to the ultimate outcome of the game, but it takes a lengthy while for this fact to become apparent. 'Til that moment, they fail to truly captivate the player - they feel like they're going nowhere with these, like they've just been added in for artistic values only. I'm skipping ahead a little bit, but I must say that after the epic mystery which is the Black Dahlia murder case, the game begins to revolve more around Phelps himself and his cases become less exciting - they deal with arson, insurance fraud and organized crime, mostly. After beating the game and witnessing its conclusion, I understood why the delicate and multi-layered mystery of the Black Dahlia was not made Phelps' final case. What I don't understand, however, is why they even bothered to put a case of this caliber in the middle of the game and went on to make Phelps a drug cop with notably more irrelevant and boring strings of cases on his hands, with his backstory and personal issues stealing the focus from true, increasingly challenging detective work for most of the game's later half. I would've gone for some more balance. It's like they wrote a script and then accidentally mixed the pages, finally coming up with a practically great, fascinating story, that misses out on pace and the general order of things.

I dare say we've come a long way from the
briefings in Police Quest.
It takes around 25 hours to complete the game to 100%. Considering that the game is not a full-blown sandbox game, I'd say that's a quite fair length to it. After finishing the game, you can replay any single case, or go back to the streets of L.A. in a very strange form of a free roam mode surprisingly called "Streets of L.A." All squads you've been in have their own Streets mode, and having this weird system really hurts the desire to go for the 100% mark. Let's say you had already solved something like nine out of ten street crimes while on, say, Traffic duty. You grew tired of driving from one end of L.A. to another, just to bust a lowly street thug in under ten seconds and then struggled to get back on track with your case. You absolutely can go for filling the gaps by playing Streets... but if your quest is to solve each and every street crime in the game, I've got bad news for you. You need to replay all of the street crimes you've already nailed while you were in that particular squad before you can take on the missing one. Hell if I remember which squad I was in when I missed ONE SINGLE STREET CRIME on purpose! I guess I'll just have to keep hacking 'til I hit it, then! It really doesn't work too well, the whole Streets mode I mean, since even the hidden packages are divided between the five different L.A.P.D. units. They could've given us a traditional free roam mode quite easily, I reckon.

I said before that L.A. Noire isn't too replayable in its entirety, and to answer the usual question why is very simple: it's a series of "mysteries" - another term used loosely. Solve the mystery (which really isn't too hard in most cases), you're usually done with the game. The obvious point of comparison here is Heavy Rain, in which every single one of your decisions counted to make your progress, as well as the end result, very different than last time around. Of course your progress in L.A. Noire is very much up to your decisions and detective work as well, but the only things they really have effect on are the case reports ranked from one to five. You often have a choice between two different suspects, but the end result is always the same - even if you get roasted by your superior after a false conviction and end up with a crappy rating, in the next case your previous actions have close to no effect on your total track record or your superior's impressed take on you. Plus, there's only one possible ending to the whole thing. Plus, it's not as unpredictable as it was probably intended to be. See it for yourself, and reflect on it for a while.

Enter Trophies and Achievements for a notable boost in replay value. Since L.A. Noire doesn't have a multiplayer mode - there's simply no point to one whatsoever - it luckily misses out on the scourge of the rewards of modern gaming which were very present in Rockstar's previous two masterpieces, online exclusives. A quick glance through the list of Trophies reveals a surprisingly sensical list I could find myself intrigued going for if I had enough time on my hands. Nailing 100% completion, getting five stars from each case, achieving certain tricky goals in specific interview and interrogation sessions, using every gun and non-fatal trick in the book on criminals at least once, etc. etc. Very cool stuff, none of it's absolutely too much to ask in the end. This is how these lists should be compiled - prompting the player to fully complete the game with a thankful smile on his face and not make him go blasting weapon X on enemies times X, or by intentionally fucking up a case as bad as he can, just to mention a couple of quick examples of usually bad ideas for Trophies.

It could've - and should've - been better with all it had going for it, all the way from its original announcement, but in the end L.A. Noire has cinematic values that are extremely hard to compete with. Despite the occasionally really bad action controls and quirky, dull pace, for the most part it is also a good, addictive game most definitely worth a lengthy try - after all, its best and most balanced parts take a few hours to kick in.

SOUND : 9.8


GameRankings: 88.23% (PS3), 87.60% (X360)

Team Bondi and Rockstar Games got into a serious dispute after the game's release for various reasons, which resulted in the two companies severing all ties to each other. Rockstar Games owns the L.A. Noire trademark, therefore the PC version of the game is being developed by Rockstar Leeds instead of Team Bondi.

Donkey Kong joins the alumni

Time to see another Nintendo classic off for the time being. As I previously promoed, the next two reviews will not be related to each other or the current trend of the blog, and they will be quite gigantic. Guess what else? I'll be publishing the first one of those two reviews in just a few minutes - you'll see it before you see this. Before that, let's give a round of applause to one of the most memorable video game villains AND heroes in history.

A total of 15 Donkey Kong games have been reviewed since August 2010. The highest rated Donkey Kong game is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The lowest rated Donkey Kong game is Donkey Kong Jr. Math for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The average rating of all Donkey Kong games is 7.0 (NOTE: Donkey Kong Classics is exempt from the count).

1981 ... Donkey Kong [NES] ... 7.7
1982 ... Donkey Kong Jr. [NES] ... 7.0
1983 ... Donkey Kong 3 [NES] ... 4.2
1988 ... Donkey Kong Classics [NES] ... 7.3 [DK] / 7.0 [DKJR]

1994 ... Donkey Kong Country [SNES] ... 8.9
1995 ... Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest [SNES] ... 9.3
1996 ... Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! [SNES] ... 8.8

1995 ... Donkey Kong Land [GB] ... 6.6
1996 ... Donkey Kong Land 2 [GB] ... 6.1
1997 ... Donkey Kong Land III [GB] ... 7.5

1983 ... Donkey Kong Jr. Math [NES] ... 1.3
1997 ... Diddy Kong Racing [N64] ... 8.6
1999 ... Donkey Kong 64 [N64] ... 6.7
2004 ... Mario vs. Donkey Kong [GBA] ... 8.2

2005 ... DK: King of Swing [GBA] ... 6.3

REVIEW - DK: King of Swing (2005)

GENRE(S): Puzzle
RELEASED: February 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Paon Corporation
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

A game called Clu Clu Land was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1984. A little over two decades later, the basic concept of the cult classic was brought back wearing the face of the Nintendo stalwart Donkey Kong. Reception to the game was very mixed; some liked the game because it brought back the simplicity and innovation of the very first arcade titles - in a whole different manner, though - some hated it because they wanted to see Nintendo capitalize on the recent handheld remakes of Donkey Kong Country in some way, and not put out cheap-looking spin-offs to keep the franchise afloat. Which is it? Is it a simple, innovative game? Or is it a cheap-looking spin-off? It's both.

Never thought they'd make a puzzle game based on a 16-bit cheat code

A tournament is held in the jungle for the title of the Jungle Hero. The day before the tournament, King K. Rool steps in, steals the medals for the tournament and proclaims himself the Jungle Hero. Donkey Kong storms after the medals to show K. Rool why they call him the King of Swing.

I picked this game as the last title of the Donkey Kong marathon at a complete random. Donkey Kong 64 was originally supposed to be the "grand" finale of the show, but then I accidentally stumbled on this strange-looking handheld game for the Game Boy Advance and couldn't resist the urge to try it out. I knew it wasn't a platformer, at least not in the traditional sense, but I didn't quite expect an update to the obscure, jurassic classic Clu Clu Land. If you have warm memories of that game, I think you'll like DK: King of Swing. I find it hard to form a concrete opinion on it. It's simple, it's different, but it takes a turn from being addictive to being dull very quickly.

Many critics have noted the game for looking cheap, and that it does, from the box art to the graphics. It's clear that Nintendo had nothing to do with its actual development, it's like "Filmation presents: Donkey Kong". I'd not be surprised at all if Nintendo agreed to produce this just for the sake of capitalism, and if they didn't see what Paon was cooking up at all, beforehand. Well, at least it isn't really ugly. Takashi Kouga's original music is horrible, and the few loops remixed from David Wise's original pieces from Donkey Kong Country are extremely repetitive.

My eyes bleed.
The idea of the game is very simple. The shoulder buttons are the most important buttons in the whole game. The L button controls DK's left hand, and the R button his right hand. After the initial jump into the air by holding both buttons simultaneously and then releasing them, you need to grab onto single pegs and peg boards, and make your way UP, collecting bananas and other items along the way. 20 bananas enable you to execute a special move called "Going Bananas" (with the A button), which you can use to break barrels and defeat enemies. You can also heal yourself with the bananas instead of using the special move (with the B button). The single-player adventure in a nutshell - there's really not more to it! There are 20 levels, and five boss fights, and they all have the same idea. Innovative? Sure. Boring? A little. Physically tiring? By a lot. You can use the digital pad instead of the shoulder buttons for walking and controlling the direction of your jump in mid-air if you want, but there's no escaping pain. Raping those two least accessible buttons of the Advance control scheme with an increasingly rapid pace is the only way to succeed in this game.

In the end, the game turns out quite short. Enter Jungle Jam - the tournament that was supposed to be held in the thin storyline of the game before K. Rool busted the party. You can go at the five modes of Jungle Jam against the CPU or up to three friends via the link cable much criticized by me. The modes have different goals, but the basic rules remain the same. L, R, L, R, A, L, R, L, R, B. The control scheme of the game sounds like a freakin' cheat code.

DK: King of Swing is not as bad as it looks, but it ain't an essential piece of handheld meat either. It's exactly the kind of game that everyone needs to judge by themselves. It's got a simple, semi-functional concept, but it's not very exciting - and the controls, while not bad by the laws of physics, are uncomfortable. It's not my cup of tea, but someone might find it stunning.

SOUND : 5.4


GameRankings: 72.76%

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%

tiistai 20. syyskuuta 2011

The Kong has left the building (almost)

Hey dude(tte)s!

I called in sick today, which is something I hate to do since whenever I have a shift, I'm completely dedicated to it and I have no other plans OR a plan B for the whole day, so in other words: being sick is boring as hell! Well, to comfort myself even a little (as well as you, I hope), I thought to bring you up to speed with this random rant. After all, it's been relatively quiet lately. Far from dead, though. This is because I have a few games on my plate - actually, I'm writing four reviews in conjunction with each other at the moment: the rest of the DK reviews, and... something completely different.

Cranky's not pleased with the ratings.
Donkey Kong is about to join his rival Mario on the VGMania alumni; there are two games to go in the Donkey Kong franchise as of now. If I took the logical way out, I would move on to the next franchise that needs some serious wrap-up work... but I won't do that, not immediately after all's been said and done concerning DK. There are two games, totally unrelated to each other, that are going to be reviewed as soon as I'm done with today's main dish. I know that at the very least, one of them's a game some of you have been expecting me to review for quite some time. By the looks of things, the reviews of these two mystery titles will be some of my favourite - best - work yet. It's too early to say for sure, I'm not nearly done with either one of the games or their reviews. I can tell you this much: they're both of different genres, they are of the current generation of video games, and you could say reviewing them will take care of some loose ends all the same. I was going to postpone reviewing them due to my stubborn focus on retro, but I simply can't do that - gotta strike while the iron is hot, right?

First though, we have to get that loveable ape out of the way. It'll probably be a while before the last two DK reviews kick in, but I believe I'll not only be done with those in a week, but have also delivered the first review of the huge, should I say EPIC, batch coming up.

lauantai 17. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Diddy Kong Racing (1997)

GENRE(S): Racing
RELEASED: November 1997
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Few games have undergone development quite as radical as Diddy Kong Racing. The original draft of the game was actually a strategy game set on an island in the prehistoric era. A few months into development, it was changed to a racing game starring characters from Rare's reserves. As a second to last announcement, the game was revealed to be a 64-bit sequel to R.C. Pro-Am, Rare's popular racing title from 1988. Finally, the game was nailed as a spin-off of Donkey Kong Country, yet also a platform to introduce a few new characters that were to have their own games in the future. In fact the game has very little to do with the Donkey Kong franchise - poor Diddy's not much more than a sales pitch - and it reeks of Mario Kart from miles away, but the most important thing is that Diddy Kong Racing is a great game.

Monkey Kart 64

Kevin Bayliss : Diddy Kong
Eveline Fischer : Pipsy
Lee Schuneman : Bumper
Chris Seavor : Conker / Banjo

Timber the Tiger invites his friends from all over to race around his home island while his parents are away on vacation. An evil wizard named Wizpig invades the island and manipulates the four guardians of the island to help him conquer it. Diddy Kong leads the youngsters to challenge Wizpig and his henchmen to a racing tournament.

Me and my best friend had hardly gotten over the awesomeness of Mario Kart 64 when Diddy Kong Racing came out in Europe. We loved the game, but for some reason, it just didn't stick on us the same way as Mario Kart 64; actually, there might have been a few reasons. First of all, the game struck us as a carbon copy of one of the best damn racing games ever made, and just not as good or artificially cool since at the time, Diddy was the only familiar character in the game - and just thrown into it to give the game a commercially viable title. The game's design really has nothing to do with the Donkey Kong franchise, it looks more like a Spyro the Dragon spin-off. Also, it's missing a battle mode, one of the greatest multiplayer treats of the Mario Kart series, even though the gameplay's so similar otherwise. However, it does have the Adventure mode, something the Mario Kart series never had, and which helps the game stand out in a good way. I experienced it for the first time just a couple of years ago; back when the game came out, I was only interested in racing against my friends in the Tracks mode. After breaking my balls to hack through the Adventure mode, I think I finally "got" Diddy Kong Racing, and that it is way more than just the bland, rainbow-coloured replica of Mario Kart 64 I remembered it to be.

By land...
The graphics are good - the game looks WAY better than Mario Kart 64. Rare wiped their asses on Nintendo's cutouts and pseudo-realistic tracks, replacing them with full 3D characters that look surprisingly smooth, and cartoony tracks that still look like levels in any early Spyro the Dragon game; however, let's keep in mind that the first game in the Spyro franchise had not yet seen release, so who's ripping off who here...? Ten voice actors are credited, four of them for specific roles. The game is one of the few Nintendo 64 games that have real speech instead of a few random catchphrases or outbreaks, or some monotonic, basically pointless jabber to simply prove Nintendo 64's "technical superiority". Rare's in-house composer Eveline Fischer provides Pipsy the Mouse's voice, but David Wise returned from his brief exile to write the whole bulk of the soundtrack. Dave was really not on the mark here - I think this is my least favourite Wise soundtrack after WWF WrestleMania. It's OK, but simply not nearly up to par with Dave's best work. It's got too much tempo (Dave's at his best at mid-tempo), and it's simply unimaginative across the board. I like the occasional subtle references to some of Dave's tracks from Donkey Kong Country... they do not belong here, though. As I've mentioned a few times already, Diddy Kong Racing is part of the Donkey Kong franchise by name only.

Artificially, the game creates an image of a conversation between storyboard and character designers at Rare. "OK, team - we need to move on. Anybody got a new character? No? OK, let's do it this way. Let's go through all of your desk drawers. Fuck the Pro-Am project, let's stuff all those leftovers in a racing game, see who creates the best buzz and pick up on that, OK? ...What? How can we sell this game, you ask? Good question. Well, we still have time to squeeze Diddy into it. Hell, let's name the game after him while we're at it. Kids are bloody stupid." ...And so Diddy Kong Racing became one of the Nintendo 64's best- and fastest-selling titles. And also, the Banjo and Conker franchises were born.

In the Mario Kart series, Bowser's always been my favourite character to use. Hell, pretty much the only character I've used. Back when Diddy Kong Racing came out, most of the characters were brand new. Diddy was the only familiar one to me, and at that time, one of my favourite video game characters thanks to his starring role in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. So, I always played as him. Nowadays I do have a favourite above everyone else - Conker the squirrel, who made his debut in this game and was slowly heading to one of the most shocking changes in character in the second title of his own franchise, the M-rated Conker's Bad Fur Day. Kind of hard to believe this cute, happy-go-lucky squirrel went on to be the most controversial and adult-oriented Nintendo protagonist of all time... therefore, pretty much one of my favourite video game characters of all time.

...by air...
After choosing your character from the cast of eight - there are also two unlockable racers - you're given a choice between the Adventure and Tracks modes. The Tracks mode is very self-explanatory; you and up to three friends can engage in racing for fun on all of the game's tracks unlocked on the go. This mode is also good for grabbing a feel of the game. The controls are exactly the same as in Mario Kart 64, and very fluid. The Z button is used to take advantage of power-ups and weapons stored in balloons across the road. The weapons aren't really such a part of the experience as they are in Mario's series of games. The standard weapons are quite boring and few in numbers. The most basic weapon is the missile, which you can upgrade. Perhaps the biggest difference between Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing is that not only are there cars for you to race with, there are also hovercrafts and planes. Learning to control the plane efficiently is difficult, but very rewarding - it's surprisingly comfortable.

The Adventure mode also gives you a chance to practice with all three vehicle types right off the bat. By gathering balloons hidden on Timber Island and given to you as rewards for winning races, you need to unlock and win each and every race in the game and conquer the four guardians' domains. You can do all the races in the game in any order you want, as long as you have enough balloons to qualify for the race. It's quite like opening doors in Super Mario 64 with the proper amount of Power Stars. Once you have finished every race in one domain, you're taken to a boss battle in which you race against one of the four guardians. These special tracks are usually more or less linear, but the guardians are ultra-fast and need to be kept in check with a healthy dose of missiles up the ass. Once you've won, the guardian gives you a new challenge: the Silver Coin Challenge. This time, you need to conquer each race in their domain, but also gather all of the silver coins laid across the tracks. You must collect them all AND win the races to succeed in the challenge and fully complete one domain. Quite tricky from the beginning, I tell you. The game is nearly effortless as long as you're just racing - the difficulty level soars after you engage in the first Silver Coin Challenge. So does the game's single-player lifespan, though.

...and by sea.
Diddy Kong Racing is actually one of the longest-lasting single-player racing games ever seen, all thanks to the Adventure Mode and other challenges which I haven't brought up at all yet. Every domain has a secret track, unlockable with a key hidden somewhere on one of its standard tracks. If you manage to win on each one of these tracks, conquer every domain on Timber Island to the hilt and finally defeat Wizpig on his home turf, Adventure 2 is unlocked for some ultimate challenge. It's the same thing as Adventure, but all of the tracks are flipped and all the Silver Coin Challenges become even harder than they were on the first round. If you're into cartoons and racing, you will absolutely love this game.

It's so totally not a Kong game, it does have the scent of another legendary (and better) slapstick go-kart franchise all over it and standard racing by car or hovercraft is extremely easy, but the mere idea of the Adventure Mode in Diddy Kong Racing brings enough fresh meat and challenge to the table to make a highly impressive and unique game in this restrictive genre. It's so nice to see that even once, a game is actually better than I remembered it to be, by this many hunches.

SOUND : 7.3


a.k.a. Wild Cartoon Kingdom, Adventure Racers, R.C. Pro-Am 64

GameRankings: 88.67%

Banjo and Conker went on to star in their own successful franchises. Tiptup the turtle also went on to appear in the Banjo franchise. Krunch the Kritter is an enemy design made for Donkey Kong 64, which was in its very early stages of development. The boss character Tricky the triceratops went on to appear in Star Fox Adventures in 2002.

Two sequels to the game were planned: Diddy Kong Pilot and Donkey Kong Racing. The first game was ultimately made part of the Banjo franchise and renamed Banjo Pilot, and the second one was canned when Rare jumped ship to Microsoft. At this time, the only "sequel" to the game is its 2007 DS conversion.

Banjo and Conker do not appear in Diddy Kong Racing DS, since Rare owns the exclusive rights to their characters. They're replaced by Dixie and Tiny Kong.

Diddy Kong has been a playable character in the Mario Kart series since Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Nintendo GameCube, released in 2003.

torstai 15. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Land III (1997)

GENRE(S): Platform
RELEASED: October 1997
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

The classic Donkey Kong Country series had come to its indefinite conclusion with the release of Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! in 1996. As so totally expected, Rare announced Donkey Kong Land III was in development for the Game Boy in early 1997. The last 16-bit Donkey Kong game got mixed response mostly due to its awkward character and level design. The early screenshots of the new handheld game revealed those designs were carried over to what most people then believed to be a port of Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, just like Donkey Kong Land 2 was more or less a poor man's port of Diddy's Kong Quest. However, Donkey Kong Land III turned out a whole new game in the Donkey Kong franchise, heavily influenced by its SNES "counterpart", but certainly not even an attempt at a port. Guess what else? Although just as much of an artificially limited experience as its predecessors, and although I never could stand those God damn bears, as a gameplay experience Donkey Kong Land III is mostly quite all right thanks to better controls.

Dixie and Kiddy kick ass... again

A contest is held on the Northern Kremisphere for the discovery of the Lost World. Donkey and Diddy Kong have already been chosen to represent the Kong family, which upsets Dixie, since she and Kiddy were the ones to rescue them last time around. She partners up with Kiddy again and forces herself into the contest. Non-surprisingly, Baron K. Roolenstein and his Kremling Krew have also taken a great interest in the Lost World and its supposed wealth.

You are still here. What gives?
I get home from work at 10 P.M. My girlfriend's asleep, there's nothing on the tube except some absolute garbage like Big Brother, there are enough dirty dishes across the kitchen table to make it look like I have 37 kids, and the whole apartment smells like death. I'm not tired, I'm just bored, and depressed. There's nothing entertaining to do. Then I think to myself that hey, this might be a good time to pick up some old game and carry on with the blog. What was I covering right now? Oh yeah... Donkey Kong Land. How exciting. The first game was mediocre and repetitive, the second one was a lousy attempt to comfortably port a 16-bit masterpiece in gameplay to an 8-bit handheld form. Then we have a game released in the aftermath of the last game in the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy. I loved Donkey Kong Country 3. I wasn't crazy about its design values, but I loved the two main characters and the gameplay. My first thought going into Donkey Kong Land III was "let's get it over with". I didn't expect anything of it besides yet another half-assed port. That, it ain't. And it's also a decent game nearly worthy of the brand. Can I be serious? Yes, I can, and I am.

First off, the game looks exactly the same as its two predecessors. As a matter of fact, it tends to get even messier than either one of them. The level design's very faithful to the 16-bit counterpart, so there are those automatically side-scrolling vehicle levels with a quick tempo, for example. It's very hard to make out what's happening in those types of levels due to the high level of detail and all the sprites' tendency to disappear into the muddy background, and they are by far the hardest levels in the game just because of these kinds of issues. The following is no graphical concern, but since we got to the subject, underwater levels are also quite the chores due to Enguarde's total weakness as a playable character, from controls to the range of his charge. I actually get by better by using the Kongs whenever I have the choice. But, back to the graphics; technically the game looks good, but the much too detailed backgrounds can make the gameplay experience quite horrible from time to time.

Once again, there's no new music at all. All of the tracks are taken from Donkey Kong Country 3, composed by Eveline Fischer. It's greater work than I remembered - the average isn't close to Wise and Beanland's, but it's good, extremely fine. It's just that I can easily turn to the 16-bit and enjoy all this music in notably higher quality, as well as a better game...

Back to the trees.
...But then again, I had quite a lot of fun with Donkey Kong Land III. Why is that, you ask? Well, good general controls make moderate miracles happen, for one. Donkey Kong Land III is also devoid of many platform-specific quirks such as invisible walls, lack of traction, and the lack of decent collision detection. The slo-mo jumps and constant failures to simply grab ropes, two usual problems with the preceding Donkey Kong Land games are also eliminated from the fray. Donkey Kong Land III is just as fluid as an 8-bit Donkey Kong platformer can possibly be. Of course it's not any less limited than its predecessors when you start comparing it to the 16-bit game. There are no team moves since only one playable character is allowed on the screen at a time, and Kiddy's presence without that fabulous throw of his just makes no stinking difference whatsoever. Dixie's spin manouver is the one and only special ability that counts in the whole game. Other than that, both characters are identical in gameplay. They're extra health points rather than essential partners to each other.

Of course the game has more downsides than its relative limitations. First of all, it's easy to lose count of all the things wrong with the game's design... then again, some of those things were already wrong in the case of Donkey Kong Country 3, such as the inclusion of the bear brothers - only one of them's here to "represent", though, and at least those damn banana birds are gone. The level design in general is very random. There are no themes to the regions of the Kremisphere at all. It's just like in most of the first Donkey Kong Land game - it's a complete shuffle of all the different designs in Donkey Kong Country 3. Ski resorts, mountainsides, waterfalls, hollow trees and dusty old mills all serve as settings in a totally disorganized fashion. Lastly, Dixie, Kiddy and Wrinkly are seriously the only Kongs to make appearances in the game - even Donkey or Diddy are never seen. The Bazaar Bear is in charge of transport between regions and he gives crappy clues for ridiculous prices. Fortunately he's not nearly as important to your progress as his brothers in Donkey Kong Country 3.

I swear that Disney bee's
eyeballing me.
It's a bit more interesting to go for the DK Coins and bonus stages in this game than it was in the first two games, but it also takes up the least bit of effort out of all the games. Donkey Kong Land III is very easy to just run through, but being that the game's whole idea is to find the Lost World kind of puts weight on going for the collectables, which indeed is also quite easy in comparison to not just the other Donkey Kong Land games, but also the major titles. Well, at least it's entertaining. I can easily imagine that 14 years ago, this game would've been one of my favourite ways to suffer through bus trips - which I hate, if you haven't figured that out yet - even if I had already beaten it to the hilt a few times. It's all thanks to the relatively comfortable controls.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! was a good game. No, a great game - but the weakest title in the Donkey Kong Country series, pretty much due to its crappy design. Ironically, Donkey Kong Land III is the best title in the Donkey Kong Land series, even if it sports similar design. It's a more truly playable, tolerable and addictive game than its predecessors. I've said it before: it's amazing how much seemingly small tweaks to controls can make things better.

SOUND : 8.3


a.k.a. Donkey Kong Land III: The Race Against Time

GameRankings: 81.25%

The game was remade for the Game Boy Color in 2000 and retitled Donkey Kong GB: Dinky Kong & Dixie Kong, but it was released exclusively in Japan.

tiistai 13. syyskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Land 2 (1996)

GENRE(S): Platform
RELEASED: September 1996
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Donkey Kong Land wasn't really a masterpiece, but non-surprisingly, it was one of the best-selling Game Boy titles of its time, so it called for a sequel. This time, Rare wasted no time in coming up with an exclusive plot, instead they decided to beat their 1995 masterpiece Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest to a pulp and stuff its remains into a tiny Game Boy cartridge. The end result was another decent handheld platformer, but it raised the same question as the last game, asked louder than ever: "think it's time to buy a SNES already?"

Diddy's Kong Chore

Donkey Kong has been kidnapped by Kaptain K. Rool and his Kremling Krew. Diddy eagerly chases after the pirates with the goal of becoming a true video game hero, but the Kong family forces him to take his girlfriend Dixie along for the ride, not believing in his talent to hold his own against the Kremlings.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest is without a doubt one of the greatest gifts the Super Nintendo Entertainment System gave us, also one of the most truly challenging games in the whole system's vast library of games. I consider nailing 100(+2)% in that game one of my greatest achievements during the decades I've called myself a gamer. Not only was the game hard as fuck in a good way, but it looked phenomenal and describing the gameplay as "fluid" would be an understatement. Then came Donkey Kong Land 2, a sequel to the handheld game which preceded Diddy's Kong Quest. The first Donkey Kong Land game left a sour aftertaste as it was so limited in every way, it had boring level design, and the fluid gameplay of the 16-bit franchise was not carried over well to the Game Boy. One good thing about the game was that it had its own plot; it wasn't just some sort of a half-assed port, it had its own place in the series. Well, Donkey Kong Land 2 is more or less a port of Diddy's Kong Quest, the original game's plotline included, and the most important issues that Donkey Kong Land had have not really been resolved, so we're dealing with a certain disappointment.

Oh, laws of physics, do not
fail me now.
I'll start with the music this time around, which once again is the game's most valuable asset. However, there are no new songs, only rehashed tracks from Diddy's Kong Quest. Grant Kirkhope is credited as the composer, although all of these great tracks were written by David Wise. It's fantastic stuff, but we've heard it all in better, CD-ready quality once already. 

Generally the game is smoothed out from the excessive, soupy black and white detail that plagued the last game, but some levels such as most of Krazy Kremland still retain the same fashion of intolerable mess of a background. There are some concrete changes to the levels besides some random names. Due to space constraints, Glimmer's Galleon no longer features a glowfish named Glimmer, for example; instead, you light your path by touching barrels with a picture of a lamp on them. Due to the lack of colour, in Lava Lagoon the lava blinks - faintly - to indicate danger. Rare came up with fairly clever ways to compensate for the technological inferiority of the Game Boy... but no abundance of creativity is enough to credibly recreate a game like Diddy's Kong Quest for the Game Boy. Rare knew that, so why did they do it?

I'll try to keep this short. The team throw, one of the most essential abilities in the original Diddy's Kong Quest is gone, since there can only be one playable character on the screen at a time. All of the animal buddies are in, but they show up in the weirdest possible locations in which they rarely give you any advantages whatsoever. Their special abilities - such as charge attacks or Squitter's web platform - are executed awkwardly by pressing Select. There is only one major difference between Diddy and Dixie as playable characters; there are so many leaps to the unknown in this game that Dixie's spin manouver can really prove more useful than it ever was in any other Donkey Kong game. There are a LOT of leaps to the complete unknown, believe me.

Some of it's still a mess.
The lack of traction and slo-mo jumps, as well as the Kongs' occasional refusal to grab on to a rope, pole or whatever are still big problems, which becomes especially evident in Slime Climb, Toxic Tower or any other similar gauntlet level. These sorts of levels will probably not take away your desire to beat the game if you're a die-hard DK fan, but they will most likely take away your desire to go for the butter on the Donkey Kong franchise's bread: completion to one hundred plus. Yep, the DK Coins are here, one in each level just like in Diddy's Kong Quest, and the bonus stages need to be seen to the end to count to the percentage. There's also the Lost World, unlocked piece by piece with bonus coins - I haven't seen it, but I doubt it's half as hard as the 16-bit version. Unlike Diddy's Kong Quest, Donkey Kong Land 2 is not a hard game to run through. As a matter of fact, you can get by many of the most straightforward levels by using Dixie's hair to fly across them. It is hard to get everything... but not as hard as I consider finding the desire to do it to be.

Donkey Kong Land 2 is really not a bad handheld game, but being a violently stripped port of one of the best 16-bit games ever released in a thin disguise, and dragged down by serious issues when it comes to the comfort of gameplay, it fails to strike me even as a half essential title. Oh, how I wish my deepest concern was the total absence of Cranky Kong.

SOUND : 8.5


GameRankings: 79.00%