DONKEY KONG 64 / Rare / Nintendo 64

To understand Donkey Kong 64's whole deal, you need to take a quick trip into 3D platformer history. When the Nintendo 64 came out in '96 with Mario 64 as its pack-in title, that effectively established the genre template. It introduced the idea of centering the action around a "hub world", and also having to collect optional items in each level to open up new levels.

Mario 64 handled the collecting in an unobtrusive way, however. The platforming action was always at the forefront; the whole concept wasn't really that different from exploring the levels for hidden stuff in the various 2D Mario platformers.

So here comes Rare. They look at this model and say "hmmm. What if we turned the dial more toward the Collecting and away from the Platforming?" And thus the Banjo-Kazooie series was born.

Donkey Kong 64 is Rare taking the dial with both hands and cranking it toward Collecting as hard as possible. This game is the Final Form of the collect-a-thon platformer. In fact, it's debatable as to whether it should even be called a platformer; it's more like a 3D Metroidvania, just one where the recursive unlocking was implemented poorly.

We get right off to a bad start with a long and unskippable intro animation. The Kremlings attack Donkey Kong Island and kidnap the new DK Crew, with only Monkey Dong left to rescue them. Aside from springing them from cages found in the various levels, the main goal is to beat the boss of each level and get a key that unlocks the cage of a giant Kremling who wants revenge on the others. So basically the game is a drawn-out quest for our heroes to subcontract out to a bigger hero.

Once in control of Monkey, we proceed directly to the "training barrels" where we get our first look at the irritating rope swing and diving physics. Aside from these two elements the gameplay is actually fairly solid, though the game has issues with depth perception common to platformers of the early 3D era. It can be a nightmare trying to jump to hit or catch anything floating in the air or to try to jump from elevated platform to platform.

The camera is also irritating, more limited than most other N64 games. You can only adjust it in increments using the C-stick rather than being able to freely rotate it. It'll sometimes refuse to adjust, especially in confined areas. The view is also very pulled-in on your character, presumably to make the background vistas look more impressive ... however, this also has the effect of causing you to blunder into just-off-camera enemies fairly often.

All of that by itself would just be nitpicks set in the usual great-looking and pleasant-sounding Rare game universe if those were the only issues. Unfortunately, we haven't reached the central problem yet; the level design. There are a billion different things to collect, and they are all completely mandatory. Gatekeepers are all over the place preventing you from progressing until you collect X of whatever.

This absolutely murders the platforming flow of the game. There really isn't any. Not only do you have to hunt and peck for every little thing in the levels, you get to do it with five different characters who can each only pick up certain items.

Call this irresponsible reviewing if you want, but I was done after I beat the first boss. I'm pushing middle age here, I don't have time for shit I don't enjoy. After bringing the first key back to Actual Hero, I pecked around the hub for a while trying to figure out where the second world was (it's the only one that requires actual exploration and effort to get to for whatever reason), then finally got to it and was told I didn't have *quite* enough of the right banana type to be let in. Nope.

I give DK 64 the 3/5 as I can't really say it's an overall bad game - it's made by a very experienced Rare team with their usual level of polish and investment. It's just the way that they chose to structure it renders it really tedious. It's stuck in a place somewhere between a platformer and Zelda where it's not nearly as good as either.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video