MBF'S Retraux-Spective: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (Part 3)

So far, our quest to save the land from the evil sages Gol and Maia has been slightly irritating at best difficulty-wise. I think the developers took the hint and decided to bog out the last two-thirds of the game with levels that infallibly contort any sense of coherent navigation. To be fair, those levels started to rear their ugly heads as early as the first hub world with the befuddling Forbidden Jungle and the abstract Misty Isle, but if you thought those levels were prime offenders, you have yet to experience some of the levels in the late game.

Case in point, welcome to Boggy Swamp, or as I like to call it, 'The Mudhole Maze.'

Yes, because in the chromatic universe of Jak and Daxter, we definitely needed a level with a single puke-green color palette and shoddy draw distance.

If you like swamp levels, you don't exist. The only positive marsh scenario I've ever witnessed in a game was in Banjo-Kazooie with Bubblegloop Swamp, and even then it had its share of painful memories, but the Mudhole Maze is like the tough parts of Bubblegloop Swamp on speed. You can't set foot in the ankle-deep creek water without getting damaged, the place is swarming with rat hives and there's at least one ambush sequence crammed into a miniature area that would have otherwise served no purpose at all. As you can see in the picture above, there are yellow Eco clusters scattered throughout the level - in fact, this dump is actually the first area that they're introduced - but it only helps to mitigate the issue of the respawning rats just a little bit. And for added fun, let's just throw in several hundred explosive Dark Eco crates in the cramped tunnels for no other reason than to slow you down even more. It's truly the perfect recipe for disaster.

There is one, count it, ONE saving grace to this level: You finally get to ride in a vehicle that doesn't suck dongs for a change. Which one is it?

IT'S THE GODDAMN BIRD THING WE SAVED EARLIER.

Fun fact, this avian fellow's actual scientific name is 'flut flut.' Hilarious. I'm guessing one flut wasn't enough?

It's like if Eddie from SSX was on Moonshiners.

While the flut flut does not make you immune to player damage, it grants you enhanced agility and a higher jump length so you can get up to ledges you previously couldn't. He has a barge attack on the ground, and if you jump in the air and press square, you'll do a powerful diving headbutt. This bird is so awesome that it pains me when I'm reminded that I can only control him in this small area of the swamp and not ride on it throughout the whole level like Yoshi in Super Mario World. Everything seems all fine and dandy...

...well, until you run into Billy Bob Cletus sittin' outside his shack. Then you'll start to hate everything all over again.

He's in a sore spot because his pet hiphog named Farley was chased away by some Lurker rats. He's been trying to set up some of his favorite snacks to lure him back, but the rats keep getting to them first. This is where you come in, and what better way to do so than participate in a rat shooting gallery? Ladies and gentlemen, once again, it's...

And it's not called "Artistic Effort Time" for a reason.

I bet you went throughout the entire level so far without realizing that you could aim your shots in first person mode with the scope, am I right? Well, that's exactly what this minigame has you do. You're given an infinite supply of yellow Eco to shoot, but the rats keep coming in large numbers and the snacks are spaced out just far enough that they escape the peripheral view of your scope, which means a rat could swoop down and eat one of the snacks and you wouldn't even know it unless you're paranoid and constantly check back and forth. To make matters worse, the yellow Eco projectiles are incredibly slow moving, which means you'll have to lead most of your targets since they weave left and right. Jak and Daxter is on an ugly streak so far with minigames; it remains to be seen if there are any more that will make up for it.

Aside from the fact that four of this level's power cells rest on the same damn objective, there isn't much else to discuss about Boggy Swamp. It's a rather tepid and somewhat bothersome romp at most, but hey, look at the bright side, it could have been the Precursor Basin.

How does the stupid thing even work anyway? The propeller's on the front, if anything it should be going in reverse constantly.

Uuuugh, the Precursor Basin. It's bad enough that we have the transition Zoomer levels going from hub to hub, why on earth did we need a level dedicated to the goddamn thing?

To torture me is the answer, and boy oh boy, does the Precursor Basin deliver. Driving a land speeder with the handling of a hydroplaning Ferrari around an sacred, obstacle-laden field dotted with explosives while attempting to complete irritating chase objectives? Sounds like my kind of party! Oh, and no vehicle level is complete without a section where you go through rings, so let's put two of them in there just for good measure! Fortunately, this Zoomer level is unique in that it serves as an open-ended level instead of a timed trench run like the Fire Canyon, so you can at least attempt to salvage whatever you can from the Basin at your own pace and don't have to worry about slipping up and leaving a Precursor Orb behind anywhere.

To give you some insight as to how finicky it is to complete objectives in this level, I'll throw up some examples. Outside the level, an environmental researcher is worried about the safety of a group of Lightning Moles that have somehow ended up on the surface when the Lurkers moved in. Since they're blind, they can't see where the hole back underground is, and since this objective is scripted in a certain way, they can't just dig another fuckin' hole, so your job is to herd them back in by driving behind them and guiding them to the hole. It's way easier said than done, since they have a nasty habit of wandering off to the right of the Zoomer when you approach them, and as I said before, the turning isn't very tight.

Oh good, that's an image I needed in my head, a pointy-eared elf with a huge jawline and no trousers. Thanks Naughty Dog.

Sadly, just because this level isn't a straight line doesn't mean that Naughty Dog didn't somehow find a way to shoe in another racing segment. One of the residents of Rock Village, pictured on the right, apparently bet his pants that the resident guardian of the village could defeat General Klaww in a one-on-one duel, and he lost (go figure, Klaww is like 2 fuckin' stories tall and the guard didn't have any weapons, what a retarded bet), so now he's wearing a goddamn barrel over his nether region. Apart from simply giving him Precursor Orbs in exchange for another power cell, he also apparently placed another bet (jeez this guy has issues, you'd think he would've learned by now) that someone can beat the record time at the course in the Precursor Basin, and slashing the record earns you another power cell. The course itself isn't too difficult, but you can't afford to run into anything or stall for too long. If your momentum dissipates for even half a second, you'll fluke the attempt and have to start all over.

Farming Simulator 2013, eat your heart out.

If chasing flying lurkers around and herding small animals doesn't sound like your cup of tea, then at least you can always try the weed killer challenge. Yep, saving the world. By killing weeds. Ooh boy, doesn't get any more exciting than that. The funny thing is this challenge isn't easy either because the weeds keep respawning and the only way to get rid of them is to drive over them when your vehicle is charged with green Eco, which means you have to go back and forth for about six or seven minutes, refueling and driving over the same areas over and over again. I can't believe this game somehow managed to take a monotonous chore like weed killing and make it look so hard compared to real life.

There's nothing really else to say about the Precursor Basin, honestly. There's Lurkers you have to chase around and bump into, there's a power cell floating in midair in front of a cliff with no other catch to it than jumping to get it, and there are the ring challenges, which definitely overstay their welcome as they each last longer than 3-4 minutes. It may just be my bias towards not being a fan of vehicle levels, but I wasn't particularly enthralled by this stage as a kid and it still doesn't please me to have to replay it in the modern day.

I think I've had enough writing for one session. I know I promised I'd cover the rest of the second hub world, and I'll alter that promise right now so that we can get to the Lost Precursor City and the boss fight against General Klaww in the next edition. Thankfully, the Lost Precursor City is one of my favorite levels not just in this game, but of all time, so if the doom and gloom of this post brought you down I promise that the next one will be much more positive.

I'm MisterBananaFoam as always, and you guys have a great 2014. See you soon!

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MBF'S Retraux-Spective: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (Part 2)

Welcome back! Before I begin anew, I must warn you that this retrospective is going to take a bit more finesse and recollection out of me from here on out, since I already managed to complete the game with 100% completion and I'm moving on to Jak 2. I'll do my best to pump out the rest of The Precursor Legacy's Retraux-Spective before I rush too far ahead, but I have never played all the way through Jak 2 and am eager to see how it measures up compared to my limited experience with it as a kid, so I want to get it done rather soon. Now then...

When we last left off on our rambunctious questings, Jak and Daxter apparently tried to kill me twice, first by attempting to drive me to suicide with a raucous fishing side game and then by flashing strobe lights in my face in a vain attempt to trigger an epileptic reaction. Thankfully, I survived, but now we have to brave the dark, mystical realm of Misty Isle.

Spoilers: We never actually see creatures with spines as large as that in this game.

Anyone with half their brain still intact would be able to tell you that this is indeed the area that the protagonists explored in the prologue of the game, and now you get to run around in it at your own pace. Is it really all Samos was cracking it up to be?

...Well, no, not really. In fact, Misty Isle isn't much harder than the Forbidden Jungle in itself. There are some particularly annoying parts, though, like the aggravating frog enemies lurking beneath the mud or the armored Lurkers that take two hits to kill, but it's all rather manageable if you've been used to the controls by now. You're also introduced to the Red Eco clusters on this island, which are personally my least favorite type of Eco since all they do is give you a power boost, but it can be helpful when taking out the armored guards.

Most full levels in Jak and Daxter have about eight power cells in them and 200 Precursor Orbs. Some of them only have 2 or 4 power cells and 50 Precursor Orbs at minimum, and those levels are usually the transition levels between the hub worlds where you ride around on a Zoomer to get to the end of the course. Speaking of the Zoomer, guess what we get to ride around part of Misty Isle?

You know how I was rambling on in my bad game mechanics list about how fidgety and clunky the vehicle missions were in Jak 3? I forgot to mention that they were even worse earlier on in the series. The Zoomer wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't immensely top-heavy and turned like it actually had a steering wheel, but it's the handling that really kills the vehicle sections. One of your mission objectives involves ramming into a bunch of Lurkers piloting Dark Eco blimps, and this one's a real bitch since each blimp has two giant mines swinging in the front and the back which explode on contact. Coupled with the bad traction, this segment does not make for a pretty good time, and it only gets worse from here, as there are several levels dedicated to this junker.

Aside from the Zoomer section and the Donkey Kong-esque barrel dodging sequence, there's also an ambush you have to fend off in an enclosed precursor arena near where Daxter got transmogrified. If you think of other game's with ambushes in them, they're nothing compared to Jak and Daxter; upwards of up to 10 Lurkers can be found all running at you at once, and since they do damage on contact, you have to space them all out and strategize to figure out which one gets the next thrashing without putting yourself in danger. Oh, and there are dudes shooting explosive bags of gunpowder at you from the top of the level, at least if you didn't get the barrel-dodging sequence over with already.

By this point in time, if you've adamantly been collecting every single Power Cell you come across, you should be at an upwards of 30 or 32 or something. Crossing over the Fire Canyon requires somewhere around 20, if I recall correctly. I can't blame Jak and Daxter for having low progression goals, since several games have done it prior, but most Power Cells aren't that hard to come across and the most difficult ones will take you five minutes worth of your trouble at the most, so it's not uncommon to be quite a ways above the mark.

Fire Canyon's up next, and it's a Zoomer race. Oh goody.

The heat shield that Keira constructed is enough to withstand the boiling temperatures for a few seconds on its own, but prolonged exposure to the molten climate will overload the shield and disintegrate the Zoomer in an instant, and the pathway stretches on for a few minutes, so it's completely impossible to traverse beyond this point. I hope you enjoyed this retrospective, everyone, and I'm looking forward to the next one!

...Okay, yeah, that is a load of bologna. What REALLY happens is that you're supposed to keep the engine cooled off by busting through a series of balloon coolants scattered throughout the course by Keira. How she managed to get all these balloons suspended over a winding road of burning hot lava is beyond me, but I digress. Can't have a game without a challenge.

Fire Canyon's not so hard if you can adjust to the wonky steering. What IS aggravating about all of the racing segments is the fact that there are still Scout Flies and Precursor Orbs littered around the track, and if you miss one, you have to fly all the way back through the course again to grab it. Like I said, the vehicle sections aren't so hot - no pun intended - and we still have three more levels dedicated to them, so buckle your pants, hombres.

After that brief folly, you're introduced to the next hub world, Rock Village. Unfortunately, the town is being stalked by General Klaww, who uses his sheer size and might to hurl massive flaming boulders into the village. Whacking him is our next goal, but I'm gonna have to save that for another date. Next time on this thrilling Retraux-Spective saga, we'll discuss the three levels connected to Rock Village as well as the fight with Klaww himself. Stay frosty, folks!

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (Part 1)

Looking back on my blog, I see that the only Retraux-Spective I have bothered to do so far was Donkey Kong 64. It's a fairly interesting read, as I had an epiphany midway and began to realize how stale and crummy the game really was from a certain standpoint, so I think it's about time I bring some life back to this blog and revisit another childhood favorite of mine.

Naughty Dog was riding on the coattails of success from the moment they came up with Crash Bandicoot and its sequels, which I've also had the pleasure of playing recently and might eventually do a Retraux-Spective on as well. In the advent of the PS2, however, Naughty Dog decided that they wanted to shy away from the extreme linearity of the Crash Bandicoot games and come up with a new title that rivaled the likes of Mario 64 in terms of exploration and gameplay. Thus, in a 3-year time span starting in 1999, the team began work on Jak and Daxter. While still deeply rooted in the traditional slapstick humor and wacky animations that Naughty Dog made themselves known for in Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter introduced more exotic locales and made an attempt to piece together a more serious plot. This game was an integral part of my experiences with the PS2 when I was younger, and I remember it being a fantastic platformer with plenty of humorous gab from the cutscenes.

Then again, I also thought DK64 was fantastic, and you all know how that mess unfolded.

Well, hopefully, I can find it in the good of my heart to not bash this game ruthlessly like I did DK64, so let's begin. Here is a lengthy Retraux-Spective on...

Before I begin, let me answer a question before it gets asked: Yes, I plan on eventually doing a Retraux-Spective on all 3 of the original trilogy titles. Why those 3? Well, I haven't played Lost Frontier, my copy of Daxter is broken and I can't find my PSP, and I just plain don't like Jax X: Combat Racing, so I'm avoiding those titles at the moment. We'll start with game numero uno, since shit gets real different and serious as the series rolls forward.

The first game starts with a monologue from Samos the Sage, also known as the Green Eco Sage. He talks about prophecies and rocks and other gobbledygook before we see our heroes, Jak and the still-humanoid Daxter, taking a boat to the ominous Misty Isle. It's there that they bump into the game's antagonists, whose names completely escape me, but all you need to know is that they're bad and one of them sounds like a robot that's programmed to sound like he has strep throat.

As they trot around aimlessly, they encounter a pool of Dark Eco and an ancient Precursor artifact. Jak investigates the canister, and when he picks it up it starts to glow in his hands. The duo's curiosity is cut short, however, when they are attacked by an armored fiend. Jak fights it off by throwing the glowing artifact, but the explosion knocks Daxter into the pit of Dark Eco, transforming him into a weasel-otter hybrid called an Ottsel. When they arrive home, they receive scorn from Samos for not heeding his warnings to stay away from Misty Isle. He then explains that the only way to transform Daxter back would be to search for the Sage of Dark Eco beyond Fire Canyon, which is too hot to traverse on foot. They're then tasked with collecting Power Cells - essentially this game's Jiggies and Power Stars - so that Keira, the Sage's daughter, can upgrade her Zoomer with a heat-repelling shield so they can get across.

When I was a kid, I liked the cutscenes. I didn't pay attention to all of the dialogue, but I laughed at the banter between Samos and Daxter. But now, um, well...

FAHFJAFHAJHFGAGFHGAFHA PLEASE KILL IT

Jesus jumping Christ, what is wrong with these models? I mean, I get it, they're supposed to be cartoony, but I never noticed how... uncanny they are. Samos isn't looking too much better...

Good god, it's like a three-way love child between an orc, a dwarf, and a sycamore tree.

They're not so bad in the oversized still images, but they're much creepier when they're in motion. Imagine Jimmy Neutron, but twice as... flappy. Here's a video demonstration for you:

This is actually toned down in later installments, but this is one of the first problems I had when revisiting the game. Others may think the traditional 'always-100%-wacky-movements' style of animation works well for Jak and Daxter like it did for Crash Bandicoot, but it's so jarring and strange that I can hardly pay attention to the dialogue that's supposed to explain critical elements of the game's plot.

Nitpicking aside, after the first cutscene, you're dumped onto Geyser Rock, the tutorial level. Jak and Daxter controls much like you'd expect an open-world Crash Bandicoot game to control; you can move in all directions with the left stick and you have two main attacks, one being a dashing punch and the other a short-range spin attack. There's a dive attack for busting open crates, and you can crouch by holding either L1 or R1, which allows you to perform a long or super jump much like in Mario 64. In fact, that's basically how you can sum up the controls to this game, it's Crash Bandicoot and Mario 64 combined, and it works about as well as you'd come to expect from both games.

The game runs at a stunning frame rate even on the original PS2 version. I personally believe this is why Jak, Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper were the most visually impressive titles of their time. Not only did they all look very colorful and artistic for being PS2 titles, but they also ran at a crisp 50-60 FPS for most of the playthrough, with the occasional lag hiccups here and there, and this was on older console hardware! Nowadays, games like to cram in so many visual artifacts and shit that you'd be lucky if you got 24 FPS on a 360 title. I usually don't like to praise or detract a game for its video output, but I definitely can't fault these games for looking good, especially in the PS2 era.

Getting back on track, the main goal of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is to collect Power Stars Power Cells to upgrade or power some sort of contraption to get to the next hub level. Levels are littered with egg-shaped artifacts called Precursor Orbs, and collecting enough of them allows you to trade them with other villagers for more Power Cells and other goodies. Jak has 3 hit points in total, and for every 50 green eco bits he collects he can regain lost health or store another hit for a total of 4 hit points. This is actually a rather interesting strategy towards making the game a bit more challenging; as most breakables only give you clusters of 4 to 6 green eco bits, it limits the amount of health pick-ups you can acquire, so taking less damage is accentuated more than plowing through the game using power-ups.

Speaking of power-ups, there are other kinds of eco as well that affect Jak's abilities. Blue eco makes him fast, turns him into a collectible magnet and allows him to power up platforms or generators with the electricity stored in his body. Yellow eco allows him to shoot projectile fireballs, and red eco boosts his attack power. The most commonly-found type of eco is Blue, considering it's used to power up several precursor machines throughout the game, but you'll eventually utilize all 4 to your advantage.

When you finish the tutorial level 5 minutes later, you're dumped back into Sandover Village. You can talk to Samos and Keira and they'll relay information about nearby levels that you can explore and objectives that grant you a Power Cell when accomplished. Other villagers can be found and conversed with for much the same deal... but honestly, would you really want to talk to a guy that looks like this for more than 2 minutes?:

I know, I've hammered the point in by now, but screw you, they still freak me out.

Most of these guys are willing to give up a Power Cell in exchange for some dough, but some of them also require additional help, such as that ugly mug above. Alongside funds for his re-election campaign as mayor, he also believes he can win the village over if he restores its power, which has been cut off from the Forbidden Jungle, and is willing to hand over a Power Cell if you turn it back on. You have to question the election process of a village with a total population of, what, six people, let alone a village that houses one of the four sacred sages of the land, but whatever makes the game move forward, I suppose.

From here, we have two choices as far as which level we want to visit first. Chronologically, I usually start with Sentinel Beach, as it's a bit less crowded than the Forbidden Jungle and is altogether a bit more lax as far as challenge. The fact that Sentinel Beach has one of my favorite tracks in the game certainly helps wonders.

The sky actually goes from dusk to dawn as you play. Isn't it a thing of beauty?

Before I go forward, there is one little tidbit I'd like to mention: Jak and Daxter has its own day/night cycle. It's completely unnecessary, it doesn't affect the gameplay in any shape or form, and I love it. The dynamically-changing sky helps to make it feel like I'm actually traveling through a living, breathing planet with flowing ecosystems. The environments don't look too shabby, either. The diversity between habitats and organisms in each level is really apparent, and even the enemies within each level are appropriate to their surroundings, such as crab Lurkers on the beach or slithering snakes in the vast jungle.

Anyways, Sentinel Beach. It's a fairly standard beach level, all things considered. There are windmills up on the cliffs that power rotating platforms, coastal caverns, waterfalls and all sorts of beautiful surroundings to gawk at.

Up on the cliffs, you find a birdwatcher who has spotted a rare species of bird that's alone and prime for hatching. She wants to study this bird species a bit further and requests that you bring the hatching egg down to her. Unfortunately, you can't carry the egg with you, and it's perched on a high cliff top. Yes, that solution you're thinking of is the only way to complete this task, but fortunately, the drop doesn't shatter the egg into several pieces, and the small crack that ensues weakens the shell enough so that the hatched bird can climb out. It's a heartwarming tale, but the reason I'm mentioning this specifically is that this isn't the last time we'll be seeing our feathery friend in this game.

There's also a particularly annoying Power Cell that's hidden in plain sight. It seems ripe for the picking - until a giant pelican swoops down, gobbles it up and carries it back to her nest in the middle of the gulf. You have to swim over to the island and punch it out of her stomach, but then it becomes a race back to the mainland where the Power Cell was. You have like all of 12 seconds to get back there, and it doesn't help that the giant pool of water slows you down tenfold. It'll take at least a couple of tries before you manage to pass this one.

After you collect the rest of this level's hideously-easy Power Cells, you may notice that you're missing one. That one happens to be situated at the top of the tower that's shooting explosive bags of gunpowder at you. You'd think you could just swim over there, but swimming too far out into the ocean results in you being devoured by a humongous Lurker fish for an instant kill. The correct way to go about this is to bounce off the electricity-powered pads between the tall cliffs in the gulf of the beach, but there isn't any blue eco that's close enough to activate the pads. There's a vent nearby, but it isn't activated. If you talked to Keira previously, she mentions that all of the blue eco vents nearby have been deactivated, and the only way to turn them back on is to venture into the Forbidden Jungle and find a switch.

Like I said earlier, I like to go to Sentinel Beach first, but you really unlock everything in the first hub world if you visit the Forbidden Jungle first, since that's where you turn on the blue eco vents. There's also a third level - the island you went to in the game's prologue, Misty Isle - but to unlock that, you also have to go to the Forbidden Jungle and help out the fisherman so he can let you use his other fishing boat again. Looks like we're out of options, let's visit this Forbidden Jungle and see how treacherous it really is.

Forbidden Jungle is slightly less feasible to navigate than Sentinel Beach and appears to have a bit more to it under the surface. You start the level as you would expect, navigating the dense foliage and deadly traps, but the first thing that should catch your eye is the gigantic, obtuse structure in the middle of the jungle:

I mean, what gives?! I thought this level was supposed to be all jungle, not half-jungle-half-ancient-temple! I didn't sign up for this shit!

Leaning away from that part of the level, let's talk about the fishing minigame.

AAAAAAAFHFJDHGJHSGJHGHSJG I HATE FISHING BRAGGLE FRAGGLE SAKDJFKJSAFHSAFJKHSA

Believe me, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

Translated: For those of you who haven't experienced Jak and Daxter before, you're not going to like the minigames (I'm sensing a theme here with these retrospectives; I need to pick a Mario Party game next time or something), and this one is a precursor to all the annoying ones to come, no pun intended. To win, you have to steer your net on the bottom of the screen and catch 200 pounds of fish. The green ones are worth 1 lb each and the yellow ones are worth 5 lbs each. There are two stipulations that make this challenge so much more frustrating than it ought to be: One, you're only allowed to miss 20 lbs of fish in total, so you have to go through the minigame without missing a maximum of four bonus fish. Two, there are eels floating down the stream as well, and if you catch even one of them, you fail the whole minigame. The net maneuvers quite slowly, so you'll need the utmost of good timing if you want to get through it. It's bad enough that this is the hardest challenge in the Forbidden Jungle bar none, but you also are required to complete it if you want to go back to Misty Isle. Yep, of all the activation flags they could have chosen for that instance, they decided that this was their best bet. Beautiful.

Besides this, it's safe to say that you might have noticed the dozens of spiked vines poking out of the ground by this point. There is a way to get rid of them, albeit it requires you to fight a large plant monster in the depths of the temple. This is one of the first boss fights in the game, and although it isn't required that you defeat him, it makes traveling the mainland a lot less cumbersome. The actual fight with him is kind of lame, though. His only methods of attack are through sending spiky bugs at you and by lunging at you with his giant head. After all that, he tilts his head up and leaf platforms form under him, which lets you spin attack his face, and 3 whacks upside the head does the trick. Considering there isn't a boss between the first two hub worlds to tide things over, it's somewhat of a letdown.

There's not much else to say about the Forbidden Jungle other than there are some other Power Cells tucked away in the other areas you haven't explored yet and there was at least one point where the game tried to give me a seizure, or at least take advantage of my sensitive eyesight. The part in question?

AAAAAAAAAAAGH MY EYES (it doesn't look so bad from PNG format, but imagine it flashing rapidly on an LCD TV and try not to cry)

Okay, I'm all tuckered out of writing about Jak and Daxter for one day. It's great to be back on Giant Bomb and actually doing something for once, but let's just hope I can find the time to write more of these. Next time, I'll talk about Misty Isle, and I might even get to the next hub level. For now, this is MisterBananaFoam signing off. Stay classy, world wide net!

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Superiority Showdown - Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction vs. Just Cause 2

(Watching an episode of Jordan Underneath's web series GameUnderGame, where Jordan takes two games (usually of similar genres, console platforms, or quality) and thoroughly examines them to determine which one is fundamentally better, inspired me to come up with my own comparison piece, so here it is.)

If I was to name the two genres in particular that explicitly defined this era of gaming, they'd be the shooter (duh) and the wide-open sandbox, and it's the latter that we'll be focusing on today. Ever since the Grand Theft Auto series made its mark with the third installment, companies have tirelessly attempted to bring the sandbox genre into a staggering amount of new scenarios, from war zones to city scapes and even the darkest reaches of outer space. Out of all of these, however, two games stick out in my mind: Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction and Just Cause 2.

Mercenaries was released in January of 2005, right around the turn of the seventh console generation. Just Cause 2 was released substantially later in 2010.

"But pray tell, MananaFoab, why on this bloody Earth are you making comparisons between games released a whole generation apart from each other? Wouldn't the logical conclusion be that Just Cause 2 blows the pants off of Mercenaries 1?"

That might be the case, but I don't let release dates or the advancement of console hardware sway my opinion. After all, there are plenty of people who would say that Smash Bros. Melee is better than Brawl, or Ocarina of Time is better than most other Zelda installments, so why wouldn't that be the case here?

"But why are you comparing the original Mercenaries to the sequel to Just Cause? Shouldn't you be comparing both prequels, or both sequels? Why is that?"

Because Mercenaries 2, while not bad per se, was bug-ridden and unpolished to Hell, and I never laid my hands on the first Just Cause, although critics seemed to lash that one for being repetitive. I'm focusing on what I believe are the better games in each respective franchise.

To summarize each game...

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction takes place mostly in a fictitious, war-torn North Korea. Tensions between China, North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and the Russian Mafia swell up when the leader of North Korea's military forces, Choi Song, disagrees with his father Choi Kim's decision to attempt to reestablish peace with South Korea. Thinking North Korea's power will plummet, Song decides to order his army to rebel against Kim's rule by assassinating several large North and South Korean political figures across the nation, including Choi Kim himself. You are sent in as one of the three hired hands tasked with eliminating Song's closest comrades-in-arms, dubbed the Deck of 52, and resolving conflicts between the factions before nuclear war erupts. Not only does Mercenaries come out swinging with a sturdy narrative, but it most definitely has hours upon hours of exciting gameplay to back it up. The game gives you complete freedom to explore the massive overworld at your leisure; you can drive the game's many unique vehicles, engage in skirmishes with North Korean military forces, invade enemy strongholds, capture or kill any of the HVTs in the Deck of 52 at your own pace (except for the higher suites like the Jacks and Kings, which must be unlocked through completing missions) and search for secret munitions crates and weapons along the way. Mercenaries 1 certainly did take its subtitle and run with it, and with a vast multitude of collectibles, side missions and endings to uncover, the replay value for Mercenaries 1 was absolutely astounding, especially for its time. It received mainly positive reviews from most gaming-related websites and magazines and continues to thrive today as one of the PS2's most underrated gems.

Just Cause 2 seems to take itself much less seriously than Mercenaries, although many of the game's plot threads are eerily similar. You fill in the role of Rico Rodriguez, a longtime operative of the Agency, who is sent to the also-fictitious island of Panau to remove its ruthless dictator, Pandak "Baby" Panay, from power after he shuts off all of Panau's ties to the United States. In order to acquire more intel about Panay's whereabouts, Rico goes undercover and allies himself with one of three of the game's main factions, the Roaches, the Reapers, or the Ular Boys. The plot twists and turns all over the place, and it's clear that it wasn't focused on as much as the gameplay, because the actual feats you can pull off in Just Cause 2 are an absolute blast. Using his wrist-mounted grappling hook and parachute, Rico can pull enemies from a distance, scale large buildings in record time, tether objects together to make deadly traps, hijack vehicles and even travel at a fast pace without the limitations of using a vehicle. The possibilities with the grappling hook are damn near endless, but that's not this game's only defining feature. There is allegedly over 1,000 square kilometers of island to explore, making Just Cause 2's overworld one of the largest sandboxes in any game to date, and the extraneous amount of buildings and structures to topple, resources to gather and side quests to complete give Just Cause 2 an immense amount of replay value, to the point where absolute 100% completion can take weeks if not months to acquire. There's always, ALWAYS something to do in Just Cause 2. Reviews for Just Cause 2 were much more positive than its predecessor, and Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, most famous for his intensely-critical web series Zero Punctuation, gave it the honor of being his Game of the Year for 2010. Considering his usual vocabulary and low tolerance towards faulty game mechanics in recent history, that's a pretty damn dubious honor.

Critical reception and generalizations aside, both of these games are rather parallel in terms of premise and content, but which one of these goes above and beyond the call of duty and truly outshines its competition? Let's find out by examining each of the games' individual strengths and weaknesses.

I plan on judging both games in a set of respective categories: Content, Story, Art Direction, Gameplay, and Best Overall. Normally I would include Graphics as a category, but seeing as how Just Cause 2 is a generation apart from Mercenaries 1 it would seem rather unfair to compare the two games in that department. So then, without further ado...

Story:

Mercenaries 1 seems to pride its storyline more than that of Just Cause 2's, and for good reason. Just Cause 2's plot is fairly substandard and even immeasurably wacky at points, such as the part where part of Panay's special forces turns out to be a team of highly-trained ninjas with guns.You can't make that shit up without being drunk if you tried. So yeah, by this standard, Just Cause 2 hardly takes itself seriously, but that might not be a very bad thing. Some critics have likened Just Cause 2's campaign to an emulation of an over-the-top B-movie, which completely fits the mood of the game. Mercenaries's approach, however, while not quite as dramatic as a Christopher Nolan film, seem to be more grounded to terms with reality and encourages the player to see the rest of the events unfold alongside the story. Not that you would be, but if you're playing the game's to get involved with the lore and the characters, I'd say Mercenaries has a slight edge over the latter.

Winner - Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

Art Direction:

Rather than bringing up the subject of graphics, which, as I've previously explained, would invariably fall upon the title that is released on the console with better hardware, I've decided to look into the art direction that both games were taken in. I'm not particularly a stickler for polygons or post-processing effects, so I'm mainly looking towards the title that pleases my visual senses the most.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to hypocritically disregard what I said above and say that Just Cause 2 has the upper hand in this situation. While I am definitely not a fan of some of the character designs and animations in Just Cause 2, which are hilariously one-upped by Mercs, it has a much, much more lush overworld. Panau features practically any type of climate you can think of, from swamps to snowy mountains and from deserts to oases, and each spec of Panau is littered with gorgeous color and detail. Compared with its opponent, it makes Mercenaries look like a gigantic dust bowl. While the graphics for its time are rather polished, most of the overworld is draped in gray-brown shades and filters, which makes even the game's unique landmarks seem lifeless and dull. Point goes to Just Cause 2.

Winner - Just Cause 2

Gameplay:

Mercenaries and Just Cause 2 are similar in terms of general mechanics but widely different in other fields. Mercenaries is pretty bog standard when it comes to its control scheme; you can run around, shoot, crouch, throw grenades and interact with certain level objects. Just Cause 2's controls are a little more involved with the use of Rico's grappling hook. You can climb obstacles, tether objects to each other, and do practically everything that I already covered earlier as well as running and gunning.

However, while Just Cause 2's difficulty is designed around crazy acrobatic maneuvers and using the environment to your advantage, Mercenaries's challenge stems from planning your battles and deciding whether stealth or combat tactics are appropriate. You can disguise yourself as a member of specific factions by entering a faction vehicle unnoticed, which can allow you to slip by hostile factions or North Korean squadrons undetected, or you can simply bomb the everlasting hell out of everything with a well-coordinated airstrike. There are also certain missions in Mercenaries that encourage stealth to subdue key targets instead of killing them for a cash bonus, and cooperation with allied factions to lead assaults on hostile territories.

When it comes to Just Cause 2, however, the only way you're going to get anywhere is to cause complete anarchy and leave a large crater of destruction in your wake. Stealth is impractical because of the lack of a sneaking mechanic and the omnipresence of the AI, the allied factions are practically useless in combat and mainly serve as walking targets for the enemy to shoot at, and the game is just designed around tanking damage and utilizing the grappling hook to zip around and mess with your opponents, although this doesn't completely erase any element of strategy. During battle in Just Cause 2, you're typically only allowed one or two chances to heal with one-time-use first aid cabinets, and your health only regenerates to the minimum health state before your screen starts flashing red and you begin to die, so you have to usually scout out the area for cover and other means to eliminate opposing forces, such as tethering soldiers to a propane tank and setting it off with a gunshot, dragging them into the air helplessly to their doom, or smacking two cronies together by attaching them to the same cable. Utilizing these environmental takedowns and hazards to your advantage is what makes Just Cause 2 so damn fun, and thanks to Rico's enhanced mobility and the wide spectrum of weapons to wield and upgrade each combat scenario feels unique as you can barely ever run yourself into a dead end even when surrounded on the harder difficulties by two choppers and a dozen infantrymen.

So which one wins this battle, Mercenaries's varied skirmishes or Just Cause 2's ridiculous gunfights? Well, in all honesty, as much as I loved the tactical battles involving allies in Mercs 1, I loved pulling off gratuitous, high-flying stunts in Just Cause 2 even more, especially since getting around isn't as much of a chore, so it deserves this category as well.

Winner - Just Cause 2

Content:

Oh hell, I'm going to get punched in the stomach for this.

You should all know of the substantially large hub that Just Cause 2 takes place in by now, with over 100 unique locations scattered around Panau, each with their own set of weapon/vehicle parts to obtain and Panay propaganda to obliterate. If you've played the game, you should also know about the crazy amount of side missions to partake in and the colossal heap of collectibles scattered throughout the game. There is so much content in Just Cause 2 that I can hardly believe it...

...yet most of it just feels so damn stale. There's no substance or reward for causing mayhem or collecting these boxes; most of the time the game just gives you cash and unlocks more items and missions to further the game's story. Blow up an entire military base by yourself with nothing but a pistol and some grenades? Congratulations! Here's some money. Trekked across the globe and located a truckload of a faction's collectibles? Congratulations! Here's some more missions. Completed those missions? Congratulations! Here's more money and missio - seriously, do you see where I'm going with this? You can pad out a game with an entire warehouse full of content, but if it's the same crap over and over again how do you expect people to be surprised, or even sustained? A fine example of this are the stronghold takeover missions; each and every single one of these missions literally follows the exact same pattern. You guide a technician through a reinforced fortress, unlock a gate with a quick-time minigame, take out a couple of mounted guns and snipers, and finally protect him from reinforcements as he hacks into the base's mainframe. The rewards for completing this mission are the same each time, the character models are the same each time, and the only real differences between the missions are the places you shoot up. It certainly doesn't help Just Cause 2's, er, cause that a lot of the environments look similar, have similar names and are pretty devoid of interest for the most part, and the faction system can barely be considered one, as deciding to pour all of your time and effort into helping one faction won't detract your moral standings with another.

I'm not preaching to Mercenaries's choir here, but the way I remembered it, there was more depth to the rewards you obtained from capturing bounties and doing work for specific factions. Applying for certain missions can and often will affect your standing with another, so advancing the plot in the way that you see fit takes actual thought as you have to think about which faction could be considered the bigger threat or asset. Collectibles this time around include cash bonuses and unlockable supply drops and weapons, including airstrikes and vehicles, which are airlifted by a chopper that you have to protect. In addition, choosing to advance your standing with certain factions nets you certain unlocks related to that faction, like machine gun-mounted pickup trucks for allying with the Russian Mafia. There are multiple endings, secret codes, an ever expansive and unique arsenal, and even three playable characters to choose from at the beginning of the game. Every choice you make in Mercenaries feels like it has a more lasting impact than the choices you make in Just Cause 2. As ugly as it sounds, Mercenaries is just more varied, and therefore wins my vote in the Content category.

Oh, and you can demolish every single supported structure in the game, minus the local fauna. Not really a counterpoint or anything, I just thought I'd mention that little tidbit.

Winner - Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

Ooh, we're tied up 2-2 in the categories. This cannot end well. Time to find out which one of these suckers truly beats the other to the punch.

Best Overall:

So we've established so far that Mercenaries and Just Cause 2, as similar as they are, seem to revel in their own separate accomplishments over the other. Mercenaries has a dramatic and controlled narrative that somewhat ties in with real-world events and houses a plethora of content behind its comparatively small frame, yet Just Cause 2 brings exciting gun play and combat to a whole new level with its innovative grappling hook techniques and prides itself on a massive landscape and a superior catharsis factor.

It's such a close call. My brain is frying itself trying to come up with a conclusion here. Sometimes I just wish one of the games had a(n OFFICIAL) multiplayer co-op mode or some other grand feature so it would be easier for me to choose. If I was to play the games in short spurts, I'd go with Just Cause 2, and long-term I'd go with Mercenaries 1, but we're not talking specifics here, so I'll just go ahead and say...

...that while Just Cause 2 will always have a special place in my heart, Mercenaries is just such an engaging game. I can't rationally measure how much fun I can have playing Just Cause 2 after booting it up, but the carnage often begins to roll over itself after about 20 minutes of playtime because of the repeated objectives, the lack of tactical gameplay styles, the zig-zagging difficulty and the atrocious voice acting, among other minor flaws that always seem to tarnish the experience for me. Mercenaries may not lack all of those problems, and it certainly has its fair share of errors, but I can definitely see that LucasArts (R.I.P.) did put plenty of compassion into the creation of the faction system, the story arc and the overall sense of freedom due to the enhanced inventory systems, added goals and down-to-earth tone.

You can have the largest canvas in the world to paint on, but if you can only fit so many ideas on it then it's almost pointless compared to using a more reasonably-sized easel. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction wins the Superiority Showdown.

Winner - Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

Check back soon if you want to see more of this, more Retraux-Spectives, and periodically-updated lists! This is MisterBananaFoam signing off!

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Finale and Summary

So here we are. It's all come down to this. Hours and hours and countless hours of soldiering through questionably-designed traps and racing beetles has led up to the first of the game's final challenges. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my esteemed pleasure to introduce to you...

...Hideout Helm.

We (and by we, I mean 'I') have foiled K. Rool's nefarious plot to steal the Kong's golden bananas, barely evading the complete slippage of our (my) sanity, and now we (I) get to hit K. Rool right where it hurts. The heart of his wicked scheme. The belly of the beast. The sweet chewy center of the Tootsie Pop. That's right, we get to take down his base of operations...

...by completing some more minigames.

I mean, what do you expect me to do at this point? I give this game a chance for an epic ending, or at least an epic set-up to an ending, and it gives me the equivalent of Amazing Goddamn Island. I can't really take much more of this.

But, I suppose I better finish up this mess somehow, so let's just calm down and describe how Hideout Helm works. Basically, the second you step foot into Hideout Helm, your ass is on a timer. To disable the death ray aimed at Kong Island, you have to first maneuver your way into the headquarters and activate a series of doors. Each of these doors contains two minigames specific to each Kong and a Banana Medal. Once you clear the two minigames, the laser grid shuts off, part of the main machine is disabled and you get a free Banana Medal for your effort. Do this with every Kong and, well, congratulations, you disarmed the gigantic death laser pointed at Kong Island.

Here's the trick to this level: You know those blueprints you've been collecting throughout the game? You know, the ones dropped by these guys? Turns out they weren't just for hoarding more Golden Bananas; they are literally the blueprints to K. Rool's Blast-O-Matic weapon. The more of them you find, the more time you're given on the last stage to clear every minigame. Collect them all, and the game gives you fifty minutes to complete the whole stage, which is way more than enough time than you'll need to beat all the minigames. Even if you only collected one or two blueprints, you should be able to scrape by with a decent time as long as you don't lollygag.

You know what else is funny about this? Well, I will admit I literally just pulled this from the trivia section on this wiki, but... how is Snide able to delay the countdown for the death ray? Wasn't he, I dunno, banned from the project? Did he just invent some doohickey off-screen that rewires the internal circuits of the Blast-O-Mat - you know, I'm really thinking too hard about this. It's not like the devs were really caring at this point in the game, so why should they stop at defying logic?

Since I really don't feel like going in-depth with most of these minigames, I'll let NintendoCapriSun demonstrate how the minigames in Hideout Helm work.

Yeah, his reaction at 6:00 in the video above is pretty much the same as mine when I revisited Hideout Helm in my most recent playthrough. And, to answer your question, why, yes, the timer doesn't stop while you're actually in the minigames. It just keeps on ticking away.

Anyways, here's part 2:

By the way, I'm pretty sure letting the timer run down inside Hideout Helm is the only way to get a Game Over in Donkey Kong 64 besides saving and quitting. Personally, I'm glad. This game is frustrating enough.

After getting rid of K. Rool's superweapon, the only thing left to do is track him down. Unfortunately, by this point, he's already in a hangar bay getting himself ready to flee in his large crocodile spaceship, something the game delightfully pulls out of its hind quarters. Naturally, the only way to challenge him is to collect all of the game's boss keys and release K. Lumsy from his cage, but there's still one more on the loose. You'd think that after demonstrating your minigame prowess in Hideout Helm, the game would simply give you the final key...

...but this is Donkey Kong 64 we're talking about here, so, in keeping tradition with padding the absolute fuck out of everything, you have to obtain the Nintendo and Rareware Coins from playing through the Donkey Kong arcade game twice and getting a high enough score in Jetpak, which is only unlocked after getting 15 banana medals from other stages. If you haven't been judiciously hoarding every colored banana you come across up to this point, you're pretty much hosed and will have to backtrack, ONCE AGAIN, to the previous stages and recollect everything you missed. And GOD HELP YOU if you didn't acquire the Nintendo Coin at this point in the game. I swear, when I was a kid, once I figured out I needed the damn thing to face the final boss I literally gave up right then and there. This is where I have stopped for all these years.

Not today, though. Through exuberant amounts of effort, determination, and wincing, I powered through the DK Arcade Game twice and obtained the right to see the game's final boss.

And it was worth it.

Yes, that's K. Rool in boxing attire. And yes, you fight him in a boxing match, although it's less of an actual boxing match and more of a 'roly poly clusterfuck no-disqualification bout of destruction.' I always loved the themed K. Rool fights in the DKC series, and they have definitely transitioned well to DK64, even if the rest of the game hasn't.

Each Kong has their own phase of the fight. Donkey has to climb the posts and blast himself at K. Rool when he's distracted. K. Rool is, predictably, at his lamest during this portion because all he can do is pretty much run around and slam his buttocks against the ground causing a huge shockwave. Hell, his gloves are mainly for show; he hardly punches you at all. One funny thing about this boss fight is the intermissions after you complete a phase of the fight. Two of K. Rool's minions fumble around in the announcer's booth trying to end the round so that K. Rool won't lose via K.O. I'm pretty sure that's not how real boxing works, but hell, it's how this game does it, and if the last fight ended right then and there it would have been pretty damn lame.

Next up is Diddy. Here, you have to fly around and drop the ring lights on K. Rool's head while dodging his glove. Damn. Who would've thought that Diddy would be such a dirty cheater? Then again, I'm pretty sure throwing your glove in boxing is also illegal, but jeez.

Now we come to Lanky, and his portion of the fight is probably the longest and most tedious. K. Rool, for some reason, has not taken off the last stage light you dropped on him, and is now running around the stage like a maniac. After a little while, buttons will fly up from the sides of the stage. Lanky's arm attack is now comically extended to several feet so you can press these buttons, which also seems like a last-minute change. After you press one of these buttons (order doesn't matter), a barrel with a banana icon spawns in front of you. You have to throw the barrel into the middle of the ring (which creates a banana peel), run to the corner and lure K. Rool in with your trombone to make him slip on the peel and take damage. The worst part about this section of the fight is that the detection for when K. Rool steps on the banana peel is rather strict. If you're just a hair off, he'll just mosey his way on past it and beat you upside the head.

Tiny's segment is the hardest of the five, in my opinion. Here, you have to shrink down and enter his boot once he starts rubbing his behind from ground-pounding too much. Once inside, you have to dodge his toes as they frantically try to crush you, then you have to shoot the exposed skin under one of his toes with your crossbow. You'd have to wonder how K. Rool could possibly get knocked out from minor toe inflation, but whatever advances the fight, I guess.

Then, at last, we come to Chunky, who gets the dubious honor of knocking K. Rool the fuck out. I think during this portion of the fight there's some invisibility bullshit that K. Rool suddenly pulls out of his ass but it all is made up for when you get to sucker punch him in his slimy face... until he turns invisible while he charges at you, which forces you to rely on the position of his shadow on the ground. I like this part of the fight the most because it's the one that resembles Super Punch Out!! the most.

All of these segments connect together to make a sweet conclusion to an otherwise subpar title. If you want to see the final boss in its entirety, here's a quick vid of that:

And that's basically Donkey Kong 64 for you, guys. Well, not quite, actually; there is a hidden outtakes video you can unlock through getting 101% completion - and no, I'm not kidding, there is one more percent you have to unlock by collecting every fairy and obtaining the last hidden Golden Banana - but because I'd bet not a lot of you have the unyielding patience of a wizard required to fully complete this game, here's another video of that, if you'd like to see it:

And that, my friends, is truly the Donkey Kong 64 experience. If I hadn't said it before, it hasn't aged very well.

While the levels themselves seem to be massive and expansive, a lot of them are just museum exhibits, interesting locations separated by dull hallways. Plenty of areas of the game seem as if they weren't playtested at all, such as the Beaver Bother minigame and damn near half the races. The worst part of Donkey Kong 64, however, is its extreme tendency to recycle every game mechanic to pad out the game's length. Repetition is a humongous theme in Donkey Kong 64 because almost every aspect of the game revolves around it. The level design and layout often repeats itself, the minigames certainly repeat themselves, and collectibles take an extreme habit in being within areas meant for other Kongs, meaning you'll often have to repeat the same area again with a different character. Even the goddamn boss fights start to repeat themselves after the fourth world!

Still, I can't crap on this game too much. The music is fantastic yet again, courtesy of Grant Kirkhope, and I hardly ever had beef with the game's control scheme. The amount of content to unravel, while not as extensive as Banjo-Tooie, was rather sufficient, and I'll admit that segments like the mine cart rides were a refreshing break from the monotony of the rest of the game. The few boss fights that didn't repeat themselves were pretty hectic and formidable, and for a Nintendo 64 game, its looks very nice. The character models are quite well done and the settings are crisp and colorful.

Donkey Kong 64, as a sequel to the Country series, is laughably lackluster and unpolished. Is it truly awful, though? Well no. Donkey Kong 64, on its own, is an average - if not repetitive - platformer that hits head on sometimes and misses by a wide margin at others. If you loved Rare's younger adventures as a kid, Donkey Kong 64 might not live up to them, but it can still be a refreshing dose of nostalgia if you look at it from the right perspective.

Oh, and there's also multiplayer, but it's kinda meh. You'd be a little better off playing GoldenEye, but I'll describe it really quickly, anyways. Up to four competitors can duke it out as any Kong (or a buffed-up Kremling named Krusha) in either a deathmatch-style arena or a battleground similar to the Crown fights in single-player. Whoever gets the most frags wins. It's rather basic, but if you have a group of people it can be pretty entertaining at times.

And with that, I bid adieu to this Retraux-Spective, finally. Don't get me wrong, I love to talk about games, but I was beginning to run out of the will to write there. I hope you enjoyed my ramblings, and I guess you can follow if you'd like to see me review and reminisce upon more shit in the future. This is MBF, signing off. Have a good one!

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Part 7

I really don't like how much I've had to reprimand Donkey Kong 64 for its faults so far, doubly so because of all the time I spent playing it as a kid. I loved this game to death, probably because of my naivety. Not only was I new to gaming, but I never cared about the aesthetics that come together to make an excellent game, or whether or not the stories were coherent in the slightest, I just cared about playing a game where I beat up bad guys and got rewarded for it. Oh how I wish I was still so naive. I may have been more scatterbrained in my early days, but my inability to pay attention to fickle details allowed me to enjoy games more. Now, I find fault in every form of media I turn to and I can't accept faults due to my obsessive compulsiveness. It truly blows.

But hey, if there's any level in Donkey Kong 64 that can bring me out of this sulking mood, it's Creepy Castle.

Isn't that ironic; the spooky level is the one that lifts my spirits the most.

As similar to Whomp Fortress as it is, Creepy Castle has to be my favorite level in the game for a multitude of factors.

First of all, it only has one racing segment, which actually controls decently and requires sharp reflexes and skill, unlike half the other races in the game which often rely solely on blind luck.

Second, the level is massive and open. There are a ton of side paths, sure, but Creepy Castle is unique from the rest because it never feels like your being railroaded through specific sections of the level through corridors (except maybe in some indoor sections), unlike, well, every other freaking level in the game. This is just about as close as Donkey Kong 64 gets to a large-scale Banjo-Kazooie level. Then again, all of Banjo-Tooie's levels pretty much accomplished the same feat, but it's good to know that they put some effort into the level design for a change.

Third, this level is arduous in terms of difficulty, but unlike most of the other levels in the game it hardly ever resorts to cheap tactics to provide that difficulty. Most of the Golden Bananas in this level are obtained through puzzle solving or pure platforming skills, and the only ones that don't often involve playing a buggy minigame or two.

Now let's get into the specifics of this level, mainly certain Golden Bananas I had trouble with or other aspects that stood out in my eyes.

The crocodile demon doesn't appreciate visitors in his mine shaft...

First things first, and I've been dying to get this out of my head since I started writing this entry, I love this level's mine cart ride. Whereas the first two rides were on-rails duck-and-dodge obstacle courses, this time around you can jump between two tracks, and at multiple points on the ride you literally fight off a demon. Well, maybe not fight him off, but partway through the ride, a huge, floating, demonic crocodile apparition appears and starts swiping at you. Not only is this a refreshing (and frightening) change of pace from the first two mine cart sections, but it's also easier, since you only need 25 coins to get the Golden Banana at the end.

The Hands of Hell, as I like to call them.

Not all of Creepy Castle is a bundle of roses, however. There were a few sections that quite annoyed me when I attempted them, and the one that immediately springs to mind is the platforming section with Tiny where you have to jump between a group of hands that rise and fall out of a vat of instantly-fatal acid. You have to glide between them using the hair twirl technique, but the fingers on the statues keep getting in the way of my timed jumps, which makes it difficult to analyze a safe pattern to the Golden Banana at the edge of the room.

...weird, those are really the only two Golden Bananas that I remember distinctly. Some others involve going through a maze as Lanky in a similar fashion to Sandybutt's Tomb from the first Banjo-Kazooie, and there's also one where, if I recall correctly, you have to navigate a hostile library as Donkey Kong using his invincibility barrels, much like the haunted library from Super Mario 64.

In fact... that's why this level is so great in hindsight... it lifts challenges from other good games. Well, mostly. The above-mentioned mine cart ride was pretty cool, but other than that, this level isn't terribly original. Well, I'll give them credit where credit is due, at least they didn't attempt to ruin it with more artificial difficulty.

Oh, and the level's boss is awesome.

AHAH! NOW I'VE GOTCHA!

Don't be fooled, guys. This isn't actually K.Rool. Rather, you get to fight a large, cardboard cut-out version of King K.Rool. It's just as goofy as it sounds.

The fight is actually really difficult, too, all things considered. He may just be a cheap imitation of K.Rool, but that doesn't stop him from being able to fire fricking laser beams at you. There are four blast cannons on the center island, each pointing towards one of the castle walls. To damage King Kut-Out, you have to enter one of these cannons just as he pokes his head out from behind the wall the cannon is facing towards. Time it wrong, and you lose a Kong (hey, that rhymes), and if you miss with all 5, you lose the battle. It gets harder and harder to avoid accidentally doing this as the fight goes on, since King Kut-Out never stays still for a second when you've hit him enough times, and he even creates a fake hologram version of himself just to trip you up. Still, if your coordination skills are up to snuff, King Kut-Out is a pushover, but he's still a legitimately fun boss to fight and a fitting one to go out on.

Well, now I just feel like a jerk. That was a pitiful amount of writing for what I consider to be the game's shining moment. I think now would be a good time to gloss over the minigames that this game is practically plagued with. In order according to the game's official Wiki page:

  • Speedy Swing Sortie: Nothing much to say about this one. If you had trouble swinging on vines in the tutorial stage, you'll probably have a hard time with this one, because it's exactly the same thing as that. Very original.
  • Mad Maze Maul: God, I love the music in this minigame. In this challenge, you have to traverse a maze and defeat all the goons inside before reaching the finish line. It can get aggravating wandering left and right for the sole enemy you left behind, but the music more than makes up for it, in my opinion.
  • Splish Splash Salvage: Another lazily-copied tutorial minigame, this one has you swimming around collecting coins this time. You'd have to be rather screwed in the head to have any trouble with this one, although the swimming controls are somewhat stiff.
  • Minecart Mayhem (pictured below): This one's a doozy. To win, you have to switch tracks constantly to avoid the TNT barrels charging after you. Often times you will end up trapped between the barrels on a corner, and in that case there's nothing you can do but restart and hope the next path you take is a little more successful. Very annoying.
Minecart Mayhem
  • Stealthy Snoop: Same thing as Mad Maze Maul, except this time you're avoiding the guards with flashlights and simply trying to get to the exit. Thankfully, it's the only forced stealth section in the game, and it isn't too grating if you know what you're doing.

Teetering Turtle Trouble
  • Teetering Turtle Trouble (pictured on the right): Oddly enough, this is the only section of Donkey Kong 64 where the snake enemies from the first game are shown, let alone turtles. Six snakes are practicing a balancing act by spinning turtle shells on their tails, but can't keep up the act without food, so, of course, the most reliable course of action would be to fire watermelons at their faces at a high velocity. I find it funny when the snakes yelp out 'Help!' when they get low on energy; it sounds so cheesy.
  • Big Bug Bash: Ooh, I hate this one. In this minigame, you inexplicably turn into a flyswatter and have to, well, swat the flies. Except these flies never sit still, like they're hyped up on caffeine or something. There's really no correct way to beat this one other than to mash the A button repeatedly and hope to God that you hit enough bugs to win.
Kremling Kosh

  • Kremling Kosh (pictured on the left): The game's glorified 'Whack-A-Mole' minigame. Simply shoot the crocs that pop out of the barrels to score points. Red ones are worth more but are much harder to hit because they pop back into the barrels too fast. You almost have to guess where those guys will pop out if you want the bonus points, but it's easy enough to win even without hitting one of them.
  • Peril Path Panic: If you've played Banjo-Kazooie, this is pretty much the minigame where you have to protect the Twinklies from getting devoured by the monsters in the floorboards, except swap the Twinklies and the monsters for banana fairies and crocodiles. I hardly ever have trouble with this one, except the noise the fairies make when they get eaten is kinda disturbing.
Beaver Bother (ick)

  • Beaver Bother: Oh dear lord, this one is the worst of the lot hands down. You play as a Klaptrap who has to scare a bunch of beavers into the pit in the center of the ring. What makes this minigame so goddamn aggravating is that the beavers actually tend to get hung on the edges of the hole, as if there was some form of reverse magnetism emanating from the hole. The only surefire way to get the beavers to fall in is to approach them from the side and scare them, and even that takes a lot of trial and error. I've spent so many bloody hours trying to complete them, especially the ones that have you heard twenty beavers into the hole. To give you a mental picture, there are only four beavers in play at once, and you're given thirty seconds. Yeah, not fun.
  • Batty Barrel Bandit: This one is a slot machine minigame. Thankfully, it isn't luck-based; you just have to stop each reel on the Golden Banana individually by pressing the A button. The game will make you do it 3 or 4 times, but it gives you a lot of time to do it, so it's one of the more tolerable minigames.
  • Stash Snatch: Ugh... ANOTHER maze minigame. The only thing that's different about this one is that you're collecting coins this time around. Next.
  • Searchlight Seek: This is pretty much the less frustrating version of the flyswatter minigame. You are a spotlight with a crosshair shining down onto the ground, and you have to find and nail the Klaptraps hiding in the darkness. Fortunately, there isn't a whole lot of ground to cover, so you won't have to search that hard, but it can be frustrating at times, especially because the Klaptraps move around all the time.
  • Busy Barrel Barrage (pictured to the right): In this minigame, you're ambushed by Kremlings, but unbeknownst to them, you have an infinite supply of ammo and an itchy trigger finger. You can't move, but shooting the shit out of everything that comes at you sure is satisfying, doubly so for when you do Chunky's version, since his pineapples down them in one shot.

  • Krazy Kong Klamour (pictured to the left): Another shooting gallery minigame, although this time the Kongs are in your way and the lights flicker on and off. Shooting the Golden Banana gets you closer to your goal, but accidentally nail a Kong and you lose a point. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether or not I accidentally hit a Kong because they make so much damn noise during this minigame.

Well, those are all the minigames. I hate to cut it short again, but pretty soon we'll be edging our way towards the game's final boss and ending, and then maybe I'll end up doing my own little review on the game's page, I dunno. Until that time, take care, everyone.

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Part 6

Wow, two dull levels in one go. It would be an understatement to say that Donkey Kong 64 has been slacking on the home stretch so far. By this point, it's also evident that Rare's exhausted of ideas. The bullet points I made in part 3 are getting more and more evident the closer we get to the finale. They were even given a large, baroque environment to create upon and somehow they even managed to squander that chance, instead opting for the same minigames, simple puzzles, and dreadful racing segments we've already been accustomed to up until that point. Worse still, as previously mentioned, the game only has two more levels after Fungi Forest, which means it doesn't have a lot of time to get back on its feet and entertain us again.

Well, let's see, what's the next level on the agenda...

...Oh hey, well, this level certainly looks very nice. It appears to have a serene atmosphere, and those crystals sure do look gorgeou - oh, who am I kidding, you're not buying this for a second, are you?

Well, fine, I guess I'll just go out and say it, well aware that hardcore Rare fans might bash me afterward: Crystal Caves is the epitome of suck. Whereas Gloomy Galleon was a tepid wasteland of fluids and failure, Crystal Caves is a clusterfuck of poorly-designed challenges, horrifying navigation and the most inexcusable examples of backtracking this game can throw at you. I suppose a more detailed analysis is in check, so... sigh... let's get on with it.

One thing I absolutely loathed about Crystal Caves as a young boy (and it's something that still perturbs me to this day) is how Crystal Caves lulls you into a false sense of late-game security, then catches you off guard by nailing you in the nuts with a hammer. How do I describe it... It feels as if Crystal Caves actually started development as an early-game level concept and was scrapped in favor of Angry Aztec, but when it came time for the developers to think of other levels, the only idea they had was to bring Crystal Caves back into development and make some technical design choices to make the level more challenging. Let me back that statement up real quick with my very first experience with Crystal Caves.

You enter the level for the first time, and looking at the calm, light blue colors on the wall and listening to the soothing soundtrack, you feel as if the game is finally going easy on you for a bit. You advance onward, encouraged by your tranquility... only to walk ten feet and be bombarded with stalactites falling from the ceiling while the music sharply raises in intensity. Every single minute.

You see where I'm going with this? Doesn't it feel like someone procrastinated and threw that douchey mechanic in at the very last moment before release? Well, don't be quick to assume that it's the last time that happens, because Crystal Caves is congested with these moments. And it has another racing segment with that goddamned beetle. And it's a million times harder than the first. But later on that as we go.

Even if the level didn't throw so many cheap curveballs your way, the level design is also completely asinine. Almost every single texture on the map is draped in a dull, shit brown color or glowing cyan minerals, so it becomes a large exercise in futility just trying to figure out where the fuck you are, but by the time you get the slightest clue on your relevant location, the music picks up again and the stalactites attempt to pierce through your face. It would help if there were some easily-visible landmarks to spot like those in the previous levels, but no, they couldn't even be consistent with that. Every landmark in the level is either too far above you to spot (remember the giant fucking paragraph I made about that issue in part 2? Yeah, it doesn't get better over time.) or obscured by a waterfall passageway, so don't be surprised if you're consistently traipsing around like a dumbass for a good hour or so just to find the areas you've missed, especially if you're flying around on Diddy's barrel jetpack and are low on Crystal Coconuts.

Anyways, Crystal Caves, not unlike the previous levels, is divided into three cavern areas. The first one you'll likely end up in is the area with the ice castle, and that's usually the place that players tend to avoid until the last possible minute. You've probably guessed by now that this castle is home to the dreaded beetle slide. You'd be absolutely correct.

You're still not prepared, though. You will never be prepared.

I swear, if I never have to see this thing again, it will be too soon.

I think I've dampened the mood enough. Let's just see why this race is so terrible in the first place:

  • If you thought this thing was fast on foot when you raced it as Tiny, you have seen nothing. He goes so fast during the first part that it almost looks like he's teleporting. It certainly doesn't help that you have to waste half a second jumping into a Handstand Sprint barrel (and yes, you need to learn this move before attempting this race; it's a waste of your time if you try it otherwise) and letting him gain about fifty feet of ground on you at the start of the race.
  • Yes, you still need to collect coins during this race, too. And yes, bumping into the beetle makes you drop 3 coins. The upside is that there's more room to maneuver on the slide, and there's more slide to cover, but then there's...
  • That one jump. That one fucking jump that you run into just under halfway down the slide in a room filled with lava. Maybe it's just my copy of the game again, but I am 99% positive that some sadistic twat purposefully programmed this jump to not work the way it's supposed to. You have to approach it at exactly, EXACTLY the right fucking angle, or you plummet into the lava, die, and incur the wrath of the laughing beetle. I can't exactly explain it too well in words, but NintendoCapriSun attempts it at about 13:58 in this video:

Really, that one single jump was the sole reason I despise that slide to its core, and again, it was due to shitty, last-minute programming decisions. So that's three things I have a profound dislike for about Crystal Caves already, and we've barely scratched the goddamn surface of the level.

Now let's discuss the new moves that each Kong learns. Oh, wait, did I say 'each Kong?' I meant 'only Lanky, Tiny, and Chunky.' Donkey and Diddy essentially get sand kicked into their faces in this level as far as new moves go, probably because both of them had a level to gain new moves in advance. Anyways, you already know that Lanky got his Handstand Sprint move, which is a mechanic I actually would have liked a lot more if it hadn't been for the fact that it's mostly used for pretty much half of this game's shitty races, but what about Tiny and Chunky? Well, suffice to say, the moves they learn in this level are very underwhelming. Tiny's new move allows her to stand on a pad with her face on in and warp to another location... which is a completely recycled mechanics from the Bananaport pads, which every Kong can use. They only gave Tiny this move to - you guessed it - pad out the game even longer.

And I am very disappointed with the last move Chunky gains, most of all because it doesn't fit him at all. Basically, you find a pad with his face on it, hit the Z button, and his body turns invisible. His clothes, however, are still in plain sight, but that doesn't stop the level designers from using this move to throw in some last-minute, bullshit spotlight challenges on the left side of the map. Another thing that makes no sense about this move is that, when used in certain areas, it allows you to see things you couldn't see before. THAT, my friends, is when the developers clearly lost their minds. Why would you introduce a mechanic clearly designed for stealth, and not use it for stealth?! For what it's worth, they could have just given Chunky Kong a power-up similar to the Lens of Truth from Ocarina of Time. Sure, it wouldn't have been any less underwhelming, but at least it would have made sense.

Anyways, the next area worthy of note are the log cabins. These are found over on the left side of the map (not like you know where I'm talking about), and are mostly just packed spaces where you beat up a bunch of Kremlings and utilize the 3 new moves you got from Cranky earlier on, assuming you did. One of these in particular is one I'd like to note: the one where you have to brawl a bunch of Kremlings on top of a set of pillar platforms as Diddy Kong... within 50 seconds. Not only is this just barely enough time to kill everyone in the room, half of the Kremlings on the pillars are enemies that can't be killed unless you throw an orange grenade, which requires you to pick off the small guys, land on the pillar, throw as many grenades as you can and pray that you kill all of the barrel Kremlings on the center island so you can get rid of the rest. NCS, again, demonstrates this awful task in the first few minutes of the video I posted above.

That's four cases of last-minute manipulation so far. Let's take a stride on over to the last area and see if we can't dig out a few more, shall we?

It's the Silver Surfer video game all over again.

Oh look, it's the obligatory ice level igloo! Lovely.

This area has its share of dick moves as well, not the least of which being the room you explore with Donkey Kong. Inside this room is a large maze covered in frozen shards and spikes, pictured on the right. When you enter the maze, it starts spinning around, alternating in both directions. Touching the walls inside the maze shaves off a whole melon of your life bar. That equates to one third of the maximum amount of health you can obtain, and it's ridiculously easy to get clipped by the walls because of the awful camera angle. You would think that there is an invincibility power-up somewhere in the room to make things easier, but nope! There's no extra barrels in the room at all, just you, the maze, a Golden Banana, and very bad time. I believe there's also a challenge over in this area where you challenge a frozen tomato to a game of "who can ground pound the most squares on this board," and that's a minigame you'll likely fail the first time you play it just because the key to winning isn't exactly clear at first, but it's the most fun you'll be having throughout the level up to this point, most likely.

The rest of the level is basically hiding behind giant glass shards that can either be punched through as Chunky or have to be maneuvered into as Tiny. Some of these places employ the dumb backtracking strategy of "enable this Bananaport pad so So-and-so Kong can do this," while others are literally just empty except for maybe a door that leads to the boss room. So yeah, even within this gigantic cavern, the level somehow managed to be even more claustrophobic than the last two, and that's saying something.

Even the bosses aren't safe from this monotony anymore.

To top off this shit sundae, I think it would only be fitting to bring up that this level's boss is also a shameless repeat of the first with some more tricks, much like the last. Army Dillo, as you can see in the picture above, is now able to use his thruster cannons to lift himself off the ground and produce a shockwave that is awfully easy to dodge. He still shoots you and chases after you in his rolled-up form, but later on in the fight he gains the ability to shoot homing missiles at you, which still isn't a very big hazard because he still comes down to land and let his guard down. Second verse, same as the first, get the key, and that's Crystal Caves for you.

Man I hate this level. I really don't want to hate this level, but I do. It so obviously looks like a beta concept that was brought back to life and reworked in a Kaizo Mario-style fashion. Okay, well, maybe not that bad, but it still reeks of of so much procrastination that it isn't even funny.

The good news, however, is that there's only one full level left to explore, and this one is actually the best of the bunch, in my opinion. We'll check into that one later, but for now, this is MBF signing off again. Later!

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Part 5

After enduring one of the most abominably dull levels this side of 3D platformers, you would imagine the game has started to flatline at this point in terms of enjoyment. Then DK64 dumps several buckets of multicolored paint over your head and the fun appears to pick up again within Fungi Forest, the game's next level.

Notice how I said appears to pick up in that sentence. I'll elaborate later, but for now, let's summarize Fungi Forest at a quick glance.

Finally, a level with the word 'fun' right in the title!... knock on wood...

True to its name, Fungi Forest is a lush, floral habitat sprawling with gigantic mushroom spores that act just like climbable trees. At the entrance to the level is a giant cuckoo clock which allows you to change the level from day to night. And yes, much like Gloomy Galleon's water level switches, you're often required to trek back to this area to change the time of day so you can cause new events to happen and be able to access certain areas in the level. At least every area in this level has a Bananaport pad you can conveniently use that links back up directly to the cuckoo clock area, so you don't have to waste nearly as much time getting back as you did in Gloomy Galleon.

One challenge that I often end up doing first is Chunky's Mine Cart coaster, because screw you, it's Chunky Kong, dammit. Also, it's the first cart track you'll have seen in a while since the beginning of the game, since none of the other levels besides the first have one. This time around, however, the stakes are higher. Despite being a cheery forest beforehand, everything on this ride is out to get you, from explosive TNT barrels to massive biting dragon doors and steel gates that are activated by certain bells and require split-second timing to activate or avoid, depending on whether they open or close the gates. It's probably the most unpredictable of the three mine cart segments in the game, and you most likely will fail the first time you attempt it, but on the flipside it's also very fun to play.

Now then, if I recall correctly, there are about four different enclosed areas in this level besides the cuckoo clock hub. I guess I'll knock out the most boring one first.

Excitement! Adventure! Grandeur!

Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the superb level design of Donkey Kong 64! Well, in all fairness, at least a couple things happen in this seemingly barren waste of space. You do get to turn giant and defend a giant apple fort from a horde of demonic tomatoes by elbow slamming them as Chunky Kong (I wish I was making that up). And then you have... uh... a giant deformed beanstalk......I think it speaks for itself. I think there's an ammunition upgrade here, too, but hell if I can remember anything else.

The next are we'll tackle is, thematically, a giant, towering mushroom building surrounded by a moat.

Inside the colossal decomposer is... well, not a whole lot. The picture basically details most of what you can find inside, it's just a large, spiraling climb littered with colored bananas and some blueprint cronies. I was pretty disappointed with this area because it had so much potential, with all the large space it takes up, but it ended up being devoid of anything interesting. The only unique areas that can be found on the mushroom are some stashed away minigames on the roof, and all they contain are puzzles that would make Reader Rabbit chortle.

Gee. I wonder what you're supposed to do here.

Anyways, there's not much else to note about this area other than there's a few minigame barrels here and there (how did they manage to make something this big and vast so fricking boring?). You also get to visit Cranky, but instead of bestowing a new move for each Kong he gives everyone an upgraded Simian Slam (or Ground Pound, if you prefer layman's terms) so they can pound the blue switches. I would say that this is absolutely disgusting as far as game design goes, but by this point you're likely to have at least 50 coins for each Kong, so the expenses shouldn't be too large for you to handle.

Moving on, then. We have two major areas left to cover, and both of them have their own ups and downs. Let's focus on the lesser of two evils first - the mills.

This level should've been called Fungi Farm, if anything.

This area is, in my humble opinion, the most enjoyable section of the level, probably because there's so much crap to do. It might be a bad sign if the mills, which are, like, 5 times smaller than the ginormous friggin' mushroom we saw earlier, contain many more areas to explore. Then again, there are about three or four buildings to explore, so it has kind of an unfair advantage.

As you can see up there in the picture that I most certainly did not rip from a Donkey Kong wikia page, some of the areas are blocked off by steel bars and can only be accessed at night time. It's mostly just there to enforce the Retarded Padding Quota, but there are some areas that are blocked off that make hardly any sense whatsoever even by these standards, such as restricting access to Snide's hideout during the daytime by putting up a fence between two bushes. What the crap? Is your goddamn game not padded out enough yet, Rareware?

There are three buildings in this area. The one in the middle has somewhere near 3 or 4 entrances to different areas inside of it, while the other two can only be accessed through one entryway. I'd like to start with the building that can only be accessed by Diddy, or for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, the building that's just barely poking out behind the corner of the main building you see in the picture above.

I chose to start with that one because I despise it to its core.

Okay, I've heard of Blackout Basement, but Blackout Attic? This is just ridiculous.

The front door to this place is barred up, so you have to use a spring pad to jump up and enter through the attic (which you can only enter at night. Great.). When you get inside, there's a Golden Banana on the very far side of the room. The problem is that you cannot see the pathway that you need to take in order to get over there because the attic is nearly pitch-black, so you have to activate a switch with Diddy's guitar so that Squawks comes down with a flashlight to help you see where you're supposed to go. His AI, however, is very slow with keeping up with you, and the platforms are pretty thin. Also, for some reason, even though this building clearly has a floor from the outside, the attic is looming over a bottomless pit that kills you instantly (what, was this place built over a miniature quarry or something?). All of these things combined formulate the perfect recipe for one of the only areas of the game that you're bound to die at least a couple times in.

The center building is where all the big stuff goes down. The first area you're likely to visit houses a crusher puzzle where you have to activate a conveyor belt as Donkey Kong by pulling switches, then heave a bunch of steel barrels onto the conveyor belt as Chunky and grind them up, which, for some unexplained reason, rewards you with a Golden Banana. At least the boulder-crusher puzzle from Banjo-Tooie made sense, since the Jiggy was stuck inside a gigantic stone and had a distinct outline, but these... these are just regular-ass barrels. Nothing special about them. How am I supposed to know that they warrant a plot coupon? Even a tiny Banana sticker or something would help, Rare, seriously.

Oh, and this is probably the only level in the game that hosts a boss fight proper outside of the pink pig and blue hippo area.

Remember the fight with Gohma in Ocarina of Time? Imagine that, but he never drops down from the ceiling. That's this guy.

It would be a genuinely refreshing challenge... if it had actually felt like a boss fight. Instead of confronting this hulking, one-eyed arachnid mono a mono, however, it mostly just dangles from the ceiling and dozes off while its hatchlings come down to feast on you. They're fast and they die after two hits, and after you eliminate a wave of mini-spiders, the giant one opens his eye, which you proceed to shoot. You do this repeatedly until he shrinks and turns into a miniature spider himself, and then you kill it as easily as the others. So this boss fight was kind of a letdown, but at least they incorporated one into the level this time, so props for trying something different, I guess.

Aside from that, I don't think there's much else of note in the mill area. The other building is just an empty barn with a minigame barrel in it, so that just about covers everything. Oh, and you can at one point cause the water wheel to start working, but I think that's only useful for getting one specific Golden Banana. Hey, at least it works.

And now... ugh... we have to move on to the giant tree.

Sorry, Smokey, but I think we can justify starting a wildfire in this case.

I don't have particularly fond memories of this area for two reasons. The first one is because there's a rather aggravating segment where you have to follow an owl through a set of rings while flying on Diddy's jetpack, which controls like butt. And it's only accessible at night, since owls are nocturnal (you see, that one actually made sense...).

But the biggest reason? That effing rabbit race. (see the photo on the right)

Pictured: Purgatory

To elaborate, when you come into this area on the left, you'll notice a rabbit sleeping next to a finish line and a trombone switch, which you use to wake him up. Okay, it is kind of rude to be blaring a trombone in someone's ear while they're trying to sleep, but it doesn't make up for the pain and suffering that you'll have to endure in the future. This rabbit then decides he has nothing better to do than challenge you to a race. The first one is actually stupidly easy if you're good with cutting corners...

...but the second race will leave you in tears. Scratch that, it will leave you drowning in tears. You will shed so many teardrops that your room will become a life-size aquarium that you will sink and die in. At least you'd better hope that happens before you lose your sanity over the second rabbit race.

To be fair, the game does give you some leeway beforehand; it requires a move that you probably don't yet have unlocked, unless you already visited the next level (which is another contender for my least favorite level in this game, by the way) and talked to Cranky so you can learn the Handstand Sprint. But if you're gunning for 101% completion, you have to finish this race eventually, and it's just awful. The rabbit goes mach speed the second the race starts, and practically has a headstart over you at first because of you jumping into the sprint barrel. If he gets ahead of you, he will maintain the lead until the end unless you cut every corner like a maniac. It's just barely possible to win on most Nintendo 64 consoles...

...but mine was a different story. Mine lags during this part just a tiny bit, but the rabbit keeps going as fast as he would on a normal cartridge. This means that, yes, this race was essentially impossible for me to complete legitimately. Oh, I still got one-hundred percent, but you wanna know how I did it? You wanna know how I managed to beat the odds?

I killed a fat Kremling before the race started, and the orange grenade sprite that dropped from his dead body stopped the rabbit in its tracks while I sprinted to the finish line as fast as I could.

I swear, this was the only way I could overcome this challenge. So yeah, great. You know your game is top-notch when it requires you to actively exploit bugs in order to win the game.

Well, now that I've gotten that over with, let's talk about this level's proper boss. And, surprise surprise, it's... IT'S...

Surprise, bitch. I bet you'd thought you'd seen the last of me.

...the same damn boss from the second level. Alright. Amazing. Perfect.

Just. Friggin'. Grand.

Well, truth be told, he's not exactly the same boss. He has a few more tricks up his sleeve which actually makes him a considerable threat this time around. He retains his dumb fireball pattern from the first fight, but also manages to mix it up with a few ground shakes and a giant wall of fire that I SWEAR is just completely unavoidable. After throwing enough barrels at him, he gets mad, rises back out of the lava, and attempts to sink the platform into the magma with you on it. At this point, all you can do is jump into the Chunky Barrel that appears and mash the B-button endlessly in a vain hope that you'll hit him enough times before the lava engulfs you. I don't know the exact number of times you need to hit him, but it's a lot, and I also had to mix it up with some super punches, so I don't know if those deal extra damage at this point or not, but whatever the case, you better hope the game is merciful enough to let you win.

And there's Fungi Forest in the bag. I'd like to call this level a doppelganger level; it disguised itself as a fun, colorful breather level at first, but once you explored its interior it suddenly revealed its ugly side, especially with the dumb rabbit race and the tedious day-night mechanic. And it's already discomforting to know that the next level is even worse than this one, possible even Gloomy Galleon, but that's best saved for another time, I suppose.

This is MisterBananaFoam, signing off. Have a good night, guys.

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Part 4

So far, Donkey Kong 64 has shown itself off as a pretty bare-bones, sub-par 3D platformer. Sure, there's a couple glaring flaws sticking out every so often, but none of them are enough to disgrace the rest of the game's passable amount of content...

And then we reach Gloomy Galleon, which is, in my humble opinion, a prime contender for being the single most uninspired, putrid and tacky level to ever expose itself to the public in any 3D platformer ever. Every time I remind myself of this game, this level always materializes as a dark, subhuman stain on my collective conscience and resides there for hours on end. If you thought Donkey Kong 64's pacing issues were terrible before, I'd bet you can't wait to see how slow and poorly-designed Gloomy Galleon is, but let's just take it from the top and break down the level just to see why I think so negatively of it, shall we?

First off, and I'm just saying this to get it out of the way, a good 80% of this level is flooded with water. I don't want to make people think I'm an asshole who is pretty much guaranteed to be biased against all water levels, but Gloomy Galleon has way, way, WAY too much wide-open, useless space in it for its own good, which takes the already tired act of wandering around for hours to get to the next area and pretty much lulls it to sleep. It would be better if you could do, well, anything underwater besides swim, but unless you transform into Enguarde you're basically stuck with the breast stroke, and maybe the ability to take pictures of fairies in the sunken ships.

This level also gives us an introduction to some new enemies, and trust me when I say that they're the worst to deal with. First off, you have Kremlings hiding out inside barrels that give chase after you get too close. The ones hiding in red TNT barrels pose little threat as they explode after giving chase for a couple of seconds, but the ones hiding in regular-ass barrels will drive you up a nut since they don't stop chasing you for anything and never die on their own. You also can't harm them with your regular melee attacks or ranged weapons, leaving you with the sole strategy of bombing the hell out of them with oranges, which can prove to be unreliable, as they can close the distance between you and them pretty quickly, which likely ends up with you getting blasted by the impact of the grenade you just threw. The real killer of this level, however, is the mook wearing a viking helm that spends its time hauling around a humongous spiked club. His melee attack has a pretty large range, does half a melon of damage, can flatten you (leaving you vulnerable for another pounding), and he himself is incredibly hard to kill. Once again, he can't be defeated using melee or ranged weapons, and he even completely counters thrown orange grenades simply by swatting at them with his club. The only surefire way to down these guys is to either use an instrumental attack (which are better saved for rooms with a large amount of mooks, and takes 5 seconds to execute, which makes using it somewhat tedious as well) or an energy ring attack, which you can only use if you've talked to the Great Fairy in the hub world and if you have a spare Crystal Coconut on hand. Tl;dr, very annoying to kill and they hit like a bulldozer. And there's one that respawns in one of the hallways leading to one whole half of the level. Oh joy. And that's not even taking into account the exploding blowfish enemies and the literally invincible starfish who plague the underwater areas.

The Golden Banana objectives are pretty underdeveloped as well. Quite a few of them mainly center on hitting a switch, going into a sunken ship, and using the finicky swimming controls to ever so slightly navigate your character through the wreckage to get a stationary Golden Banana that's often just sitting there in the middle of a room (or, most of the time, hiding inside a minigame barrel). There are plenty of unique bananas to find in this level but some of them either aren't very pleasant to get (see the Mechanical Fish) or require a brain-dead level of intelligence to solve. Heck, one of the objectives pretty much places you in an area that looks strikingly similar to that of Whomp Fortress from Super Mario 64.

Smh...

And THEN there's the banana that requires you to spawn a mechanical fish (pictured above) from clear over on the other side of the map, haul ass all the way over there (you're timed for this, by the way), climb inside its mouth, and shoot at the valves of its exposed heart from a couple of small planks of woods while a fan blade spins around to protect them and a robotic bee bombards you with grenades. Did I mention you're timed during this part, too? And did I also mention this banana can literally become impossible to get if you go too far into the game and get the sniper add-on for your weapons before attempting it, since the game lags so much that the timer drains even faster? Yeah, sucks, doesn't it?

To add to the already absurd levels of monotony, you are constantly forced to go back to the lighthouse area so you can raise and drain the water level, which stays consistent throughout every body of water on the map. This makes hardly any sense because there are at least two water pools that aren't fluidly connected to the lighthouse pool, not even by a drain of sorts. Worse still, I had the drain buttons glitch out on me and stay pushed in on the wrong water level (i.e. the down arrow was pushed in when the water level was raised), and when I tried to push in the other one it was stuck. Turns out I had to go to the button I had already pushed and swim into it to make it pull itself back outward and drain the water level. This is a minor issue that I doubt many people have had, but it tried my already-thin patience even more.

The only saving grace of this level is that it actually contains the only other somewhat competently-coded racing segment in the entire game. Of course, you have to find the switch somewhere in the level to unlock it, and you can only attempt the race as Donkey Kong, but otherwise the race isn't too difficult as long as you know how to maneuver the boat you're driving in, since the course is pretty much a figure-8 circuit. Well, that, and you do get to morph into Enguarde the Swordfish, who controls much more fluently than the five Kongs and can actually attack and break stuff underwater, but the downside to that is he's only playable in certain parts of the level and can only be activated by Lanky Kong, for some reason. Also, it's his only appearance in the entire game besides a pointless side mini-game where you jump through rings, so his only practical use is to make the worst level in the game slightly less unbearable. Great. Oh, and one more thing: Gloomy Galleon doesn't have any new moves or power-ups for you to find, since it's unlocked at the same time as Frantic Factory, but you can't skip it because it's necessary to collect both levels' boss keys to advance.

Oh, welp, speak of the devil.

Speaking of boss keys, let's talk about Puftoss, who isn't really much better than Mad Jack in terms of difficulty. In fact, depending on your motor skills, you could end up having a worse off time fighting him!

You start the fight in an enclosed pool of water as Lanky, and you have to avoid Puftoss's fireballs and energy blasts (which either kill you instantly or take off a melon of health, I can't really remember which) as you circle around him and drive through a set of rings, which brings pillars up out of the ground to shock the boss. He eventually gains the ability to rain hellfire from the sky and shoot blowfishes out of his mouth that home into your position. The controls for the boat are unwieldy and incredibly slippery, and you're timed between passing through the rings. Slip up once and you have to start that set of rings over again. For me, Puftoss wasn't too difficult but he can be pretty damn annoying if the game wants him to be, so keep a sharp wit.

And that is a somewhat compacted summary of what I believe to be the most boring part of Donkey Kong 64. As a young kid, it took me months to complete this stage because I was so disinterested in it. But the next level, Fungi Forest, shies away from the boredom in some parts and ends up torturing you in others.

But we'll get to that later. Hopefully not much later, though. This is MBF, signing off.

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MBF's Retraux-Spective: Donkey Kong 64 - Part 3

You know something? I'm beginning to see on the other side of the fence about this whole "Donkey Kong 64" debacle. If you look at it without the whole "ERMAGERD ETS UH PHREE DEE PLERTFERMER" mindset stuck in your thought cloud, Donkey Kong 64 isn't that great of a game. Let's break my complaints so far into a list, shall we?

  • Okay, I suppose we should deal with the elephant in the room to start out. Donkey Kong 64's "difficulty" mainly relies on its tedious collection tasks. Why are they tedious? They require you to explore areas meant for other Kongs just to collect a couple of minor trinkets that are necessary to beat the game. Trust me, if you haven't played Donkey Kong 64, you haven't experienced the true meaning of the word "backtrack," and DK64 will gladly drill this definition into your skull with a fucking tunnel boring machine. One particularly atrocious example lies within Angry Aztec; one area is only accessible by Tiny shrinking down and travelling through a hole in the wall, which leads to a room filled with lava and a Golden Banana. In the same room, however, is a Bananaport pad and a blueprint Kremling with blue hair, which means that you have to activate the Bananaport pad, traverse your way back to the tag barrel, choose Lanky, teleport in there, and beat up the Kremling, all just to get one stupid blueprint that makes the final level easier to complete. Argh!
  • Donkey Kong 64 is comparable to a padded cell. On one end, well, it's padded out to the brim with side-objectives and shit. On the other, somehow they managed to suck the life out of it and make it seem just... empty, with hardly anything to do except look around at your surroundings. You could also go a step further and say that it's rather repetitive. Let me explain; Most of the objectives, throughout the entire game, follow a strict, tasteless pattern. They're either A) Somewhat-challenging platforming segments, B) A devilishly-difficult and improbably-hard racing segment that requires bug exploitation at it fullest, C) A moronically imbecilic puzzle that only the thickest of dumb fuckbrains could screw up, D) A set of areas/objectives that are nearly identical to each Kong and that have the consistency and originality of pocket lint, or E) the above-mentioned dickery that has you backtracking in order to obtain the most intricate collectible items, which are necessary to complete the game. Donkey Kong 64 may have all of the good aspects of a good platformer, but as far as variety goes, it isn't as tremendous as I previously made it out to be.
  • This is kind of a minor complaint, but the levels, as big as they seem, are often condensed between corridors. This wouldn't seem so bad, but think about what Banjo-Kazooie's level design was like. I barely ever had to walk through a corridor in that game because the levels were more open and less spaced out (and the one level I can think of off the top of my head that followed this example, Clanker's Cavern, is one of the most dreadfully dull levels in the game), and here it feels like I'm taking a museum tour rather than exploring to my own content. That, and you can't really put a whole lot of cool stuff inside corridors like this. It feels like a slow transition more so than a gameplay element. There's really only one level besides the hub world that I can think of that doesn't required excessive use of corridor-running to get around, and lo and behold, it's the last full level in the game. Great.

I still try to look back upon Donkey Kong 64 with a warm heart, but every time I turn my head I seem to find at least one design flaw hiding under my nose. Oh, well. Going back to my last bullet point, however, the next level we get to explore is Frantic Factory, which happens to be my favorite level of the bunch.

Frantic Factory seems to be the most lively level to me. Sure, you have to pull some strings to turn on the power before it shows off its true colors, but the very idea of a haunted toy factory just sounds so intriguing, and the different floors of the factory, from the storage facilities to the processing room, all look sharp and are pretty detailed compared to some of the other environments I've seen in the game thus far (potentially for the rest of it). It also helps that corridors are often a staple for indoor factories, so they feel more like they belong in this level.

They aren't kidding; this factory looks like it's pretty hectic.
This game should have been called Chunky Kong 64.

Oh, and this is the level where you unlock Chunky Kong. I'm not sure how many DKC followers out there think Chunky is a dumb ripoff of Kiddy Kong from DKC3, but if there is anyone like that, they deserve to be thwacked with a brick. Chunky is, hands-down, my favorite Kong in the game because, despite his strongman-esque stature and hulking voice, he consistently acts like a pansy, urges you to pick other characters in the tag barrel, plays the triangle as a musical instrument (complete with ballerina tiptoe dancing), and is the only Kong in the game with the ability to sucker punch his enemies with a devastating haymaker. Damn. I'm not going to lie, when I unlocked Chunky Kong, I hardly even remembered that the other Kongs were even there. I'd straight-up do everything I could as Chunky before switching to any other character, that's how awesome Chunky Kong is. Oh, and he collects green bananas. Little known fact: Green bananas are actually healthier for you to eat than yellow bananas. No wonder this guy got so big and muscular...

Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, Frantic Factory. Let's get in-depth with some of the challenges in here.

Frantic Factory isn't a particularly difficult level on its own. Sure, the robotic clockwork Kremlings that can only be destroyed with orange grenades are irritating, and the mechanical hornets that drop exploding grenades on your head are particularly fiendish, but I can't really complain too much about the difficulty on this level.

...that is, except for that one part. And don't look at me like you don't know what is it, because you know what it is.

Are you sure you don't know? Not even the slightest hint of the answer comes up? Fine. Let me sum it up for you in one picture...

The horror. THE HORROR. THE CONSTANT HOURS AND HOURS OF PURE UNADULTERATED HORROR.

If you're still in the dark, somehow, and you can't quite make out what that is in the picture, that is the original arcade version of Donkey Kong. Yes, the one before Donkey Kong Country. Yes, the one where you played as Mario/Jumpman/whoever the hell instead of Donkey Kong. Yes, the one with the girders, the barrels, and the stupid 75m level.

Yeah, they made a port of this game in Donkey Kong 64. Oh, and spoiler alert: it suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. I mean, you have no idea how many hours I wasted away trying to defeat this dumb minigame as a kid. It was literally the only thing keeping me from beating Donkey Kong 64. THIS is the thing that made me quit playing the game for all of these years, and it almost made me quit again from the sheer frustrating memories of dying repeatedly.

What makes this port so wretched, though? Well, it's pretty much identical to its arcade counterpart, except for a couple of key differences:

  • You only get one life to beat all four of the game's stages. Get rear-ended by a barrel or accidentally touch the tip of a spring and you have to do the whole thing over again. To be fair, if you played well enough, the game would award you with one (count it,
    • one) extra life, but another thing that sucks about this port is that you get kicked out of the minigame if you lose, which results in you often smacking the B-button in rapid succession in order for Donkey Kong to pull the lever to start playing the game again. Each time it takes at least 10-12 seconds for Donkey to start the machine up, which gets old and monotonous very fast.
    • The slow control scheme and gameplay style doesn't really match the Nintendo 64 very well. Not only that, the game isn't very lenient towards your controller input, either. If you press up on the stick ever so slightly when moving left or right, you'll come to a quick stop and often get bowled over by an incoming obstacle.
    • Once you beat Donkey Kong for the first time, you have to play through it a second time on a harder difficulty section. This includes more enemies, more spawned obstacles, and much less room for error. And no, it's not optional; you have to complete the second playthrough, because if you don't, you won't obtain the Nintendo Coin, which is one of the two coins required to unlock a door in the final level that gives you the last key to K. Lumsy's cage, which you need to open in order to fight K. Rool. It may not seem like a very long list of complaints, but trust me, those first and third bullets will end up grinding your teeth to bits should you ever attempt to complete this game, let alone get 100 percent completion.
    Besides this, Frantic Factory is a substandard level. There's crushing pistons, conveyor belts, control rooms, storage facilities, and a plethora of other factory-related locales. Most of the golden bananas are found through character-specific switches that you have to press followed by either a timed run, maneuvering around platforms in the processing room or through simple puzzles.

    There is also another racing minigame, but thankfully this one is less hideous than the rest. You have to race against a Formula 1-type vehicle in a Shaguar-style bug, but you get to shoot missiles (which the car considers cheating but is a perfectly acceptable tactic that doesn't penalize you), there are plenty of speed boosts, and you only have to collect a small amount of coins this time around (I think it's about 10). The race itself is set up like a grind-rail segment from Ratchet and Clank or Sonic Adventure where you can jump between different tracks to avoid different obstacles and collect coins. It's actually pretty fun, but enjoy it while it lasts; it's one of the two competently-coded races you'll find in this game.

    Well, that was a fairly short description. I guess I'll have to make up for it by describing the level's boss.

    ...wait, no, not that thing! ANYTHING BUT THA-
    BWACKWACKWACKWACKWACK
    ...help me.

This... abomination... goes by the name of Mad Jack. Remember all of those toys roaming around on the factory floor up above? You know, the ones that tried to kill you? Well, think about this for a second: Mad Jack is a reject of one of those toys. We're talking about a toy here that's so screwed up, it can't even be placed alongside the living, bloodthirsty contraptions in storage.

Donkey Kong 64, ladies and gentlemen! Rated E for Everyone!

Oh, and he's not just a pretty face, either; if it's your first time fighting you, he will wreck you to the moon and back. This is the wake-up call boss of the game, ladies and gentlemen. If you're not good at 3D platformers by now up until this point, you better get good. Even I had a tough time dealing damage to him because it's not immediately obvious as to what you need to do to beat him. Let's make another list detailing this guy's arsenal:

  1. He can throw fireballs. Because, hey, why couldn't he? The first two bosses could. Well, maybe not with ridiculous accuracy like this monstrosity, but still...
  2. To damage him, you have to look around on the floor panels for a switch that is placed on the same color pillar as the one he's standing on, which you then have to ground pound which ends up zapping him in a pillar of energy. The problem is that two switches show up (one of them on a white panel, and one of them on a blue panel) and you'll be pressed to hit either one of them because of his constant slew of fireballs, and if you hit the wrong one in haste, you end up getting zapped instead. Not like you'd know that the first time you fought him, because I sure as hell didn't.
  3. When you hit him (or you wait too long or something), he stuffs himself back into his box and starts hopping around, chasing you across the room (you're playing as Tiny, by the way). The pillars are spaced out just far enough apart that it can easily become a hassle to jump across if you haven't picked up Tiny's Hair Twirl technique before the fight, and even if you do have the move, Mad Jack can easily catch up with you, so if you don't keep moving, you'll end up getting squished like a bug.
  4. Oh, did I mention he turns invisible later on in the fight? And goes faster?
  5. One last note worthy of mention; it's not major, but if you fall off the level, you have to watch a cutscene where you're airlifted back up to the top again, which also resets Mad Jack into his box formation.

Thankfully, Mad Jack isn't terrifically hard to beat, but he's just hard enough to serve as a slap in the face to all the gamers who thought they could breeze through Donkey Kong 64 in their sleep.

I'm pretty tired of writing again, and although I hate to split most of these blog posts up between levels, I haven't posted in a long time, and Gloomy Galleon (the next level) would keep me up all night if I tried to fit it into this post, so here you go for now. Stick around, though, 'cause I've still got plenty of Donkey Kong 64 to cover, still. This is MisterBananaFoam, signing off.

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