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


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-
    ...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.