By MisterBananaFoam 0 Comments
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.
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.
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.