Review: Donkey Kong 64 (N64)

In this review, we check out the N64 version of a very well known game series called Donkey Kong. This version is known as Donkey Kong 64. We find out if this adventure game does a good job of standing out on it’s own.

This particular game was released in 1999 and was no doubt highly anticipated given what impression the SNES versions had left on gamers.

The storyline is quite familiar to those who played previous Donkey Kong games. Donkey Kong’s banana hoard has gone missing. Apparently, Donkey Kong also resides on an island and K. Rool has decided to try and destroy the island was a massive boat with a killer laser beam. In the process, he also had all of Donkey Kong’s buddies kidnapped and caged. It is up to Donkey Kong to free all of his buddies and stop K. Rool’s evil plans – and take back the banana hoard along the way of course.

Along the way, you’ll find Cranky Kong – Donkey Kong’s father. For enough banana coins, you can obtain a critical ability that he periodically drops on you.

Also along the way are bonus barrels. Initially, they will just be training barrels that you need to complete, but ones outside the initial play area will be minigames that will earn you a golden banana.

Golden banana’s are the biggest items you are after throughout your adventure. You need to collect a certain number of them to open up new worlds. Each Kong has a total of 10 golden banana’s that can be collected in the various levels found throughout the game.

Also along the way are regular bananas. Collect 75 and you get a gold banana medal. 100 allows you to net a perfect score. Banana’s come in a variety of forms. A single banana pickup is, of course, 1 banana each. A bunch is worth 5 bananas. Popping a banana balloon nets you a whopping 10 bananas (requires a weapon).

You can also collect a weapon upgrade. These upgrades are found in Funky Kong’s hut – again for the right number of coins. The initial upgrade is, of course, the weapon itself. Later on, you can get upgrades such as added ammo capacity and heat seeking shots.

To add to this is what Kandy Kong is able to provide – a musical instrument. These instruments are powered by crystal coconuts and you can gradually increase the number you can keep as the game progresses.

Along the way are also numerous pads with numbers on them. These are warp pads that allow you to quickly zip to different parts of a level or the main island. These are incredibly handy because levels can be quite large in this game. So, these warp pads can basically save you a lot of hiking. You have to touch both sides in order to be able to use the warp.

There’s also tag barrels. As you go through the game, you’ll be given opportunities to save the various playable Kongs that have been captured. There are 5 playable characters in total. There’s Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, Lanky Kong, Tiny Kong, and Chunky Kong. Each character has their own unique abilities (both with them from the beginning and earned through Cranky’s potions) that allow you to progress through the game. Each Kong has their own color associated with them. So, Donkey Kong can’t collect red banana’s. Only Diddy Kong can collect them. Same goes for the collectible coins along the way. Donkey Kong has yellow items. Lanky Kong has light blue items. Tiny Kong has purple items. Chunky Kong has green items.

Later on in the game, you’ll run into Snide who worked for K. Rool up to a certain point. Unfortunately for him, K. Rool didn’t want him around any more and got rid of him. As an act of revenge, Snide decides he wants to work for the Kong’s. He asks for blueprints that have been torn up and distributed amongst the tougher common enemies. Each Kong has 1 color coded piece for every level. Each enemy that has a piece of the blueprints will also have corresponding hair color. So, the one with purple hair on top of his head will have a purple blueprint that Tiny can collect. Each blueprint piece will net an additional golden banana.

One of the later collectible’s are Banana Fairy’s. Tiny Kong is able to eventually shrink herself so she can visit the Banana Fairy Queen. Apparently, you can’t just catch a Banana Fairy. Instead, you have to take a picture of it. Each time you take a picture of a banana fairy, you get maxed out items as well as increase capacity for many of those said items.

There are also numerous switches that the Kongs must use ground pound for to activate. Initially, the Kongs must earn the ground pound ability, but later in the game, extra strength potions from Cranky to be able to push them down. Many of these switches are specifically for a particular playable character, but these are generally denoted by a mugshot of the respective Kong.

One of the defining features of this game is the pure volume of minigames found throughout the games. Most of these minigames are found behind bonus barrels. They also range in difficulty depending on both which part of the game you are on and which game is on offer. Personally, the most annoying minigame was Beaver Bother followed closely by Big Bug Bash with the glitchy fly swatter. An interesting thing to note that two of these minigames that can be found are the original Donkey Kong game (we reviewed the Atari 7800 version) and Jet Pac (we reviewed the ZX Spectrum version). The original Donkey Kong game was quite accurate (minus the bonus coin you can earn at the end of course), but the Jet Pac game features some minor improvements such as improved frame rate and a slight improvement on sound (again, the coin bonus is obviously not part of the original game).

At the end of each level is a giant door. The door can be unlocked by the pig and hippo character. The pig character can’t reach the key because he ate too much and has a weight problem. Fortunately, there is a solution. You feed the hippo the regular banana’s you collected in that level. If you feed him enough, he will grow larger and heavier, allowing him to pound the platform below him, sending the pig upwards until he reaches the key. From there, the pig opens the lock and a picture of one of the Kong’s appears. The picture denotes who can fight the boss. Defeat the boss and you can obtain one of the golden keys that can be used to unlock another, rather large, prisoners right next to K. Rools boat. Each time you unlock one of the locks, a celebration will occur. Most of the time, it opens up a new previously blocked off area of the island that gains you access to new levels.

There’s so many other things I could discuss about this game, but a lot of the basics are covered. There is a lot of discovery and exploration to be had. There numerous things to do. Besides the Big Bug Bash glitch, this game was incredibly well put together. The variety one can find in this game is stunning and I could spend at least an additional 2000 words just giving a brief rundown of what is even in this game. This game is long, but there’s always something new to find.

I found that when you get to later portions of the game, the repetition of some of the minigames can be a little annoying – especially when they are annoying minigames to begin with. Still, this is mixed in with a lot of other kinds of minigames that are constantly varying in some way, so it’s really only a pain for those who are seeking to achieve a perfect score. Collecting every single banana in the game can also be tedious because the tag barrel system, I felt, added a somewhat unnecessary layer of complexity. You have to find ways of being meticulous and systematic as you go through each level to achieve perfection. Sweep every area one at a time to find every item pickup necessary to increase your percentage of completion.

Even then, sometimes you find yourself wandering aimlessly for an hour or so to find those last 5 bananas. For me, it was finding a banana balloon for Diddy in the Crystal Caves. Still, perfection isn’t exactly necessary, but you do have to get a certain amount of the game completed to be able to defeat the last boss, so item collecting is a big part. Fortunately, coins aren’t something that counts towards your percentage of completion. Considering how big the game is and how much enjoyment one can get out of this game, these are comparatively minor grievances.

The graphics were really well done. The character designs. The huge variety in levels. The special effects. The because the graphics were very well done and there was a huge amount of them, the graphics were quite stunning and comparable to the graphics of Diddy Kong Racing and Super Mario 64. This game is one of the few games that features N64 graphics at it’s finest.

The audio was also incredibly well done. The music in each level was quite a treat in and of itself, but the fact that the music was also varied depending on the environment within the level (i.e. in a cave) makes the music go to the next level in terms of quality. Even each boss battle had it’s, albeit similar sounding, different theme song. The sound effects were also top notch. From the grunts of the different characters to the blasts from grenades to the simple voice samples. Everything thrown in added a certain punch to the game to propel it that much more.

Outside of the fact that searching for enough items to get to the next location being a bit tedious at times and the buggy minigame Big Bug Bash, it’s really hard to find any fault to this game besides the occasional slide into cheesyness. If you are in to adventure games and want to try an N64 title, this is certainly a top pick for must play. the huge variety, excellent graphics and awesome audio make this game an awesome game all around.

Overall

Furthest point in game: Beat the game and the achieved 101% score.

General gameplay: 22/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 92%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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