So, how about that Donkey Kong 64?
When was the the last time anyone asked that, I wonder? Because the game came out in 1999, and when the question was first posed, it would seem that the most popular answer was along the lines of “Dude, it kicks so much ass.” If you would believe the aggregate reviews and scores, it was a huge hit, instant classic, and representative of Nintendo’s best and brightest gamesmiths. My son and I have been wanting to play the Wii’s Donkey Kong Returns for a long time, but I somehow can’t bring myself to shell out the $30 for it. I’m sure it’s worth every last piece of money, but.. I still find it difficult. But having purchased the jump pak for the N64 with the intention of playing Majora’s Mask last month, the Donkey Kong 64 cartridge I possessed but could not play suddenly became playable.
So how’s that Donkey Kong 64? It is fucking retarded, I’m so sorry to tell you.
As we powered on, we were greeted by the beats and lyrical trappings of the DK Monkey Rap, stupid as ever, but welcomely familiar as a BGM in Super Smash Bros. As the simian hip hop throw down hoe down transitioned into the title screen with its gameplay demo behind it, we were painfully reminded about just how awful the Nintendo 64’s graphics are, and how stupid we were to believe that they ever looked good. Just like people tried to convince themselves that the SuperFX chip made StarFox look like the goddamn Lawnmower Man, we all took a bite from that sandwich after allowing Mario 64 into our hearts, accepting any old 3D sprite rendered from the forges of Mario Paint as modern digital art. But they suck, and no jump pak could even hope to help that.
But all right. We began a new adventure file and were suddenly taken aboard King K. Rool’s floating island of uninspired menace to see his dastardly non-plan get set in motion. Exactly what in the fuck this villain wants, I could not tell you. For one thing, all of the characters speak quickly, entirely in hiragana, and do not ask for you to confirm your having read it by pressing A; as soon as the last word has been displayed, the dialogue bubble disappears. But I’m pretty sure that it’s not about bananas anymore than it is about ruling the Donkey Kong archipelago, which is a sad, shitty smattering of islands as we soon learn. The big bastard laughs and boasts and inexplicably kidnaps Donkey Kong’s friends, who if not for the Monkey Rap would almost all be complete strangers to me.
The gameplay begins with a shittily done tutorial which doesn’t even pretend to disguise itself as a mission. Learn how to swing from vines, throw barrels, punch things, and then report back to Cranky Kong. Remember Cranky? He was the old fart in the first Super NES Donkey Kong who could barely rock in his chair without soiling himself, and now he works in a laboratory making “medicine” for the Kong clan. But he’s not just going to hand it over, oh no; you will have to go collect banana coins for him. Because that’s what he wants. Never mind that some big fucking alligator wants to enslave his people or nuke his home – he desires the banana coins, and he will berate you rapidly should you call on him without bringing them with you.
After this, you’re pretty much on your own. The whole “world map” is open, but most of the areas are locked. And you’ll get to spend many pointless minutes swimming out to all the islands just to find out that you can’t do anything on them, and if you’re lucky, you just may find the cave that takes you to the first stage. We didn’t find it until the second day, since it was hardly distinguishable from the cave that we entered from.
The music sucks and pisses me off more than anything. The main motif is a campy tuneless melody honked on a flute and sounds like something barfed up in a music class for deaf pot heads. The controls are really shitty, check them out: hold Z and press the right C button to lob a grenade that bounces too much and takes too long to explode, hold Z and press the left C button to wield a firearm, B button to fire it, up C to switch to first person mode, and Z plus left C to put the weapon away. Then in the boss battle, you can’t even use it. The 3D aspect of the game makes it really awkward to swing on vines. You press the direction you want to fly in, and the game interprets that as wanting to climb further up the vine, making your jump much too short to reach the next vine. However, if you press no direction and jump, and you just leap off the vine into the sky as if you have nothing better to do than climb the motherfucking tree and start the whole thing all over. And seriously, vines? It’s a really cheesy mechanic for getting around in the jungle at this point, and not so much of an environmental challenge as it is a big itchy boil on my bung hole.
Also, Donkey Kong’s life meter is a watermelon. Um, hello?
If I was a scoring kind of guy, I’d give this game a 32 out of 500 billion million because it’s an utter piece of shit and an insult to the whole franchise and anyone who ever enjoyed one of its titles. Nintendo somehow managed to get diarrhea all over its bib and no one seems to know how or why this was accomplished. Donkey Kong 64’s ludicrous, uninspired composition is deserving of ridicule and everyone who worked on the game should be flogged. History will show that the only purpose it served was to keep the series afloat until the next DK title got the chance to flush away its sins. And if Donkey Konga didn’t do it, Donkey Kong Returns seems to have handled the job handily. Gods be flatulent if this game wasn’t seriously the Star Wars Christmas Special of Nintendo’s first-party titles.