Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developed by: Rare
Published by: Nintendo
Feeling Like: He-he-here we go!
You have to remember, in 1999 just having a video game that had lots of stuff in a big space automatically made it cool and better than other video games that didn’t have as much stuff, or in as big a space. It didn’t matter that the mechanics weren’t as tight, or the abilities weren’t as fun, or that it was just one big collect-a-thon; what mattered was seeing and exploring. If there’s one thing Donkey Kong 64 has, it’s seeing a ton of stuff and running around big spaces like your banana hoard depends on it.
I am a MASSIVE fan of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo, as you’ll see eventually. This undoubtedly influenced my anticipation for the first Donkey Kong game in 3D. It also helped that as an N64 owner and fan, I was massively starved for new games for months on end. This was a big deal when it launched.
Not that girls ever entered my social life in high school, but I recall the year 1999 was particularly quiet. I always had friends, but around this time I was certainly more inward than I had been previously. I felt far more comfortable with my N64 and a gaming magazine than I did venturing out and going to a dance, or a party. My room was cozy, or felt like it anyway. It would be the only room I’d know from ages 5 to 18. I loved it. I had a 13 “channel” CRT, my consoles, my stuffed animals and a messy floor. Looking back, I must have been out of my mind – look how small it was!
I think in the above picture I’m playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time while Eric is on the phone, also playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This was our only attempt at co-speed run over the phone. Anyway, that was my traditional pose. I’d lean my toes up against my desk and lean the chair back into the bed. Neither the chair, nor my toes, are supposed to work like that and this is very likely where my bursitis originated.
Have I talked about my room before? Here’s the challenge with writing 500 articles about individual video games, other than the sheer stupidity of attempting it. How do I know if I’ve talked about my tiny shoebox of a domicile? I’m not going to manually go through each entry and I don’t make specific enough notes to check on my spreadsheet. By the end of a post, I’m sometimes so relieved that I never read it again. Who knows what i was thinking four years ago about a game I played 13 years before that for 6 hours of my life? I’m at about 317,000 hours into my life, approximately. What hope do I have relaying my emotional state in something that lasted 0.0018% of my existence?
Sorry. Donkey Kong 64 is big. I had a lot of time to think about life while searching for golden goodies, and I have even more thoughts about the bigness of the 500, the bigness of life and meaning. Why do I always listen to Love on a Real Train by Tangerine Dream when I get into these states of mind? All it makes me want to do is write and philosophize and dream. And I have work in the morning!
IGN.com was my church at the time, so their review is still ingrained in my brain. I’d watched every preview video, scoured Nintendo Power for tips and on day 1, I was ready to go. A nine. A nine out of ten! Fantastic. And the cartridge was yellow, because bananas! Just me, the collective efforts of late 90s video game journalists, my Teddy Bear, a Coke and me. Hours, and hours of sapiens soaring across a 3D world. Does it get any better?
Donkey Kong 64 is known for a lot of things, but perhaps the most infamous is the DK Rap. It is unforgettable. It is a digital earworm that will never leave you. If you haven’t heard of it, turn back now. It is so awful and corny, it’s sort of difficult to believe. It also lands in the zone of “so bad it’s good”, and if this was released in modern times, the memes would be never ending. I mean, THIS is how you introduce your fans to the first 3D Donkey Kong Game? Imagine if Zelda had a musical number about living in Kokiri Forest, dreaming of a world outsiiiiide….ok, I want to see that too. It’s silly, it’s stupid, it’s unforgivably catchy. It’s Donkey Kong 64.
Stages are gargantuan, though never overly intimidating. They really stretch the journey by ensuring certain areas weren’t accessible unless you had Chunky Kong’s strength, or Tiny Kong’s hair whip. It made it felt like there were levels within levels; no exit ever showed up. Not that it mattered to me, I seemingly had all the time in the world.
Another terrific moment occurs during the final boss fight against King K.Rool. He was a familiar enemy, though he was never this big, or this ridiculous in other endgame encounters. The entire fracas takes place in a boxing ring, naturally he has gloves on and you have to weave through five different rounds of K.Rool attacks to land the final blow. Naturally, each wave will be contested by a different member of the Kong family.
Lanky’s part still sticks with me.
Somehow, K.Rool ends up with a spotlight on his head and he proceeds to run around like a maniac. You can’t hurt him while he’s doing this, so you have to sneakily grab a banana barrel, which turns into a banana on the ring floor. Hmmm. Then, music pads appear where Lanky can play his signature trombone. The trick is to get the banana directly in between yourself and K.Rool while you play. Hearing your obnoxious tune, he’ll charge at you, hollering in rage. Then he’ll slip on the banana peel. Classic.
It’s still one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a game – it’s so childish and cliche, but I still had a great time doing it. That’s Donkey Kong 64 in a nutshell. It may not have the charm of Banjo-Kazooie, or the mechanical perfection of Super Mario 64 but it was big. Goddamn big. And it had monkeys playing musical instruments, shooting coconut guns and hunting bananas. You could do a lot worse.