Donkey Kong 64’s 20th Anniversary Retrospective

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Ahh DK64.  This game takes me back to being an upstart lad of six heavily ensconced in pee wee sports and highly anticipating immersion into the world of video games.  Up until this point, I had seen a friend of mine playing through The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 had been all the rage for a good while, and Pokemon was abuzz.  However, as far as my sensibilities are concerned, none of these held a candle to what DK64 promised despite not being privy to the Country series at this point.  The ability to play as five unique primates in a sprawling world was too good to pass up.  Something deeply ingrained longed for brachiation and I felt DK64 would allow me to channel that feeling while maintaining the outward appearance of a modern American child.  I had high hopes for this game.

In February of 2000, for my younger brother’s fifth birthday, the banana colored cartridge arrived.  I recall him tooling around the game for a session since of course this was his gift.  My patience was tested as his gaming chops were likened to a gorilla fumbling the controller with his feet.  Not long after he made it to the first world and called it quits for the day, I scrambled for the controller and launched into a legendary multi-hour session.

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The opening cinematic introduced DK Island which was fittingly a mountain molded in the shape of the eponymous character’s head.  Well-animated parrots flew in choreographed synchronicity.  Harbor seals donning pirate attire performed phenomenal aerial maneuvers over the waters across the screen.  We had not even seen a primate yet and I was already gushing at the charm of this world.  Then the music starkly shifts from whimsy to worry as the woodwinds are replaced with brooding brass and the first iota of grey enters from the top of the screen.

Crocodile Isle, the mobile mechanical vessel from which the crocs do their bidding, is en route for the happy-go-lucky DK Island.  Here I was introduced to the kremlings which are made up of morphologically obtuse crocodiles.  A klaptrap runs hamster style in the captain’s wheel while two kritters instruct him on directions.  The bone-headed antics of these duplicitous crocs carries the comedic heft of the game from square one.  They absolutely hate their captain but fear him so their behavior goes from total obeisance while he looms over them, to ignoramus most of the time, to mutinous when he is away.  Speaking of their captain, or shall I say Kaptain, he is introduced posthaste rolling his fingers as he sits on his high-tech throne.  King K. Rool is eerily reminiscent of Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget in this incarnation.  He salivates at the prospect of Donkey Kong and the fellow denizens of DK Island being no more at his behest.  The kremlings then have a momentary loss of power causing them to take frantic recourse before crashing into an enormous rock formation.  Like an ancient jalopy, the vessel sputters and struggles to start before ultimately weighing anchor directly across from DK Island.  Now the two islands are at rest diametrically opposed to one another as they will be for the entirety of the adventure.

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K. Rool summons his guards which are made up of the common enemies you will face going forward.  We have a kritter donning a Hell’s Angels or S&M inspired get up and a  slick sunglasses wearing kasplat with a similar thematic outfit.  The pair are barreled over by a clumsy klump who is wearing military attire.  The stark contrast of minions here is fitting given the poor execution of everything the kremlings do.  Then in his booming voice, K. Rool instructs the trio to distract Donkey Kong, steal his golden banana hoard, and lock up his fellow Kongs while he prepares the doomsday plan.

We cut to Donkey Kong who is performing a sensational core workout until Squawks, the parrot from earlier, abruptly swoops in with awful news that his fellow Kongs are all gone.  Now we finally get to control Donkey Kong after that lengthy cinematic!  His room features all the trappings of a tie wearing ape.  There are banana peels strewn about the floor since cleanliness is a foreign concept, he has a bumpin’ boom box, and a life size poster of his girlfriend Candy next to his hammock (Hmm… I can posit a guess as to why he has her lewd self plastered next to his place of rest…).  A poster of a dolphin is visible if you enter into first person vision as this was an easter egg referencing the then forthcoming Project Dolphin which we all know became the Gamecube.  Your base move set includes a basic jump, a high jump, a running long jump, a standing slap attack, a running two footed kick, a roll, an orange grenade toss, and standard camera controls.  You may not be quite as acrobatic as Mario, but you’re no slouch either.

Upon exiting the tree house, Squawks instructs us to visit Donkey Kong’s father, Cranky, and tell him the bad news about the missing Kongs and golden bananas.  Cranky resides in a dimly lit barrel shaped laboratory where he brews potions under the light of pale electrical flickers.  Cranky is, well, cranky.  He lambasts DK for being a buffoon and insists he will not get far without his help.  He is the potion master and he tells DK to complete four simple barrel mini games to familiarize yourself with the controls of throwing barrels and oranges, swimming, and brachiating via hover vines.  Once you have completed the tutorial, Cranky will provide you with the simian slam potion which you can use to exit the interior of Donkey Kong Island and start the adventure proper.

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Now outside, you realize the scope of this game is massive as both DK Island and Crocodile Island are in for thorough inspection. Right in front of you are five banana ports which transport you to different regions on the map.  This is much appreciated as the back tracking would be utterly nauseating without a teleportation system.  Squawks then instructs you to investigate the hovel attached to Crocodile Island.  Within you find a gargantuan imprisoned crocodile by the name of K. Lumsy.  The dopey lummox informs you about how K. Rool originally intended for you to be trampled upon by this lovable crocodilian but he refused leading to his imprisonment.  He tells you about how the eight keys needed to open his cage are guarded by K. Rool’s fiercest underlings and asks for your help.  Similar to when you exited Cranky’s lab for the first time, here DK is portrayed as a complete imbecile.  Virtually every other game in the series portrays him as cool and competent with a mishap here and there but in DK64, no, he is a nincompoop.  This rubbed me the wrong way when I was six and it still does to this day.  DK agrees and K. Lumsy effectively opens up the first world by providing you with the first Golden banana and crumbling the formerly blocked entry to Jungle Japes.

Upon entering Jungle Japes, we are greeted with a cut scene providing us a lens into the krem hijinks which flesh out with  successive stages.  I really appreciate this touch as it reminds the player of their nemesis before they dive in fluidly conveying how to systematically break down K. Rool’s efforts to blow up  DK Isles.  Aww Jungle Japes.  The game’s composer, Grant Kirkhope, brought his own rendition of the DK Island theme to the fore and it provides the level with a beatific funky exotic ambience.  Here you are greeted with the main collectibles: Kong specific colored bananas.  There are 100 per Kong per stage, meaning 500 per level, and 3500 in the whole game.  Not only this, but you’re bound to come across Kong specific colored coins which are used as currency with certain NPCs.  Furthermore, there are 5 aforementioned golden bananas per character per stage, a battle crown won by finding a pad with K.Rool’s mug on it and outlasting enemies for a designated period of time per stage, and two banana fairies per stage who you can’t save until freeing Tiny in world 2.  These are the major collectibles save for ammunition of weapons, instruments, oranges, and special abilities.  Whew… Have I lost you yet?  Good.  Let’s relieve B. Locker and dig in.

Jungle Japes

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    The initial portion asks you to swing across hover vines to open the cavern leading to the main body of the level.  Once you have reached the end of the cavern, Diddy can be seen locked up from above.  What I always do is visit Funky first to get things rolling.  When I was a child, climbing up the thick vine from the watering hole to Funky’s Armory excited me to no end.  The militaristic tune that complements his presence is fitting for a gorilla arms dealer and I had no place to critique his design since I was not familiar with his Country roots as a surfer bro until a few years later when the GBA port of DKC was released.  Now that I am very familiar with Funky’s character, I can appreciate his original design which was reprised in Tropical Freeze. Anyhow, provided you have 3 coins, he grants you the coconut cannon.  This enables you to unlock Diddy by shooting the coconut switches thereby opening up the bamboo barricaded sections to explore.

Above Funky is Snide’s HQ.  His HQ feels like a James Bond influenced covert operation which is not far from the truth.  Snide the weasel is out for revenge against K. Rool for kicking him off of the project to build the Blast-o-matic designed to destroy DK Island and insists on helping you thwart the king’s plans.  He will reward you with a golden banana for every blue print you collect per stage which are found by knocking out kasplats with the hair doo color that corresponds to the Kong.

Now that the major NPCs have been introduced save for Candy who appears next level, I recommend revisiting Cranky deep in the caverns where the weather is perpetually stormy.  Here you learn the baboon blast and beyond his lab you are able to use Rambi the rhinoceros to smash some huts and break through a barrier within the cave.  Rambi, while initially quite invigorating to control, feels tacked on.  He can only be used within the stormy area and down that small section of tunnel.  Sure, he can destroy beavers and is invincible, but he is under utilized as his role is limited to this corridor within this level and a cameo at the game’s end.  The baboon blast can be used near the boulder at level’s center and there are one of these high flying segments per stage.  3D barrel shooting in the clouds is quite fun and leads to golden bananas or triggers events.  Now that I have outlined the basics of navigating a world in DK64, I will only mention unique elements to the stages from here on out.  There is no need to laboriously mention every upgrade.

I always try to play DK64 in a way where I max out the things I can do with a Kong before switching over to the next one.  I feel this approach allows for a sustainable pace and limits the annoyances of inevitable back tracking.

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When DK’s cake walk journey through the level has been completed I move onto Diddy.  Diddy is the most versatile character in the game.  He is the most nimble, the highest jumper, and his hit box is the smallest.  He is a pleasure to use as he was in the Country games.  Diddy receives the peanut pop guns from Funky and learns chimpy charge from Cranky.  He has the most interesting run of  the level if for the only reason being that a large section is dedicated solely to him.  Within the spire nearby Snide’s HQ, only Diddy may enter and take part in the game’s opening mine cart section.  This one is a joy to play as you are evading mobile TNT barrels and kremlings with clubs while trying to collect 50 coins.  These segments stand the test of time and remain the strongest portions of the game in my opinion.  The rest of his level is standard fare finding banana barrels and smashing switches to retrieve a golden banana within a time limit.  Now onto the boss.

If you have not noticed yet, there are these blue-pink portals in various places around the world.  Within the portals are a blue hippo named Scoff and a pink pig with nipple piercings named Troff.  You feed the already morbidly obese Scoff bananas so he can perform a soul searing stomp thus raising the platform of his short armed inept porcine partner so he can reach the key to open the boss’ lair.  If you have 60 bananas, you can raise that neat nippled pig enough to face off against Armydillo with Donkey Kong.  This boss is beyond lame.  He has what appears to be a titanium encased shell with two cannons affixed to either side.  He will stop in the middle of the stage and shoot you with fireballs which are easy to dodge so long as you are moving laterally at a consistent pace.  He will roll at you too but if you hug the perimeter this bitch ass cannot hope to hit you.  They hand you the answer to the boss immediately without any thought.  There is a TNT barrel at center stage which you throw at Army’s face three times following a barrage of fireballs.  You’ll know when since he laughs openly like the fuckwad that he is.  Get that key and exit stage left.  We’re off to K. Lumsy’s cage.  The remaining three Kongs will return here but in all likelihood you will have completed the second and third worlds in entirety making this return a breeze by comparison.

Jungle Japes is a solid first world although I struggle to call it a jungle.  The section to your left when you enter the main section that is barred off by feather switches for Tiny to open up, the stormy section, and the opening hallway are the only areas that scream jungle to me.  The majority of this level outside of the central mountain is made up of dimly lit caverns and hallways.  Unfortunately this is a prevalent theme throughout the game.  Unlike the Banjo games that came out one year prior and one year after, this Rare team opted for a darker game oft barely lit with swinging lights.  I digress.  The central watering hole is my favorite part of the stage since the high mountains stoke the flame of imagination, everything is clearly visible, and frankly, I enjoy using the barrel cannon to meet up with Diddy from the start.  Character who stole the show: Diddy Kong

Angry Aztec

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Once K. Lumsy’s flamboyant dancing has ceased, the entrance to Angry Aztec will be open.  B. locker will let you in for a measly 5 golden bananas.  Once again the level starts out in a long hallway.  This time dangerous shifting sands force you to use hover vines lest you succumb to them.  At the end of the hallway, you are met with a caged camel who asks for your help to release him.  After this humped fool in dire need of an orthodontist finishes his schpeal, you’ll spot Candy’s Music Shop to your left.

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  Lord have mercy!  When you enter Candy’s shop the game’s camera gives you a full frontal body scan of this primate pin up.  She then sexily struts over to you and says, “Well, hello Donkey.  You just take it easy and let Candy tell you how she’s gonna make you feel real good.  Why, for just a few old coins you can have my musical instruments and extra melons too.  Come on now, Donkey.  For just three coins I’ll show you my musical instrument and throw in an extra melon for free!  (Outrageously sexual tickling laugh)  Let’s give it a try shall we?”  Once you agree she responds, “Stand a little closer, Donkey, and I’ll show you how to use your instrument.”  Oh my god.  All of the blood has drained from my face to pool in my special place.  This on top of Kirkhope’s raunchy clarinet/trumpet tune and the suggestively flickering lights blew my six year old mind.  I was already beginning to enjoy climbing the rope at school because friction, but this took my prepubescent mind to steamy sex land.  I highly doubt E rated games would be allowed to have this degree of sexual subtext in today’s age.  Candy is clearly a prostitute asking for money to make you feel real good and show you how to use your instrument.  This is a high water mark of the game.  That girl in Donkey’s room is the real deal.  I can see why the gorilla keeps her poster so close to his hammock now.

Once you smack yourself out of a state of disbelief, there is a level to explore.  Tiny Kong can be rescued by Diddy in the temple close by which I highly recommend doing as soon as possible.  Ascend monkey tongues within the temple and shoot a switch across the way and after having had your way with Candy, play your recently acquired guitar on the pad.  This lets the sun in thus thawing out the pool and allowing you to free Tiny.  Once Tiny is free I always take her to Cranky who is through the tunnel that opens up following another guitar display outside.  She learns mini-monkey which allows her to go inside those miniature entryways scattered throughout the game.  After getting her saxophone and feather bow, I exit the level and immediately go over to the third island called Banana Fairy Island.  Within you meet the Banana Fairy who gives you the camera which you use to capture her children in photographs and the seismic wave move which greatly reduces the stress of picking up banana coins.  Those DK mounds can disintegrate with a seismic wave granting you a multicolored coin that gives each Kong 5 coins.  Banana coins are not essential to 101% completion so this is a god send.  Now back to Angry Aztec.

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Lanky is up next.  On the other side of that aforementioned second tunnel, in the area with the totem at center, there is a baboon blast pad which you use to open up the camel’s temple where Lanky is locked up within.  You must force our new camel acquaintance to spit in the lava pool by playing DK’s bongos.  Upon rationalizing that logic, you can now swim to Lanky.  Once you unlock the clownish orangutan, it’s hard to not immediately be drawn to him.  He starkly contrasts the other Kongs since he is not even the same species.  Also, his devil-may-care looney demeanor is a far cry from all of the other more seriously minded characters.  In addition to getting a grape pipe and a trombone, he learns orangstand from Cranky here which allows him to traverse steep slopes by walking on his hands.  I usually walk around with him regularly in orangstand since he moves a bit quicker and it is a deeply pleasing experience from an aesthetic perspective.  Some people watch Bob Ross paint, some listen to soothing music, and some do yoga for ASMR.  For me, I maneuver Lanky around.  True bliss.

Lanky has a ludicrous stock sound effect memory shooting game within the temple where he is found.  He also shoots an ever shrinking vulture for a banana back in the temple where Tiny was found.  Outside of these two quirky bananas, his time in Angry Aztec is fairly blasé.

The remaining moves learned here after you get everyone their shooter and instrument are Donkey Kong’s strong kong and Diddy Kong’s iconic rocket barrel boost.  Donkey’s move has a handful of situational usages.  Both in this level allow him to walk over the shifting sands without being harmed.  Diddy’s, on the other hand, is the most important in the game.  Provided you have a decent ration of crystal coconuts, Diddy can now scan over full levels figuring out how to handle intimidating areas with grace to the tune of high octane rock n’ roll.

In this level, you follow a vulture through rings which admittedly can be difficult as the jet pack can be frustrating to maneuver.  What always happens to me unless I line it up just right is I’ll narrowly miss a ring and the adjustment to go back through the ring is painstakingly awkward.  Later on, Diddy feeds the spinning hungry totem to open up a temple where each Kong has their own unique labyrinth.  These labyrinths are memorable for the infamous “Get Out” sequence.  Once you acquire the golden banana within, a deep voiced Krosshair warns you to get out in an allotted time before he one hit KOs your monkey bum.  I recall being deeply disturbed as a child by this, but now I just think it’s awesome someone had the balls to fit this scary character into the game.   Also, Diddy erects a tower that Tiny can enter while miniature for perhaps the most notoriously difficult race in the game.

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This race defines Tiny’s experience in Angry Aztec for me.  Everything else she does pales in comparison to the gravitas of this nonsense.  You meet with the sneering scuttlebug who guffaws at you like he stole your lunch before giving you a wedgie and smearing boogers on your forehead.  He is the essence of annoying.  You have to collect 50 coins and beat him to the bottom of the slide.  There are many different strategies here but what I do is flip him over at the start to give myself some space, slide down hopefully collecting 47 coins or so before hitting the flat portion at the end, collect the last few, and hit him again to maintain your lead.  The original N64 controller made this race absolute hell since the joysticks get worn so easily but I recently played him on a rom with a Switch pro controller and beat him in one try.  Go figure.

Since all of the crucial elements of this stage have been explored, let’s move onto the boss.  Diddy faces Dogadon.  Dogadon is a dragon who is understandably pissed when Diddy squashes her (must be a her, right?) only child.  As epic as Dogadon’s stage is, being surrounded by lava and all, this boss is scarcely different than Armydillo.  That stinking barrel is at center stage and instead of laughing, Dogadon scolds you like the school boy that you are who had too much chocolate before dinner.  Throw the explosives at her dumb mug three times after the fire ball barrages and head back to ole K. Lumsy.

Angry Aztec is my least favorite stage in the game.  The theming is nonsensical since you have what is ostensibly a desert with a camel and a vulture despite the Aztec empire being in Mexico and Central America.  I think the Brits over at Rare missed history class that day or they revel in nonsense (like I do).  The whole stage rests on a bed of shifting sands and the palette is understandably dull because of it.  I appreciate the notorious scuttlebug, the feed me totem, and the segments with Diddy’s jetpack otherwise this level is a chore.  Character who stole the show: Diddy Kong   

Frantic Factory

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Frantic Factory is the first stage that takes place on the gloomy and perpetually rainy Crocodile Island.  As soon as you enter the foyer from the hub you know something sinister is happening in the bowels of the factory from the terribly tinkering music.  Pay B. Locker and let’s see what’s amiss.

Upon entry, the dopey massive fraidy cat Chunky can be seen hanging from a cage somewhere in the factory.  There are two major hallways you can see and both are blocked off from the beginning.  Already things seems a bit jaded by comparison with the first two gamuts.  Slam a nondescript switch by the punch clock where two metallic wind up toy kremlings with soulless red eyes will give chase.  Throw oranges, perform a seismic wave or use your instrument if you’re a complete wuss and they’re gone.  The switch grants you access down a shaft where you descend a wooden pole to the depths of this manic stage.  Down the hallway and you are in the central machinery room from which all other areas feed.  This room is congested and it is best not to dawdle too long since there is not much you can do quite yet.  Go through the door directly across from where you entered to find the dingus afraid of his own shadow suspended from above.  Lanky unlocks the beefy boy and now all of the Kongs are at your disposal.

I like to spruce up Chunky first by visiting Cranky and Candy who are inexplicably side-by-side this go around.  He learns both hunky chunky and primate punch which make him enormous via barrel and allow him to bash down grates or other walls with cracks in them respectively.  His instrument is the triangle which is perfectly ironic given his hulking stature.  Funky is a ways out from here but ultimately gives the lumbering ape a pineapple launcher.  Chunky can also lift boulders which means there are heaps of immovable objects that will no longer leave you dumbfounded all over DK Island.

Directly ahead, once you exit the box littered room, is one of those grates.  Funky can secure his first golden banana here by leaping across timed platforms and evading or killing some mech zingers.  His next intriguing golden banana is found in the R&D section of the factory which is accessed by hitting the other nondescript switch on the boxes beneath the alcove to Cranky and Candy’s abodes.  Within the gurgling, bubbling, R&D Chunky can access a room via playing his triangle.  Here he fights off sentient blocks, dominos, and toys galore until a massive fusion of said toys appears.  Chunky must become his humongous version and defeat the towering toy.  The other notable event for him takes place in the central machinery room where he must hit a switch and retrieve the golden banana spinning inside of the harrowing compactor before time runs out.  However, This may only be done after Donkey Kong pulls a lever in the box room.

Speaking of DK, let’s now go back to the box room with him where a baboon blast section by the rafters of the factory results in a lever being erected in a petite room in front of the classic Donkey Kong arcade machine.  DK’s Gorilla Grab learned here allows you to play the original arcade game for the first time on a home console!  This is pretty neat although the game itself is exceedingly tedious.  There are four classic levels starting on the girders and concluding with a section where you must create gaps to send Donkey Kong falling to his doom.  Classic Donkey Kong was eighteen years old when DK64 came out and the jump damage here feels ludicrous compared with the standard gameplay.  Furthermore, if you die, the game boots you out and forces you to pull the lever again.  A simple reset option would have been much appreciated here.  If you beat the game once you receive a golden banana but you have to beat it twice to successfully beat the game.  The second time grants you the Nintendo coin.  Phew!  Now that the immersion breaking snooze fest is over, let’s take DK back to R&D (I specifically chose to skip the mountainous block room since DK’s golden banana there punching numbers 1-16 is insulting operant conditioning crap).

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Here in R&D by Tiny’s mini section, via lever, DK can open up two grates to reveal a battle crown stage and some Chunky coins.  Press further to find the room with a gaping hole and a yellow balloon and jump down to the box room again.  The interconnectivity of rooms here is much appreciated as it grants the player an “aha” moment since this elevated portion of the box room might perplex some upon initial entry.  Shoot the switch and within the industrial hut is a lever that brings the machinery room into full gear allowing all Kongs to perform their switch slam and ascend golden banana tasks.  You will notice a door opens to the central machinery where DK may enter and bypass compressors with ease via Strong Kong en route to a golden banana.

Diddy’s Frantic Factory experience is rather dull and this is notable considering there is no rocket barrel for him.  He learns the Simian Spring from Cranky here which he can use to ascend the blocks in the block room to a golden banana barrel.  My singular favorite moment in the level is when you can see the moon and stars atop the blocks with Diddy.  These perspective shifting shots give Frantic Factory a mystical feel as a horrifying maze of agitating rejected toys while the serene world watches from the outside.  He has a lesser fight against toys in R&D when compared with Chunky and a steep ascent in the machinery room but there is no challenge since it is not timed.  Otherwise his level is standard fare.

Lanky, of course, our knight in shining armor saving the lovable lummox that is Chunky, learns baboon balloon here.  This move is quintessential circus ape as he fills up with gas which dissipates like flatulence once too much time has elapsed.  He uses the move to reach a banana barrel in the block room.  Like everyone else sans DK, he ascends the machinery for a switch induced golden banana.  Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch for him takes place in R&D where he must follow along a tune crafted by belching color coded kremlings on the color coded piano.  Similar to Diddy, he does not have a whole lot going on here.

Tiny on the other hand learns what I feel is the 2nd most essential move in the game here.  Her Ponytail Twirl makes dealing with large gaps a breeze and instantly shoots her up above Donkey, Chunky, and perhaps even Lanky in terms of enjoyment factor in my humble opinion.  In addition to her version of the machinery room ascent, she can turn mini in the block room and play a shooting game where her shot must match the designated item on screen.  She also becomes minuscule in the arcade game room for an easy golden banana through a vent above a stack of boxes.  Once again she goes petite in R&D for a race against an Indy style car around a three lane track.  She must secure ten coins while avoiding TNT barrels, hitting boosts, and ultimately beating the diminutive racer over three laps.  Here is where I rub my sweaty palms in anticipation.  The boss.

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Tiny is the Kong of the moment here and she falls into the most unique lair yet.  There are glowing blue and white pillars that rise to skyscraping heights once the battle begins.  A Jack-in-the-box falls from the ceiling and bounces pillar-to-pillar until he is directly across from you.  Then the box springs open to reveal a garish fiend sporting a laser eye.  Puke green with improbably spiky hair and a tarnished paint job, you can tell this design was lifted from the trash heap.  A sinister laugh emerges from his corroded lips and he retreats into his box to chase you in the aforementioned manner.  That ponytail whirl is of the utmost importance as you will be vigorously tapping the A button to evade being squashed by this demonic toy.  Once he stops, he will begin shooting laser beams at you.  You must see what color pillar he is on and swiftly make your way to the corresponding colored pillar where a switch appears.  Slamming on this switch electrocutes the monster.  Rinse and repeat.  He eventually becomes invisible and electrifies entire pillars putting up a substantial fight by comparison with the previous hum drum bosses.  Once you defeat the freakazoid you earn the most useless key in the game.  It opens nothing since Dogadon’s key apparently made K. Lumsy so hard to the point of explosion where he opened up two levels in one.

Frantic Factory is a thematically wonderful stage.  The music creeps over you and brings  visions of dimly lit factories filled with impoverished people making defunct toys.  Honestly, I feel this level is a thinly veiled allegory of Chinese sweat shops and the whole idea of corrupt capitalism.  Mad Jack represents the corrupted evil within who is causing all of the mayhem within the factory walls.  He is ostensibly forcing kremlings to produce horrendous abominations that attack whoever crosses their path.  Dominos that punch back, dice that fight to their dying breath, mechanical wind-up kremlings that only know how to kill primates…  Mad Jack is a sad character who laughs maniacally to stave off his buried shame from being discarded by a young child who found his smile to be grotesque.  I love how all the rooms coalesce and while the moment-to-moment gameplay is not stellar, I can appreciate the vibe Rare devs created.  Character who stole the show: Tiny Kong 

Gloomy Galleon 

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Welcome to the first level where all Kongs are at your disposal from the outset.  Gloomy Galleon oozes Donkey Kong Country 2 charm as sunken seafaring vessels are littered throughout the stage.  Wooden planks form precarious bridges in the central foyer, an operable cannon resides in a gated room just right of level entry, and Cranky calls the main deck of a grounded galleon home providing you an aperitif to the swashbuckling sea shenanigans of which you are soon to be privy.

None of the Kongs learn any moves here so Cranky’s sole purpose for being in the dank n’ dim caverns is just in case your banana medal totals add up to fifteen by this point.  Similar to the retro Donkey Kong arcade game in the factory, Cranky has access to Rare’s own classic Jetpac.  By building a rocket and collecting bonuses you will eventually earn enough points to win the absolutely necessary Rareware coin.  Personally I find Jetpac to be far less obnoxious since the sequences between blasting off and landing are less tedious than DK grabbing Pauline.  Not to mention, being booted out doesn’t involve Donkey Kong sizing up a lever before giving it all his biceps can muster.  Both games significantly stagnate the gameplay and appear to have been included as history lessons to the youth or easter eggs to the elderly gamer.  Now on to the meat of the level.

Both major areas feature Aquatic Ambience darling Enguarde to great effect.  Lanky, the Kong who gathers blue bananas, gets to transform into the ever-smiling blue swordfish.  Enguarde bashes through treasure chests, raises and lowers water levels, and can breach the surface soaring to dizzying heights.  Compared with Rambi’s cameo, Enguarde is a feature length act.  Water levels are notorious for being slow, monotonous, and often murky but Rare answered those qualms with aplomb.  It is an utter joy to maneuver the swordfish and the primate portions of the level do not drag either.

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Upon opening up the shipwreck section of the world, you will find a grounded galleon embedded in sand.  Each Kong will be able to explore the chambers of this vessel which boasts hanging skeletons, puffer fish, whip-cracking shuris, and homages to Kaptain K. Rool circa 1995.  Nearby there is a nose-side down galleon where Tiny and Lanky can conduct further exploration of kremling ship wrecks.  If you have not already, Enguarde can open a treasure trove grotto by soaring through a star the golden number three times.  The chamber has a chest for Tiny to enter where sneering kremling clams guard pearls beyond their gapped teeth.  These pearls are the property of a mermaid in the lighthouse region.  Lanky and Diddy each have piles of gold coins to ascend leading to banana barrel mini games once the water is raised.  Back outside, Tiny can enter a nondescript piece of machinery rife with pufferfish where a banana barrel awaits.  We will revisit this area after spending sometime in and around the lighthouse.

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Across the hallway in the lighthouse’s shadow, we can enter the Queendom of spiral shells with Tiny where the mermaid resides.  Kirkhope clearly had his ear lobes caressed by the gods to create such a wholesome yet poignant tune.  Fleeting moments with mystical creatures ought to express this calming sense of wonder and Kirkhope knows this intimately.  His self proclaimed fave of his ouevre, Bedtime Story from Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, evokes a similar assuredness with momentary bliss and forthcoming darkness.

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Resurfacing with Donkey Kong after having raised the water levels with our dear swordfish friend leads us to the lighthouse.  Prior to entering, barrel blast to the heavens to release a pirate seal from a perilous cage.  The seal grants DK a banana and tells him to meet up in the shipwreck region.  Climbing the pegged wooden pole into the lighthouse, the level’s centerpiece, still sends shivers down my spine.  Klumps loudly snack on oranges around the base of the dankly lit structure.  Life preservers adorn the walls faded from years of abandonment.  A sneaky bass line sets the table for a tiptoeing music box twinkle.  Donkey ascends the grey scale platforms to the tower’s zenith where a lever awaits.  Pulling this lever darkens the sky as the lighthouse performs a full rotation illumination.  Then creaking gates open letting in a ghostly galleon with K. Rool’s nefarious countenance woven in the cloth at full mast.

When I first saw this, I half expected Rare’s version of a phantom antagonist to appear.  Ocarina of Time had the eery Forest Temple where Phantom Ganon appeared through a portrait along with his illusory copies.  Alas, faux krem king is yet to come.  Diddy can leap onto the vessel and slam his face for a golden banana atop the lighthouse.  Chunky can also perform a grunting front flip onto the galleon and slam through a hatch.  Inside the galleon, Chunky evades cannon balls to reach a spinning cylindrical structure bearing his face.  If he punches his face enough times he earns a banana but ohoho wait a moment.  Now the brawny gorilla has to return like a piss drunk Conker with reverse controls.  I suppose this is to convey Chunky’s seasickness but my mind always wanted this dopey prepubescent man-child ape to be drunk off his rocker.  Rocket barrel Diddy to the top once again and rock that guitar to release a mechanical fish in the other section.

Swimming inside of the mustard colored fish you will see a propellor on the back wall with three bright lights behind it.  While I have heard this sequence aggravates people, I always nail this on the first go.  Kill the annoying zinger before you start.  The propellor rapidly rotates and stops for a few seconds allowing you to alternate between shooting two of the upper lights or the bottom light.  Hit each light through two statuses until it is broken and you have won.  Switch back to DK and meet up with the scurvy seal for a boat race.  A couple of laps over galleons while evading explosive barrels and you will earn the banana.  The last notable banana is Chunky’s cannonball googly eyed target practice in the room by the entry.  Now onto Pufftoss.

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Lanky faces the crooked toothed gigantic pufferfish in a dinghy little boat equipped with a bright light and a powerful motor.  You have to form a pentagon of electrical currents by passing through successive stars within a time limit while Pufftoss tries to throw you off.  Pufftoss will create magnanimous waves and spit the byproduct of an inoperable underbite, or simply put, fireballs at you.  Each round the window of opportunity goes down and the stars shrink in size.  Our bloated friend will also rain fire balls from the heavens on the last go around.  This fight is a piece of cake so long as you are patient with the waves.  Once the big bad is defeated we can collect the key and exit the world.

Gloomy Galleon is in my top tier.  The mermaid and lighthouse set pieces are iconic in my perpetually twelve year old mind.  Grant Kirkhope outdid himself here with this level as the themes that play within those aforementioned set pieces in addition to dark atmospheric ambience within the treasure chest and galleons channeled the sailor in me.  Conversely, Enguarde’s theme is highly energetic and widens my eyes in a way Yoshi’s Island’s Athletic Theme can only do.  His presence provides necessary buoyancy to the gloom n’ doom.  While some may complain that this is indeed the water level, I feel the love letter to DKC2 and Enguarde’s effervescence mark this as perhaps the most memorable experience of the game.  Character who stole the show: Lanky Kong

Fungi Forest

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Fungi Forest and the forthcoming Creepy Castle are the only two levels in the game that share the odd distinction of having their foyer on an island in the clouds.  Upon entry you will find this is in fact the only level that does not begin in a hallway which is no petty distinction.  This was a discarded Banjo Kazooie level, as can be seen on a portrait inside of Banjo’s house, and the layout of the stage reflects this.  The heart-fully teeming forest breathes from the central tree.  Halfway up the tree you will see a sun and moon which you can shoot thereby engaging the magical cuckoo clock and changing the scene from day to night.  Schematically the level is similar to BK’s Click Clock Wood which opted for the seasonal approach offering four versions of the same level as opposed to two here.  Kirkhope’s chops from BK are reprised in masterful form.  The daytime tune is vibrant spring with bird chirps and buzzing bugs for an aleatoric orgy of life’s celebration.  Conversely, at night owls hoot, wolves howl, deadly serious strings ruminate over bone chilling marimba and wilderness etching woodwinds cast you out in the cold.  While I love both dynamics I tend to spend more time exploring during the day since more avenues are open and it’s easier to identify things.  Without further ado let’s get jiggy with it.

Personally, I like to tackle the mushroom well nearby where the biggest member o’ the crew can smash through the grating to a mesmerizing mine cart section.  Some like to save their dessert for last.  I like to fuck up my dinner with eight scoops of ice cream down the esophagus.   Magnanimous fungus crested by rainbows juxtapose dark trees, a red bell/green bell mechanic, and sinister crocodilian tunnels capture the world’s stark thematic contrast.  Now I make out for the blue doorway where the water wheel churns in harmony once you have set it in motion within the mill.

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Additionally, the mill contains rudimentary bananas for Chunky as he can grind up three metal barrels for an explosive golden banana while DK can grip grab three levers in a special order for a banana retrievable in the evening.  Let’s be honest though.  The real set pieces in and around the mill take place at night.  Lanky can perform his baboon balloon to reach an attic storage room via the mill roof top.  Within he can use the newly acquired homing ammo to shoot down some bats for a dank nanner.  Tiny can enter through a rodent hole to find a spider’s lair where she fights an enormous arachnid and her children.  The big mama sleeps through most of the fight but will periodically shoot tiny with mucous gobs of the movement hindering and freezing variety.  Once you dispose of all her children, she’ll open her gigantic cyclops eye peeved at the development.  You shoot her in her cornea enough and she shrinks into a miniature spider who can be trounced for a golden banana.  A spider’s lair complemented by webs of epic proportion might provide the faint of heart with the hee bee jee bees.

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Diddy has a simian spring pad taking him to the rafters of the barn nearby for a rare Squawks appearance.  Aided by our favorite parrot, narrow creaking wooden beams take you to the banana.  Across the way, access to the barn is now granted beyond the bramble hedges.  DK, with the aid of a strong kong barrel, can enter the abandoned ramshackle barn for a banana barrel game.  Now off to the giant mushroom area.

The largest structure in the game save for Creepy Castle is straight out of a fungal fairy tale.  Upon hitting the switches above the entryway with each Kong’s shooter barrel cannons poof into existence which blast you off to the mushroom’s zenith.  Donkey Kong can earn a banana by slamming a switch and doing just that.  He can also take part in a bramble themed barrel blast half way up the mystic fungus.  At the pinnacle, Lanky has a couple of bananas which can be accessed via his orangstand which involve slamming colored mushrooms and bouncing on a mushroom after dealing with a couple zingers.  Chunky can form his face by slamming on tiles in a room around the mushroom as well.  Diddy can also jet to the peak like Lanky where goodies await him.  Now off to the autumnal area.

Here Diddy jets around a tree dodging branches in pursuit of a wide-eyed owl.  Lanky races the soulless Rodney the Hare with his sprint ability which can only be learned in the following level.  This is the only time where you cannot earn all 25 golden bananas in one go.  When you do return you will find Rodney is quite the competitor and is a nuisance to beat the second go around unless he gets caught up on the kasplat who loiters underneath the central arbor.  Finalement, Tiny goes renegade grenadier within a stump as some purple klaptraps are to be vanquished.  She’ll gather a banana and an odd bean that you can plant in the unvisited area.  Once you have completed this suite of tasks it is off to said area where Funky plies his trade.

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Here it rains in perpetuity meaning when Tiny plants the bean in the well-tilled section a large bean stalk deemed Sprout grows to full size instantaneously.  Squawks will carry mini Tiny to the banana which is released when Sprout is finished with his growth spurt.  At center, Chunky consorts with a worm in an apple who is perturbed by the sentient tomatoes who sport gnashing teeth in the vicinity.  Hunky chunky employed, Chunky can eradicate these deadly fruits and carry our new bespectacled worm friend to his new home by the time changing arbor where the level begins.  Scoff and Troff here we come.

Welcome to the Dogadon rematch where our gentle giant must knock this dragon to oblivion since Diddy’s efforts clearly did nothing but enrage the mad mama.  The first portion of the fight mirrors Diddy’s to a mind numbing degree.  However, after three hits this time Dogadon slams down on the stage causing it to descend into the lava below.  She will now attempt to hit you with fire balls for only one sequence before scolding you when a hunky chunky barrel appears.  Mama said knock you out Dogadon.  Chunky can do just this with the aid of his primate punch for a little while before the motherly dragon incinerates Schwarzenegger style a la Terminator 2.  Get the key for our mate K. Lumsy.

Fungi Forest is a beautifully designed world with the most endearing pallet in the whole adventure.  From a thematic standpoint, the level is hodgepodge free form jazz compared with the tight orchestration of say Creepy Castle.  Kirkhope nails the vibe and evokes the mysticism of childhood in effortless fashion.  The enormous mushroom and water mill areas are ingrained in my mind as tell tale blending of natural mysticism contrasted with holy artifice.  Tiny’s bout with the spider, Chunky’s mine cart foray, and blasting off to the top of the mushroom are my absolute favorite elements of this level.  Evening segments can feel quite bottomless and sinister for a children’s game.  Diddy’s rafter navigation strikes this tone perfectly as childhood wonder oft feels riddled with danger below the surface.  The forest is undoubtedly a classic in my gaming experience.  Character who stole the show: Chunky Kong     

Crystal Caves

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The hub foyer for Crystal Caves is strange in that only Tiny can reach it with her pony tail whirl.  This is the last level where Kongs learn individual moves.  Lanky learns the aforementioned orangsprint, Chunky learns gorilla gone which involves him standing on a pad and turning invisible, and Tiny learns the single most idiotic throwaway move in the game in monkeyport.  I recommend entering the level with Chunkster since there are a bevy of frozen walls that need to be smashed by the gigantic brute.  Right from the get go, down the first hallway, there is a room that simply requires Chunky learn gorilla gone, perform it, and earn himself the banana.    Taking a left from the first two warp pads ahead will lead you past an ice castle to a boulder that Chunky can place on a clearly marked boulder switch.  This shatters an ice igloo in another cave blocked off by an ice wall.  Within the igloo is a giant boulder and a moving boulder switch.  Become hunky chunky and place the big ass rock on the switch to shatter yet another igloo in the grand igloo section for a banana.  At this point you are probably enraged by the falling stalactites caused by the giant kosha in some undisclosed location.  Thankfully the final shattered igloo here grants access to a monkey port which allows Tiny to effectively cease his destructive mayhem.  Serenity returns to the caves and there are few frantic elements now that the jerk has been handled.

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While in the grand igloo section, each Kong can enter the igloo by playing their respective instrument for a challenge.  First Diddy must use his jet pack to fly through the star above the igloo to materialize all of the instrument pads in front of the five igloo entries.  Once he has done that, DK must navigate a death defying maze which requires precision movement to complete to earn the banana.  This is actually an intriguing concept despite the garishness of the maze itself.  The maze alternates between rotating clockwise and counterclockwise while you avoid running into the jagged walls.  Look forward to many facepalms and grumbles at the telly for this sequence.  Diddy then has a boring sequence where he places down barrels in a designated order within the allotted time.  Lanky has a straightforward banana that consists of slapping around some baddies to reveal a baboon balloon switch which he can use to float to the golden object of desire.  One of the more tricky igloo bananas is Tiny’s room.  The task is made simpler by killing the koshas who still have a pretty quick respawn rate.  Then you must slam on a moving target thrice to receive the banana.  Chunky’s room reunites us with Rodney the hare.  He inexplicably wound up tied to a TNT barrel and sentient fire balls wearing sunglasses will mosey on over in an attempt to explode the idiot.  Thankfully this game was tailor made for Kiddy Kong’s brother.  His spinning punch move will easily take out the fire balls granting you the final banana within the igloo.

There is a monkey port and banana for Tiny within one of the igloos which may be accessed by walking over the narrow land bridge near Funky’s shack.  Tiny can ponytail whirl onto a small escarpment where a mini monkey barrel is and then whirl back and walk into the rodent hole at the end of the bridge for said monkey port while granting Diddy access to his kasplat.  Close by, Tiny has access to a standard banana within an ice wall by going mini and completing the banana barrel game.  Speaking of our Short Round inspired Kong, Diddy can reach a cooly placed banana barrel via jet pack underneath the central waterfall.  Now let’s fly over to the area on the opposite end of the world which appears to be a ski lodge.

Diddy has two tasks to complete within the lodge.  The first is relatively simple as he must use his jetpack to light three candles to reveal the banana.  There is something deeply satisfying about hovering over a giant candle via jetpack and hearing the candle wick ignite.  The second banana here is oft criticized for the short time limit and sheer amount of enemies you must defeat but like the mechanical fish it is simple if you know what to do.  Use Diddy’s barrel to jet up to one of the corner platforms where a critter or klump is.  Knock them out and from that vantage point kill all four of the krem barrel baddies at center stage via well placed orange grenades.  Then leap over to center stage and use three more oranges to knock out the remaining baddies on the corners.  DK KOs bees inside of his lodge portion for a banana with the aid of homing ammunition.  Similar to Tiny’s Fungi Forest stump banana, her lodge banana is about killing purple klaptraps while smartly evading pitfalls around the room.  The last of the grand lodge rooms belongs to Chunky where he must avoid being spotted by searchlights to reach the gorilla gone pad.  There are a few pads he must slam in this incognito mode to earn the banana.

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Nearby are two smaller lodges for DK and Lanky to enter.  DK’s lodge is a rotating room which is operated by slamming switches on either side of a central four switch area.  You must match Kong faces by slamming the central four switch area at each section rotated within the prism.  A battle crown and a banana can be won here upon completion.  Lanky’s lodge, accessed via baboon balloon and a trombone tizzy involves usage of his orangsprint.  Kill the kosha first and then run over a switch at the far extremity of the room to unveil a banana beneath the floorboards at entry.  Rush over for the banana.  The final two important bananas are both for Lanky aside from DK’s routine barrel blast section by Cranky.

Head over to that ice castle we glossed over earlier.  Inside the castle Lanky can play a mundane switch game with a bored sentient ice block where he must hit more switches than the strange opponent for the banana.  Atop the ice castle, after smashing a switch, Lanky can enter a newly opened entrance for a rendez-vous race with our favorite giggling dipshit scuttlebug.  This race is partially orangsprint and partially a slide course and I find it a bit more difficult than Tiny’s encounter with the lifeless eyed scuzzy beetle.  He gets a head start of course but thankfully your orangsprint is indeed faster than his scuttling about.  It is important to note for the slide ramp portions that you do not have to jump.  I bashed my head in countless times having to retry this stupid game only to figure out that doing less is more.  Often with Lanky observing zen principles is your ally.  Anyhow, leap over the jackass during the orangsprint portions, earn 50 coins, and retrieve the banana for a cool 25.

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Armydillo 2.0 is nearly as terrible as his first go-round.  Donkey Kong fights the idiot again and he has little more to offer aside from a seismic wave move and a giant smiling homing missile that is a cinch to avoid.  Knock out this tacked on boss and head back to K. Lumsy again to see the Crocodile Isle jaws unhinge for a moment only to seal back up again.

Crystal Caves is not a stellar level and this boils down to its utterly grey pallete emphasizing the monotonous level design.  Igloos, lodges, a castle, and ice walls are the extent of this level.  The enjoyable moments for me are primarily with Diddy Kong who gets to blast through the waterfall and light candles to great effect and to a lesser extent with Lanky who takes part in the rematch with scuttlebug.  I have always found the frequently boisterous baddy raining down pain element implemented from the beginning of the level to be quite irritating.  This was also incorporated in Banjo Tooie via Chilli Billi and Chilly Willy within Hailfire Peaks and while it was much more engaging there to bruise Biggafoot’s toe and fight against an ice and fire dragon, the annoyance is largely the same.  To this day, Crystal Caves falls flat outside of Grant Kirkhope’s stalactite dripping, twinkly score that is on par with the deep set serenity experienced upon entering the mermaid’s palace back in Gloomy Galleon.  Kong who stole the show: Diddy Kong  

Creepy Castle

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Welcome to the second isle in the sky.  This time the foyer is crafted like a dungeon which is quite fitting considering the twisted direction of worlds like Frantic Factory close by.  Obviously the team opted to infuse the Crocodile Isle world with the macabre or sinister while DK Isle levels are free frolicking fun with scarcely a scary moment.  Immediately upon entering the level you’ll notice the stark piano and chilling synth backed by a grimly guffawing ghost and a similar twinkling percussion used in the night portion of Fungi Forest.  This theme effectively bridges into an Addams family jig that will have you snapping your fingers like Betelgeuse has invited you to the zombified ball.  This masterful tune carries the level motifs of dungeons, ball rooms, creaking bridges, and ghastly skeletal crocodiles.

Something that they finally decided to employ here to great effect was banana trails.  Specifically if you start with Donkey Kong and follow his banana trail to where Tiny’s begins you can ascend to the top of the castle.  Up until this point you might get 15 bananas of one character in a vicinity at most but here with these two characters we have the bread crumbs which make navigating this world all the more delightful.  Once you have gotten to the top of the tower after having learned your final powered up slam with all Kongs, warp to the bottom and go back to the start with DK.

A rather creepy looking tree without a leaf in sight has a barrel blast pad right next to it.  Complete the course to grant access inside of the tree.  Hopefully you have learned how to use sniper mode while operating your shooter because you will need this upgrade throughout the level.  Fall down into a pool below beyond the coconut switch within and swim over to a loan raft.  Stand on the raft and gaze up to find a moving target like the ones you hit back in Gloomy Galleon with the cannon balls.  DK’s sniper sight activated, you can now hit the various targets and earn the banana.  Chunky can also enter the tree to perform a sniper sight feat in hitting a pineapple switch that otherwise flips shall you walk along the vegetation.  Defy the primitive sensor, shoot the switch, and beat the banana barrel game for his banana.  Let’s go back outside and make our way to the catacombs.

Funky’s Armory amidst the ominous mists that fog up your feet offers you protection in this dreary place.  Here Lanky can enter a basement with a grape shooter switch directly ahead.  Follow sound logic and swiftly orangsprint around the bends before the gate crashes down in Lanky’s section of the cellar.  A trombone performance will bring hover vines down for your usage over the toxic sludge churning below.  Swing across the vines for a simple banana.  Tiny may also enter this cellar to similar effect.  Tiny’s puzzle also takes place over the dangerous slime although she is afforded rising hand platforms to get across to her banana.  Ponytail whirl your way to potassium girl!

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Down the hallway from this cellar is a gloomy wooly mammoth skull whose mouth provides access to a section the remaining three Kongs can enter.  Diddy goes left twice within and has a rudimentary count to four puzzle awaiting him.  Down the right hallway, Chunky has to primate punch open a coffin for a banana barrel.  Then DK has by far the most intriguing portion where he must pull the levers indicated on the wall and enter the third and final mine cart ride.  Perhaps the golden kernel of gameplay throughout the adventure here, DK is tasked with maneuvering the cart as ghouls give pursuit.  Initially, two tracks are available for the primate to evade tombstones.  Soon you will reunite with an old nemesis from DKC2 in Kackle who has removed his pirate attire and has chosen to attack you from the front.  He looms over you with his garish hands and pounds them on the tracks or sweeps them across in attempt to eat up all your coins.  The perspective will shift when Kackle shoots out flaming skulls over three tracks.  In their blind fury they will aim for the lone primate as if their souls needed reckoning.  Kackle will return to his antics and shortly after you’ll be dodging gates and tombstones until  the track rises to a peak and forces you to complete the whole course in reverse.  I thought this was masterful as a child and it caught me off guard as I had only seen such a twist at garish theme parks.  DK will receive the treasured nanner so long as you survive with 25 coins in your tie pouch.  The catacombs are cleared out.  Off to the dungeon.

There are two entrances to the dungeon.  If you enter the one from the water nearby the drawbridge you will find a trail of unripe bananas for the impatient Chunky taking you to Candy’s Shop for final upgrades.  Continue walking along to find a heavy door which will rise due to close proximity leading you into the dungeon proper.  Many have stated the chain noises here deeply unsettled them as children and I can see why.  This would have been a perfect section for a looming chained monster but alas we have koshas with which to cope.  There are three rooms within the dungeon and all have grates with goodies inside that Chunky may primate punch to the floor.  DK has the central dungeon which is a rudimentary face puzzle which was more or less reused from Fungi Forest.  Lanky must baboon balloon from pad to pad over the toxic sludge that permeates the depths of the castle to a banana barrel.  Diddy must nearly repeat the Chunky process within the tree earlier by shooting a switch with his sniper thus releasing thematically fitting chains from the ceiling for him to swing across to a throne where the banana resides.  Outside of the main dungeon, there is a banana for Tiny near the second entrance a ponytail whirl away across a chasm.  Beat the barrel mini game and now it’s finally time to take on the rooms along the castle ascent.

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The first major room is the museum where the Chunkster can enter.  In the vestibule you’ll undoubtedly notice glass screened off rooms on either side.  Be patient and go forth. The ludicrous krem under sheets ghosts wander about the room and the gorilla has to primate punch the three brass switches to open a statue’s mouth revealing a boulder.  Place the boulder on the central table to open up another statue where a banana can be snagged.  A hop, skip, and jump from there is the green house where Lanky is supposed to orangsprint through a hedge maze in the allotted time to retrieve the banana.  A battle crown can be won here as well.  Right next to the green house is a model-sized grain silo that Tiny can enter when mini.  She can shoot the flies buzzing about with the aid of homing ammo for a banana.

A few steps up from the green house is the ball room.  As soon as you enter with the innocent boy Diddy Kong, caddy laughs from old drunken dames and guffaws from diddling gents ensconce you in a Shining-esque scene.  The ballroom floor is checkered like a chess board and a jet barrel can be seen at center.  Similar to Crystal Caves but with far greater thematic ambience, soar to the ceiling and light three candles in front of the K. Rool banners around the central chandelier for the banana.  I feel this room is the embodiment of Creepy Castle and it feeds the lore like no other dwelling.  Every other room feels vacant aside from the chain rattling in the dungeon.  There was clearly life thriving here at one point and the Kongs are here to explore what was without getting sucked in the grainy nostalgia of brimming banana chardonnay.

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It doesn’t take a genius to notice Tiny has a monkey port pad right in front of the stair case.  This is the sole time in the game where you enter a designated room with another Kong.  Come back with Tiny and warp to a warehouse beyond the glass in the museum that so enticed the eye earlier.  Shrink as per usual and enter the shed for our final race with the googly eyed racer.  The perspective here is unique compared with the on rails racing of the past.  He is easiest to pass on the major turns since he tends to go wide.  After you have beat our adversary for the final time exit the ballroom via monkey port and continue the spiral around the castle.

Soon you will come across a DK switch which opens up a door that you can enter by jumping on a cloud platform because video game logic.  The library is where our ostensibly dimwitted lug DK becomes a road scholar.  By this of course I mean you hop in a strong kong barrel so the possessed literature doesn’t hurt you between the shelves en route to the banana.  At the castle roof Lanky can enter the tall tower here, shoot a couple of switches via sniper mode, and use baboon balloon to ride the rising air current released from the switches being engaged to the ceiling where a banana barrel is.  The final banana involves backtracking to the jet barrel with Diddy who can blast off to the top of the highest point where a banana barrel can be found.  The jet pack is used to great effect in this primarily vertical level.  Now off to the boss.

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King Kut Out requires you enter with Lanky for God knows what reason.  The pre-battle cut scene conveys King-Kut Out is in fact manned by two measly kremlings.  In the midst of a late October tempest the Kongs are called on to battle Rare’s take on a phantom antagonist.  There is a central platform surrounded by water where krems in sheets will try and spook you and the four cardinal directions are designated by four barrel cannons.  Pufferfish wade in the pool waiting for you to fall in. King Kut Out will appear behind one of four walls at a given time and shoot laser beams at you or laugh like a maniacal doofus.  It is your job to correctly predict where he will pop out ideally during the laughter sequences.  Where he is during said sequence is broadcasted to you via lit up cannon.  The cannons always are lit up in order making this a relatively stress free encounter.  At first he waits a while at a given space and the process goes faster and faster as the battle wears on.  The hardest aspect of the battle is that if you miss him you lose that Kong.  In effect you are afforded 5 misses or you will have to start over.  Once you have figured out his pattern, this boss is a joke.  Break up this Fed Ex reject and let’s get K. Lumsy his second to last key.

Creepy Castle slightly edges out Gloomy Galleon as my favorite level.  It is by far the least obnoxious regarding the switching of Kongs since tag barrels are well placed and the gimmicky “each Kong must perform said action in said area” bananas are less noticeable.  In Gloomy Galleon there is a section where you have to find this six part coral structure where each Kong has an instrument pad.  Some are only accessible when the water is down and some while the water is high.  Each Kong goes into the central galleon upon playing their instrument.  It feels outrageously tedious given the swimming distance.  There is nothing like that here.  Everything is right in front of you or is cleverly implemented like through DK’s library banana.  There you exit where the switch is hit giving a nice “a-ha!” moment to the player.

The bread crumbing of bananas was intelligently done where Lanky has a great proportion of his in the catacombs, Chunky in the dungeon, DK and Tiny up the castle ascent, and Diddy is the only outlier here.  This is remedied by the fact that it is an utter joy to blast around here on jet pack.  I implore new players to use Diddy here as a means to understand how you want to tackle this entire level.  I can’t say that with any other level save for Crystal Caves which otherwise is a shit show.  I absolutely loved Kackle’s return in the mine cart section, the ball room might be my favorite place to visit in the game along with the ghostly galleon, and Tiny’s race here provides you with the greatest flexibility of any in the game.

From an aesthetic perspective, Creepy Castle is both macabre and deathly haunted while hysterically laughing at itself.  You will hear the chains rattle in the dungeon causing your heart to skip a beat.  However, do not despair because there are terribly disguised kremlings wearing sheets over their heads.  Cackling ghosts of yore in the ball room is emblematic of this place and in my opinion stands as the greatest characterization this game offers.  I want to know what sort of chaotic crocodilian parties took place.  Were K. Rool’s relatives wandering the halls?  Were they primates that K. Rool killed off?  This level leaves me with questions which burn with the yearning of Ole Faithful’s batholith.  Character who stole the show: Diddy Kong

Returning the key to our kremling outcast we finally open K. Rool’s mechanical mouth to Hideout Helm.  Hideout Helm cannot be reached via Diddy’s jet pack for some dumb arbitrary reason likely linked to the Creepy Castle foyer.  The only way to get there is via monkey port around the Island’s base with Tiny.  Once inside, upon being woken up from his nap at the intruder alert,  K. Rool frantically demands  the kremlings activate the machine.  Provided you have given Snide all forty blueprints you will have fifty minutes to complete the level before DK Island is incinerated.  This level is unique in that there are no collectibles making it a high octane tour de force compared with the plodding pace of the former seven.

You will use Lanky to orangstand up a couple steep slopes, Chunky to hit an arbitrary pineapple switch, and Tiny for her miniature powers to enter the room where the main power generator for the blast-o-matic is set to go off.  DK then uses his grip grab to reveal stars that Diddy must fly through via jet pack to grant access to five rooms for each Kong to ply their trade.  Chunky then needs to primate punch four of the grates blocking said rooms save for Diddy who obviously reaches his room via his super power.

PP Plan Christopher Wood

Starting with DK, each Kong must complete two special K. Rool barrel games to turn off the Blast-o-matic.  The games are much shorter than the standard banana barrels but they all feature new concepts which is much appreciated at this late stage of the game.  DK barrel blasts into targets and Rambi gets his final cameo bashing kremlings without running into electrical pylons.  Chunky goes hunky chunky and bashes open boxes in search of a dastardly kremling along with shooting kremlings from atop a box.  Tiny has a challenging platforming exercise in precise ponytail whirling from box-to-box without touching the ground in addition to a relatively simple bouncing exercise with the aid of mushrooms.  Lanky has a speed trial through a maze along with a cop-out blasting of zingers.  Finally, li’l Short Round has to kill the kremling responsible for hitting a switch before pressing it and he must shoot four switches with his peanut popguns while airborne thereby opening a cage with a switch inside that he must slam.    Now the ticking time bomb is defused.  I have never failed this part by letting all of the time elapse.  I usually complete it in a cool 15-20 minutes since it is all relatively simple and the games last 15-30 seconds tops. Now you may blast off to the top of the machine for the final battle crown.

Crown in tow, let’s enter the control room where it is completely quiet save for some flickering computer screens, a klap trap, and a kritter.  If you have at least four battle crowns you will be able to enter the throne room.  K. Rool will promptly flee through a ceiling hatch above his throne once you enter the room.  He will then commence operating a distinctively polygonal crocodilian flying contraption.  Since you collected the Rare and Nintendo coins from the retro games earlier, you will be able to access the final two banana fairies and the eighth and final key thus freeing K. Lumsy.  You can return these banana fairies to the Banana Fairy Queen for the 201st golden banana provided you collected the rest.  Free K. Lumsy and let us see what his dopey ass can do.  K. Lumsy, the perpetual three year old, sees K. Rool’s flying contraption racing around the island.  Initially he plays peek-a-boo with his captor before chasing him in a manner likened to a giddy school girl skipping home.  He then inadvertently swats it down after stubbing his toe on a boulder (ya don’t make this shit up kids!)

Entry into the flying croc through a dorsal hole reveals that K. Rool was in fact flying around with an entire boxing arena.  The fumbling king out of manic hysteria has firmly dropped his Dr. Claw facade and is now opting for his Klubba K. Rool persona.  This psycho is going for broke.  You fight him in a grueling five phase battle.  The officiating is comical to say the least.  A sentient microphone announces the characters while two kritters donning referee attire operate the bell to ensure K. Rool survives every round.

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Four is the magic number throughout the battle.  Each phase consists of four successful attacks on the oaf.  The first phase commences with Donkey Kong dodging his seismic slams before climbing the turn buckle and leaping into a barrel.  Once the king’s guard is down, you blast into his cheeky mug once per turn buckle before the round ends.  Then Diddy is up.  Diddy must hop into his jet pack barrel and fly up to the ring lights where there are two targets on either side of the lights.  K. Rool will idiotically plant his dumb ass under a light for you to drop on him anvil style.  This part is made difficult by K. Rool’s boomerang boxing glove move which is hard to evade given the difficulty to visualize depth perception at this early stage of 3-D gaming.

Lanky joins the fray now as the kremling king aimlessly roams around the ring with a light firmly planted on his cranium.  This round is quite clever as the orangutan must smack a switch with his long arms to raise a barrel just outside of the ring.  He then picks up the barrel and ideally tosses it towards center stage.  A banana peel appears and it is up to you to stand on the trombone pad and watch K. Rool’s movement to determine when the banana is directly between the orangutan and the bloated croc.  When you play the trombone at the perfect time he’ll make a beeline towards the noise and slip right over the banana peel.  After this round there is a prolonged intermission where the kremlings finally pull the ring light off the dope.

He’s back to his original seismic antics so just chill on that turnbuckle with Miss. Flower Power.  After a few slams he will visibly express rump pain.  When he is doing so hop into the mini monkey barrel and walk into his boot with the clear hole in it.  Inside K. Rool has four wiggly toes.  You have to evade the toes as they press down on the boot in a telegraphed manner.  Then you must shoot his last toe up with a feather.  Each consecutive toe requires one more feather until he is flabbergasted.  This is easily the most difficult part of the fight for me.  The telegraphing happens rapidly the last couple of rounds and getting out the cross bow has to be done during a lull or you will be hit.  When you tickle him dizzy he will come to for the final round with Chunky.  Now he is inexplicably invisible running around the ring bouncing off the ropes as if he is trying to outrun his insanity.  Slam the switch in the middle and activate a gorilla gone pad to see the miser.  Then jump in the hunky chunky barrel at center ring to initiate a matador-esque sequence.  Although instead of taunting him with a red cloth and leaping out of the way you are primate punching him square in the nose.  The first two times he will be visible and the final two he will remain invisible throughout the primate punch sequence.  Phew the work is done.

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Now as if the game has reached its kundalini maximum erectile pleasure, the curvaceous Candy Kong enters through the tunnel.  She’ll sexily strut around the doorway, caressing her legs, sticking out her booty, and letting her breasts do the talking.  K. Rool is beside himself in unabashed horniness.  He completely forgets Chunky is cheering and begins grunting like a porn ravaged thirteen year old while attempting to break the ropes down to get some of that sweet primate puss.  It’s as if the king is out on his first night on the town at a strip club and he has no concept of self control.  This rapaciousness bleeds throughout the game but nowhere is it more evident than here where he actually thinks a crocodile and primate can successfully fornicate.  While he is blatantly distracted, Funky comes through the entrance behind him and delivers a mega boot with his patented boot gun.  Now is this a claim for Candy’s affection?  Is he doing this because no one gets to be with Candy aside from Funky?  In reality he is part of the Kong family and they baited the dumb reptile to see to his exit.  K. Rool goes flying into K. Lumsy’s home where he is whupped even further away.  Justice served.

The closing credits show all of the Kong’s absolutely elated and then there is a blooper reel which everyone ought to check out at least once if you spent the time painstakingly collecting everything this game has to offer.

I found Hideout Helm and the boxing match to be a great reward for beating this gluttonous game.  Hideout Helm has a dangerous driving orchestral beat which unfortunately was not paired with greater challenges.  While I find the K. Rool barrel games to be fine, and at the very least unique, they offer no real challenge.  I suppose if you are dripping with sweat from getting to the final chapter and the music escalates the intensity to a point where your hands are slipping off the controller, then those games might be a bit difficult, but you still have so much time.  One of these days I want to try a minimalist run of 20 minutes because the full 50 is child’s play.  That being said, Hideout Helm is fluid and fun unlike the Banjo games with their halting quiz sections.  The boxing match is annoying if you lose since there is no way to skip cut scenes.  It takes 15 plus minutes bare minimum.  Time aside, it is a quirky and creative fight.  I found DK’s section to be rather dull but the other four are all creative ways to manipulate the stage to your benefit or take a Kong’s skill set and channel it in the most hilarious way possible.  Plus K. Rool’s shift from calculated alpha mastermind surrounded by idiots to becoming the biggest joke of them all was sheer genius.  I greatly appreciate that Gregg Mayles was able to offer insight on the final battle and the polish shows.  The conclusion to this game is brilliant and it has always left me wondering how the rest of the game might have turned out had the original DKC, DKC2, BK and BT team taken the reins.  We will never know.

Unmentioned Elements

Now there are elements of the game I have purposefully refused to touch on until now and they make up  more than 40% of the golden bananas you will collect.  That’s right I’m talking about bonus barrels and kasplats.

There are 43 bonus barrel mini games not counting the 10 K. Rool mini games in Hideout helm.  This is the single most heinous thing about DK64.  Sure you can argue that the golden bananas would be too easy to get if there wasn’t a game involved.  Fine.  However, the games they made are more often than not dreadful.  Let’s look at them.

Batty Barrel Bandit: 3 times
Fun had: 0%.  This alliterative title is long form for slot machine and is in my opinion the most egregious soul sucking game on the list.  This is the definition of operant conditioning.  I feel like Skinner’s rat whenever this fuck all game hits the screen. All you do is match bananas.  This game would be awful in any format and it kills immersion like nothing else.  Slot machines suck.  If I wanted to play slots I would go to a scuzzy casino, not play a Donkey Kong game.

Beaver Bother: 3 times
The most notorious mini game bar none.  You control a klaptrap and your goal is to herd beavers into a hole in the barrel’s center.  Sounds easy, right?  Wrong.  This game requires tact and even then it falls on its head.  The strategy that works for me is to nip the hip of a beaver who is not too close to the barrel perimeter in the direction of the hole.  If the beaver is by the perimeter, it is often fruitless since the beaver will just run into the wall and lock in there for a few seconds.  Perform this nip in a nice semi circle until he falls in.  This logic is fallible because some beavers will fall in at the drop of a hat while others just will not (more often than not it is the latter).  You cannot bark directly behind a beaver and push him in as logic would dictate.  That would apparently make the game too easy.  This game causes the most headaches for good reason since it is inherently inconsistent.  Not recommended for the faint of heart.

Big Bug Bash: 4 times
This game is broken.  All you have to do is swat a fly x number of times.  The way you beat it in 20 seconds every time is perform a swoop in the direction the bug is going to go from the bottom of the screen slapping it perfectly in the middle.  I’ve got this dumb ass game down to a science.  No kremlings or Kongs on screen is not a good idea.  Waste of time.

Busy Barrel Barrage: 3 times
I will admit this one requires some skill and is an average game.  You stand planted to the middle of the barrel with Chunky, Diddy, or Donkey and kremlings will appear around you.  You have to shoot all of them down before any of them can reach you.  This can bring some close calls since there are times when your gun appears to hit them at close range but their body is in your barrel as opposed to on the other side.

Krazy Kong Klamour: 4 times
All five kongs are here and you only want to hit the golden banana.  The screen fades from black to new arrangements of the five kongs and one target you want to hit in the banana.  The first two times this is relatively simple since you’re afforded at least a second to shoot the banana.  The second two times I have to employ the pause strategy or I may not hit anything unless I make a lucky guess.  The second two times seemingly gives you a half second to hit the banana so you pretty much have to be on it from the get go.  By pressing pause at the perfect time, you can see where the banana will be as blackness begins to dissolve revealing its location.  This is an okay game.  Nothing to write home about.

Kremling Kosh: 4 times
There is a circle of eight barrels from which kremlings will pop up.  This game is whack-a-mole with projectile watermelons.  Green kritters are worth one point while the speedy reds are worth two.  You will have to reload often since you get 5 shots per load.  I have never lost this game since it is downright easy so long as you reload constantly.  Again, okay game.

Mad Maze Maul: 2 times
Kill all the baddies and reach the checkered flag.  At most you will play this twice to figure out the map of the place but this is usually a one and done.  I appreciate full kong movement here.  This one is fine by me.

Mine Cart Mayhem: 3 times
This one is pretty fun.  You have to evade one to two mine carts over three tracks.  They move at a steady pace but the problem is there are only certain places where you can change tracks.  You are constantly trying to bait them where you are only to deftly change tracks twice, rinse and repeat.  Quality game.

Peril Path Panic: 3 times
This is a 2D version of the twinkly mission in Banjo Kazooie.  You have to shoot watermelons at two rows of three klaptraps in such a way that allows banana fairies to pass through unscathed.  This one is simple and mediocre.

Searchlight Seek: 4 times
You’re shooting watermelons at klaptraps in a pitch black room save for your searchlight where the crosshairs are situated.  The key is to know where the klaptrap is headed since a successful hit entails shooting one step ahead of them.  They walk into their own demise.  This is a decent game.

Speedy Swing Sortie: 2 times
Swing on vines to get coins in the allotted time.  There isn’t much to this one.  It’s a bit easy and meh.

Splish Splash Salvage: 2 times
Get all the coins underwater in the allotted time.  The coins that are in the middle portion of the barrel are tough due to depth perception from a fixed angle but otherwise it is cake even with shuris attacking you.  It’s definitely more intriguing than Speedy Swing Sortie since you can miss making it a decent game overall.

Stash Snatch: 1 time
Collect six coins in a maze in 60 seconds and then reach the checkered flag.  It’s an easier version of Mad Maze Maul.  Meh.

Stealthy Snoop: 2 times
This is my personal favorite.  We are introduced to this uber buff security guard kremling with a glaring flashlight.  You must avoid their lights and make it to the end of the maze.  There is something about the Kongs sneaking around the kremlings in this context that makes it so enjoyable.  Normally you smash everything in sight so this dynamic change is welcome.  Quality game.

Teetering Turtle Trouble: 3 times
You want to ensure six snakes don’t drop spinning turtles by feeding them watermelons.  The logic here is infallible.  Unfortunately, the game plays exactly like peril path panic making this a poor reskin of that game.  No bueno.

Even the quality games here pale in comparison to a mine cart section or a good set piece.  Playing the game as an adult, I found myself rolling my eyes when I found these games and only stealthy snoop, minecart mayhem, and to a lesser extent, splish splash salvage brought me any semblance of fun.  I know the devs had time restrictions but why bother putting in a fucking slot machine or a fly swatter simulator?  It’s blatant padding to reach a round number of 200 golden bananas.  They were willing to sacrifice enjoyable gameplay for sheer garbage.

Kasplats/Blueprints
This is one of those things that is only enjoyable the first go around.  The vast majority of kasplats are right in front of your face.  When you find the hidden ones a la DK’s in Frantic Factory, Tiny’s in Creepy Castle, Lanky’s in Angry Aztec, Diddy’s in Crystal Caves, etc.. it’s rewarding once.  Then that feeling is gone and you’re just filling in a number.  Also, the fact you can just play your instrument to kill them was a bit broken.  I think they ought to have given kasplats ear muffs so you have to kill them by physical means.  The fact that they serve as a plot device saves their place in the game, but when you think about it, 20% of your bananas are dedicated to knocking over a boisterous hard-to- miss enemy.  This felt like a padding time crunch gimmick.  I felt like blueprints could have involved rewarding platforming or Kong specific skill set gauntlets but we are stuck with kasplats.

Verdict
I love Donkey Kong 64 deep within my heart.  It will always hold a special place as exploring this 3D environment was my first true foray into gaming. This game removed my training wheels and brought me to discuss worlds, bosses, and difficult golden bananas on the school bus.  I was no longer watching friends from afar, but taking the reins and beginning to forge a path that aligns with my particular sensibilities.  Weirdly enough, Donkey Kong 64 represents my first real firm decisions regarding taste that I have stuck by my whole life.

I grew up a Nintendo kid playing Zelda, Mario, Pokemon, and Star Fox among other IPs but none of them have had the impact Rare’s catalog has had on my life. There is something special about realizing our connectivity with other species on this planet.  In the four IPs mentioned sans Star Fox, Mario is a human, Zelda is elven or highly anthropomorphized, and Pokemon involves using animals for our needs and can easily be equated to dog fighting.  They all prioritize people.  The only Star Fox game I remember with great fondness is the oft ridiculed for not being a rail shooter Adventures which was obviously made by Rare and had deep interspecies connections.  Sure, Donkey Kong and Banjo are anthropomorphized, but the inflection is funny, self-aware, and with a deep recognition that we live among fractured beings throughout all species.  All of the characters are deeply fallible. There’s so much more emotion than what Nintendo’s design philosophy often entails by encouraging the player to project themselves onto the character.  It helped me to cope with the grievances I had with the public school system and how it teaches people to stand in line and work for the man as opposed to thinking creatively and living boldly through the imagination.

I know this game was extremely difficult to make and was a labor of love and well composed imagination, but it is undoubtedly a weaker game in the Rare catalogue.  The gameplay is plodding and boring at times to the point where it feels like I’m filling out a checklist to just pass the time.  There are great set pieces throughout.  However, for every mine cart section, ghostly galleon, or ballroom, you have to smack a kasplat or beat beaver bother.  A streamlined version of DK64 or an emphasis on creating quality as opposed to quantity was the lesson learned from this game.  I don’t find myself deeply frustrated with the lackluster gameplay though.

The hub world is bland.  There are no NPCs save for the Banana Fairy Queen, K. Lumsy,  B. Locker, and Wrinkly.  The latter two are marginal and can easily be avoided.  Also, the jungle is not dense in the slightest aside from the area you hardly visit within DK Island.  Jogging  around DK Island might yield a beaver or two and a zinger.  Compared with Spiral Mountain, it falls flat as you will interact with Bottles, collywobbles, toppers, bawls, and sentient boulders.  Not to mention the meadow is lush and everything has googly eyes.  There is little significance to the landmarks in DK64 and I am pushed to dive into a world ASAP out of sheer boredom.  Outside of the intriguing foyer entrances, there are times when I am playing where I wish each world was simply in a room of doors since the hub world is forsaken to awful effect.  This means that all 25 golden bananas outside of the seven worlds tend to reinforce the check list approach.

Outside of a few sequences, I find myself deeply frustrated with the NPCs.  Rodney the hare, the owl, the vulture, the ice block, even scuttlebug and the racecar have zero personality.  Nothing they say is remotely interesting and their animations are cookie cutter too.  Compare them with literally any Banjo NPC and they fall short.  I cared about Clanker, Gobi, Boggy, and Blubber.  I don’t give a shit if that camel in Angry Aztec gets out of that cage.  He might as well be flicking boogers on the subway.  That being said, I know the devs put a lot of heart into the main cast.  All five kongs are beautifully animated and quirky but their dialogue is mundane.  Candy is a hilariously risqué pin up for an E game, Cranky is his old scathing self, and Funky put in a lesser performance but I’m not complaining about him.  K. Lumsy and K. Rool are well fleshed out as polar opposites.  I digress.  The NPCs are notably weak in the worlds themselves.

Speaking of worlds, there is no getting around the hallways.  Most of these worlds were crudely separated by disjointed hallways.  It worked well in places where it makes sense like Frantic Factory and Creepy Castle, but Angry Aztec and Fungi Forest needed to be wide open and the hallways greatly hindered immersion there.  That being said, outside of Fungi Forest, I find the DK Island portion of the game to be more forgettable while virtually every aspect of Crocodile Island is intriguing.  The levels are thematically sensible with cohesive elements throughout.  Creepy Castle is a living breathing place with a library, museum, dungeon, catacombs, and ballroom whereas Crystal Caves has some lodges and igloos.  It’s as if they threw shit at the wall for DK Island and said how will it all connect for Crocodile Island.  I mean look at the bosses.  DK Island has Armydillo and Dogadon twice each while Crocodile Island has Mad Jack, Pufftoss, and King Kut Out.  Based on that alone it feels like DK Island had more elements tacked on instead of creating a breathing world.

I had never thought about it this way until now, but I believe the devs cared more about the threat of Crocodile Island than the happenings on DK Island.  This may be why this game feels darker than Kazooie or Tooie.  The lighthearted levels in those games were cohesive.  For every Rusty Bucket Bay you had a Freezeezy Peak or for every Grunty Industries you had a Jolly Roger’s Lagoon.  DK64 is a darker game because the darkness is enriching to the soul here.  It tells an interesting story.  A screwy tainted factory, dead sailors and pirates at the bottom of the ocean from a world gone by, and a formerly virile castle now riddled with ghosts.   If Fungi Forest, for instance, had a poisonous mushroom boss or Angry Aztec had a magically imbued totem boss then that would go a long way to better characterize these stages.  As of right now, they ere on the tech demo side with breathing elements that awkwardly coalesce.

All-in-all the game is bloated with a handful of awe inspiring set pieces.  This title is oft considered the one that killed the platformer and what I think it truly did was inform the genre immediately through Banjo Tooie onward.  People don’t enjoy collecting if it comes at the expense of redundant gameplay.  The Country series is propelled by new mechanics and gimmicks every level whereas Donkey Kong 64 rehashed mini games, literally brought back two retro classics, and slogs through its own murk between golden moments.  I will always love the game for the few moments that spurred my imagination while I can look at the moment-to-moment game play as a product of its time.  DK64 was too huge for its own good and now it will live on as the banana colored cartridge that required an expansion pack because the developers refused to have anything less than 201 golden bananas.

Post-Rare/Looking ahead

As we gaze back, it would be nice to have had a 3D Donkey Kong game since, but that is not the case.  Since then the IP has shifted hands from Twycross, England to Kyoto, Japan.  The Japanese developers have dabbled with bongos with Donkey Kong Jungle Beat which became the first full-fledged kongventure post Rare.  Since then we have had two Donkey Kong Country titles made by the Austin, Texas based Retro Studios.  K. Rool vanished for a decade after his appearance in Mario Super Sluggers only to return in marvelous style through the fan ballot in Super Smash Bros Ultimate.  Banjo and Kazooie followed him nine months later to sensational fanfare.  The drums are beating again.

There is a budding desire to galvanize both IPs.  Donkey Kong has not had a fresh release since Tropical Freeze in February of 2014 while Banjo has been technically dormant since the lukewarm Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts of 2008.  Contemporarily Yooka Laylee is sating the yearning for platformers reminiscent of the 90’s jazz.  Playtonic is humming along with the Impossible Lair out now. Despite this “Rarenaissance”, as many typify Yooka Laylee’s resurgence of the genre, many fans, myself included, are patiently waiting for a grand Donkey Kong adventure to sink our teeth into.  Many have felt Donkey Kong might do well in an open world likened to Breath of the Wild, however I much prefer condensed gameplay as even the worlds of Yooka Laylee felt a bit sparse due to their overwhelming size.  Whatever is on the horizon, cheers to a bold future for the Kongs and enjoy a rosy beverage as we toast DK64 for its 20th anniversary! ~Toph

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