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Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64) Review

Review for Donkey Kong 64 on Nintendo 64 - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The Nintendo 64 was blessed with plenty of wonderful platformers in its lifetime. Everyone knows all about the legendary Super Mario 64 and Rare’s simply tremendous Banjo-Kazooie. Donkey Kong was always going to make his step into 3D gaming in a big way, and who else better to ease him in than Rare itself? Having already crafted some of the finest 2D platforming in the Donkey Kong Country trilogy and even given Super Mario’s 64-bit entry a run for his money with its bear and bird duo, hopes were high for the big ape’s Nintendo 64 debut. As the celebration of the Nintendo 64’s 15th anniversary draws to a close here at Cubed3, the team peels a bunch of bananas and cracks open some peanuts, checking out whether Donkey Kong 64 was able to stand up to Nintendo and Rare’s other high quality adventures at the time.

After the success of Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that Donkey Kong 64 would take a lot of inspiration from it and play very much in the same way. Like Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64 before it, this platform adventure puts the player in a hub world that connects to eight other giant levels to complete, with key items to collect from defeating baddies and beating mini-games. The hub area is DK Isles, Donkey Kong’s home, and is once again under threat from King K. Rool and his Kremling minions. DK’s banana horde is stolen and the big ape sets off in pursuit and to crush the Kremlings once again.

The Donkey Kong Country games were so fun, partly for the tag team switching they implemented, allowing for the unique abilities of each Kong to access secret bonus areas. Donkey Kong 64 has a similar feature, but this time around four other Kongs are playable. Only one Kong can be controlled at any one time, but Tag Barrels dotted about the levels allow for switching to another monkey, each with their own moves that allow them to reach areas other Kongs cannot. As well as familiar faces DK and Diddy, three new Kongs are introduced to the family. Tiny is Dixie’s little sister, with the same ponytail flying traits and the ability to crawl through small holes. Kiddy’s big cousin Chunky makes his debut, and is easily the strongest of the crew, able to lift boulders blocking paths and switches. Finally, it is unknown how Lanky is related to the others, but his long, stretchy arms allow him to hit enemies from afar (think Dhalsim from Street Fighter!) and climb steep slopes. Every Kong has a special ability that can be activated for a limited time when stumbling upon a Kong Barrel, too, such as DK’s invincibility and Diddy’s jetpack. The Kongs’ abilities have to be learned by paying Cranky with banana coins, who resides in his lab in every level (who knew the old Kong was secretly a scientist?).

Kongs also have their own fruit-inspired firing weapons and musical instruments, which Funky and Candy upgrade in each level. The guns can hit enemies from afar and activate switches that have to be shot using a specific Kong’s weapon. Instruments can damage enemies in the surrounding area, and must be used on specific pads placed around levels to open new areas or trigger an event. Other items include orange grenades, which any Kong can throw, and are handy for blowing up enemies from a distance.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong 64 on Nintendo 64 - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The control setup is very much like Banjo-Kazooie. Movement, attacking and jumping all feel incredibly smooth, with a free rotating camera and first-person view to give the player as much control and view as possible. Due to the sheer number of abilities at each Kong’s disposal, guns, instruments and grenades are used by holding the Z trigger and pressing a C button. The only problem may come in remembering exactly which button does what function, but it doesn’t take long to adapt, since the game eases you in smoothly as each ability is learned.

Starting off with DK only, the player travels through levels to free the captured Kongs, who then become selectable. The aim in every level is to collect Golden Bananas. There are 25 in each stage, with each Kong able to pick up just 5. These shiny fruits are needed to unlock further levels, which require a certain number to open the doors. Working through levels and beating bonus stage mini-games will net you the Golden Bananas. Bonus stages consist of various games, including sneaking through a maze of Kremling guards, competing in races, collecting coins whilst vine-swinging, clearing mine cart levels, and plenty more. Even the original arcade games of Donkey Kong and Jetpac are playable in this, with special rewards for clearing them. Mini-games do indeed get frustrating given that time limits pile the pressure on, with some needing many attempts to beat, but players will find their favourites.

Animal buddies return, but only Rambi the rhino and Enguarde the swordfish are playable. They are usable in a few certain levels and can smash open new areas and chests. Unlockable arena games for the animals can be played from the main menu, with the aim in Rambi’s stage to defeat as many enemies as possible, and for Enguarde to swim through all the hoops he can in the time limit.

Normal bananas are collectable, too, with a hundred per Kong in every level. They are colour-coded, so only DK can pick up the yellow bananas and Chunky the green ones, for example. Bananas are mainly needed to unlock access to the bosses of every level, so switching between Kongs is vital in order to collect as many as possible and complete the stage. Bosses themselves are massive, as might be expected, and all have quite distinctive battles, that only a specific Kong can take part in.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong 64 on Nintendo 64 - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The worlds are all huge, set in places of varying themes. The opening level is Jungle Japes, with the monkeys eventually moving through an Aztec desert, toy factory, galleon and crystal caves. Fungi Forest is an interesting level in that it actually started out as a world designed for Rare’s other hit game Banjo-Kazooie. In fact, not much changed at all in its port over to Donkey Kong 64 since it was pretty much complete. Even the music soundtrack stayed the same as when it was made for Banjo-Kazooie.

Speaking of things that transferred from Banjo-Kazooie, it is very interesting to note that the famous Stop ‘N’ Swop feature that was never truly realised until the Banjo games were re-released on Xbox Live Arcade, were actually intended to include Donkey Kong 64 in the mix. Apparently, there is a spot for the ice key in the game, but what was originally planned never came to be, just as with Banjo-Tooie.

An added distraction to the main game is that of snapping photos of the Banana Fairies dotted across the adventure. With the Banana Camera, taking pictures of these secretly hidden pixies will reward the player with increases in maximum items the Kongs can carry, as well as unlock bonuses in the game’s main menu to play Rambi and Enguarde bonus games, watch cut-scenes, or activate infinite items.

Further proving the game’s sheer size, a multiplayer mode is crammed in, as well. With up to four players competing simultaneously, mates can face off in split-screen deathmatch-style battles in Monkey Smash across two different arenas, taking out their opponents with their fruit shooters and orange grenades. Specific rules for the matches can be set, such as the last player standing wins, the player with the most coins wins, the player that activates all pads whilst holding the DK coin wins, as well as others. Battle Arena is the second multiplayer mode, with monkeys fighting it out on a small floating platform, with the intention to knock the others off the edge. Items and weapons pop up from time to time to give players advantages. Whilst there isn’t a ton of depth to multiplayer in the game, it is a neat little distraction when you are in the mood for something a little bit different to other multiplayer games.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong 64 on Nintendo 64 - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Donkey Kong 64 requires the N64 Expansion Pak to play, allowing for the game to run smoothly and look wonderful across every giant world. Rare put a lot of attention to detail in the graphics department. Sharp and colourful, dark and dirty, depending on the area, different effects were used extremely well. There is good use of bump-mapping, and special effects like sand grains constantly blowing in the wind in the Aztec Ruins and dynamic lighting help to make things that extra bit more realistic and immersive.

Grant Kirkhope took the composing reigns for the game, having done an exceptional job on GoldenEye and Banjo Kazooie previously. The tunes aren’t quite as memorable as in the latter game, but what has been done is still superb. The opening DK Rap that greets the player sets the tone for the crazy fun that is in store, followed up by a great remix of the brilliant jungle levels from DK Country. Kirkhope tried to capture the atmosphere of every level in the tracks he composed, and he absolutely succeeded in that regard. From the Addams Family-inspired Frantic Factory to the tense and nerve-wracking Hideout Helm countdown, there are a lot of standout tracks in DK64. Also of note is that Kirkhope even lent his voice to Donkey Kong, giving the ape a voice for the first time ever, speaking a few English words here and there.

Easily one of the top games on the Nintendo 64, and a must-play for platform fans, Donkey Kong 64 is a unique and fun adventure. The similarities between Banjo Kazooie are there for all to see, but this is not a bad thing at all, given that BK is one of the best 3D platformers ever. With no sign of a Virtual Console or 3DS version, anyone still with a Nintendo 64 should do their best to experience Donkey Kong 64.

Screenshot for Donkey Kong 64 on Nintendo 64- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

DK64 plays just as smoothly today as it did back then, with precise analogue control and camera movement. Various abilities assigned to C-buttons may cause confusion and mistakes on the odd occasion, but anyone that has played the Banjo Kazooie games will adjust immediately. Collecting items and playing mini-games will either be fun or tedious depending on your preferences, but there is a lot of exploring, platforming and fighting across 8 massive worlds that will satisfy platform fans.

Graphics

Utilising the N64 Expansion Pak to its fullest, this is definitely one of the best-looking games on the console. Each level has been crafted in such a way that they ooze atmosphere and detail, with some brilliant special effects accompanying the well-designed character models.

Sound

Grant Kirkhope focused on creating themes that matched the levels they were played in to give an added sense of immersion. Whilst not as addictive and memorable as Banjo Kazooie’s soundtrack, there are some great highlights. Kirkhope even provided the voice for Donkey Kong, with all monkeys having well-suited voice boxes.

Value

You get your money’s worth with DK64, that is certain. With about 20-30 hours game time to collect every banana, plus with all the unlockable bonus games and multiplayer to play, there is a lot to do. The game can be bagged for less than £15 on eBay, which is a bargain considering the extortionate price it retailed for at launch, and even more so since it is one of the best games on the N64. Just make sure it comes with an N64 Expansion Pak before you go looking for it!

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Donkey Kong 64 was a brilliant step into the 3D world for the Kong’s platform series. Whilst it does depart from the hectic side-scrolling action of the SNES games, this is a very charming and fun platform adventure that retains a lot of the feel of Donkey Kong Country. The emphasis on mini-games might feel repetitive to some, and it doesn’t quite reach the heights set by Banjo Kazooie, but the huge worlds, brilliant boss battles and classic Rare humour make for a game well worth experiencing if you enjoy 3D platformers. Rare have gone on record to confirm that they do not own any rights to DK64, and that it is all Nintendo’s, so there isn’t any reason why the game could not have come to Virtual Console already. Perhaps the game will indeed come, either for the Wii U or 3DS retro services, or maybe we’ll get a “Donkey Kong 64 3D.” Until then, every N64 owner should make every effort to give this one a go, just in case we don’t get a well-deserved port or remake.

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30.03.2012

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Developer

Rare

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

3D Platformer

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (13 Votes)

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Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Loved this game at the time for sure, but playing recently I'm not so sure to be honest. Banjo's survived the test of time a lot better imo. That aside, DK64's a top game and definitely worth playing again!

Got into the multiplayer recently, really good laugh as well Smilie

Good review Az!

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I couldn't get into this, to be honest. Rare had definitely kicked into the collectathon mindset after Banjo Tooie and Jet Force Gemini, with DK64 being the worst example. It really spoiled what was otherwise a very solid 3D platform adventure Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
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Senior ModeratorStaff MemberOur member of the week

I was umming and arring about whether to give it an 8, because I agree that collecting and the mini-games could prove annoying. But I felt there was a hell of a lot of fun to be had, as well. Plus, looking at the other N64 games rated 9 on the site, DK64 matches many of them. It's still one of the best games on the '64.

Cubed3 Staff :: Senior Editor
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As stated in the review, Donkey Kong 64 is one of those titles that falls into the tedious pile for me. While I appreciate its technical brilliance and overwhelming scale, consistently having to revisit areas and find an absurd amount of items just proves to be too dull for my liking.

Of course, if you're a collect-a-holic then it's most certainly up your street.

Great review, Az!

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Just how I felt about it, Martin - after the beauty of the DKC games, Rare fell a bit short overall with the structure of DK64, I felt.

I can certainly see, Az, why you gave it 9/10, though, but personally it wasn't my cup of tea on the whole. Banjo Tooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, on the other hand, were stunning!

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
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Senior ModeratorStaff MemberOur member of the week

You mention Tooie and Conker, and it turns out I'm actually buying those very games from our good friend Martin here (not MegaWatts ;]). I've yet to play them, but I loved Banjo so much that if those two are as good or as better as that, maybe an 8 would be more fitting for DK64. Either way, I cannot wait to finally play them after years and years of making do without.

Cubed3 Staff :: Senior Editor
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I hardly enjoyed this game. 7/10 max.

Funky Kong (guest) 01.04.2012 00:44#8

Finally, an anti-DK64 consensus! Compared to Banjo Kazooie, the graphics were worse, the frame-rate was worse, the level design was bland, the collecting was never-ending and (the real kicker) the rewards for doing so were non-existent! And the rap was dated even in 1999!

Senior ModeratorStaff MemberOur member of the week

Haha, I've come in for some strong disagreement with this one! I admit I was probably a tad too generous with a 9, but frankly, I felt that if you were a DK fan and enjoyed the collectathon mechanics, it was a top quality adventure.

I don't think graphics were a downside at all; it was very much on the same level as Banjo for the most part, and had a bunch of well-used effects. Grant Kirkhope, the composer for DK64, admitted the DK Rap was supposed to be a joke. If you think it's outdated or rubbish, then they succeeded! ;]

Cubed3 Staff :: Senior Editor
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Jman (guest) 03.04.2012 13:23#10

Lousy game that continued Rare's collect-a-thon design. I couldn't stand it back in the N64 days, and I'm sure I'd really despise it now.

Is this extremely generous score based on how the game still holds up today? If so that's a joke.

Jeni .. (guest) 04.04.2012 02:57#11

My mom and i really enjoyed the adventure, and even my sister appreciated the multiplayer. I would love to see this remade with appropriate updates for the 3DS!

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