Title  : Donkey Kong 64
Platforms  : Nintendo 64
Publisher  : Nintendo
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 8.4
Review by  : Ken Gagne

It's been many years since Donkey Kong established Nintendo as a video game company. Now, years since the launch of the Nintendo 64 console, Nintendo's quit monkeying around and finally delivered an update to a classic series. Though lacking in innovation, Donkey Kong 64 is a remarkable game sure to sell well this holiday season. 

The evil lizard king K.Rool is back. This time he's not only stolen Donkey Kong's banana horde, he's kidnapped the rest of the Kong clan! It's up to D.K. and his friends to put the lizard back in his place (and the bananas back in the pantry). 

Donkey Kong 64 is a 3d over-the-shoulder action game in the vein of Super Mario 64. As in Banjo-Kazooie, there are a variety of items to be collected from each level, from bananas, golden bananas, and keys, used to access worlds, to coins and blueprints which can be exchanged for better arsenals. 

Five members of the Kong family are playable: Donkey, Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky. Each ape has its own abilities used to access different parts of the game. Additionally, some coins and bananas are obtainable only by certain simians. Trips to the many Tag Barrels to swap characters are an annoying necessity. 

The worlds are so huge, players can spend hours in each nook and cranny, trying to find every hidden item. Unfortunately, the sprawling size of the levels sometimes gives a sense of incoherency. Players will often find themselves lost with little direction of what to do next. 

The graphics have subtle touches which give DK64 a little extra "oomph." On their way to the mammoth yet extremely well-animated bosses, players will pass through caves and factories that utilize some neat lighting effects. The worlds are colorful, yet some aspects (buildings, trees, etc) suffer from pop-up. 

To accomplish these graphical feats, DK64 requires, and comes bundled with, the Expansion Pak, which plugs into the Nintendo 64 console to give the system more memory. The Pak, also available separately, bumps up the price of DK64 slightly. The bundle is a better deal, but being forced with DK64 will frustrate gamers who have already purchased the Pak. 

The music accompaniment is an enjoyable quality that fits the worlds the monkeys are exploring. One track fades out while another smoothly fades in as the Kongs move from area to area. Plenty of digitized speech, from soliloquies to quick bites, make interacting with the world and characters fun. 

DK64's challenge derives from the size of its worlds and their contents, which can take forever to find completely. The boss battles are brief bouts, as it's easy to discern their simple attack patterns. It's finding all the items to get that far that's difficult. 

A nice extra is the multiplayer feature. Up to four players can roam a variety of battlefields in search of each other, sort of a third-person Goldeneye. Another mode has players trying to push each other off a single-screen landing while scrambling for power-ups. Platform games like DK64 are traditionally meant for solo players; this added feature finally invites several people to enjoy the genre simultaneously. 

Donkey Kong 64 is an extremely well-done version of a genre that hasn't seen many innovations lately. DK64 adds only a few new features, instead focusing on presenting old material in good fashion. It's a fun game, but if you're tired with the genre, it's nothing to go ape over.


This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 29-Nov-99