I, along with many other Donkey Kong fans, was very happy when Donkey Kong 64 was released on the Wii U Virtual Console in the early hours of the 2nd of April. Not only is this the start of Nintendo 64 games being available in that service, but we’ve also finally got a rerelease of the only 3D Donkey Kong game ever made. For me, this was an instant purchase and, by instant, I mean within the first hour of its release.
Now, you often hear bad things about Donkey Kong 64, things along the lines of “it’s just a pointless collectathon”, “it’s too much like Banjo-Kazooie” or “it’s too long and tedious!” but I always remembered it as a superb game. I began to fear, after reading so many negative things about it, that maybe nostalgia had blurred my memory and that it wasn’t the shining beacon of high quality gaming that I remembered it as. Maybe, playing as an adult, the game’s flaws would be huge and distracting.
Nope. As an adult I love this game just as much as I did as a child! The game was released late at night, around the time I wanted to go to bed, and I was disappointed that I only got to briefly play it before doing so. The next day I got on it right away and played for four hours. Now, I know this kind of thing is the norm for a lot of gamers and that’s fair enough, but I can rarely play any game for even two hours without wanting to stop, so that should say a lot about the game’s quality.
But rather than just telling you that it’s really good, I had better tell you a little about the game. This is one of those 3D platformers where you have to explore worlds to find certain tokens (in this case Golden Bananas) which will then unlock more worlds and on and on. Think Super Mario 64 kind of thing, except I think it’s a lot better than that. You travel around the DK Isles and go through portals which lead you to a wide variety of places from Aztec ruins to haunted castles. All of these different areas are huge and extremely fun to explore. There are secrets all over the place, without the scenery being ruined with items lying everywhere.
You don’t just explore all these places as Donkey Kong either; there are five playable Kongs, each with a distinct personality and playstyle. You start with only Donkey, but you eventually unlock Diddy, Tiny, Lanky and Chunky too. At the time, those last three were brand new characters created just for this game and, sadly, some people took negatively to Tiny and Chunky. They were viewed as unwanted replacements for Dixie and Kiddy Kong and, while I certainly agree that it is a shame that those two were left out, I’ve come to appreciate Chunky and Tiny for what they are. While Tiny does look similar to Dixie, her character is that of somebody much younger and playful, plus she has the unique ability of being able to shrink in size. Chunky, meanwhile, is a pretty unique character in every way and I don’t really think it’s fair to call him a Kiddy replacement; he’s got this whole tough guy who is secretly a gentle giant type personality and he’s probably my favourite one to play as. Let’s hope all three of them are able to make more appearances in the future.
I mentioned above that some people criticise the game for being too much like Banjo-Kazooie and it is true that this game features a lot in common with that series; having said that, it certainly doesn’t come across as derivative as all the levels are very unique and feel at home in a Donkey Kong title and about all it has in common with Banjo-Kazooie is the fact that both are excellent 3D platforming games, but how is that a problem? Plus, both also feature superb Grant Kirkhope soundtracks.
Another thing that is regularly criticised about the game, is the unfair difficulty of certain tasks and it is true, there are some things in this game which are very, very hard to do. But, none of the really hard things are mandatory. There are plenty of Golden Bananas which can be obtained via perfectly reasonable means and I appreciate the difficulty of the other things as something only for really dedicated players who want to 100% the game. I don’t see how this is any worse than any other game that has really difficult optional tasks.
It’s not just Donkey Kong 64 that’s good, either. If you buy this game you’re actually getting three games in one as both the original arcade Donkey Kong as well as the Rare-owned game Jetpac are unlockable. To buy Donkey Kong individually in the eShop would cost £4.49 and while Jetpac is not available on its own, it’d probably be around the same price, so this will be a very good deal. Of course, both of these games are a lot simpler than Donkey Kong 64 but both are still pretty fun, especially if you’re into aiming for high scores. With Jetpac being owned by Microsoft, this also makes me very hopeful for Diddy Kong Racing being released in future. As well as these additions, there’s also a multiplayer mode where you fight other players in various arenas, which is quite nice.
So, if you want to get one Virtual Console game, perhaps this should be the one. It’s good value for money, fun, very addictive and just downright charming. Other than maybe Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest this might just be the best Donkey Kong title we’ve had yet. There are hours of fun to be had and you’ll be sad when it’s over.
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