Donkey Kong 64 - Does it hold up?
In my previous entry of does it hold up?, I hailed Banjo-Kazooie as one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time. I truly stand by that statement because the game was almost as impressive in every aspect when I recently played it as it was back when it launched in 1998. The game was pretty to look at and it sounded great. Most importantly, it played fantastically, even despite a few camera quirks.
In 1999, Donkey Kong 64 made its way to its way to the Nintendo 64, and it had a lot of high expectations to live up to. Not only was developer Rare following up a great platformer in Banjo-Kazooie, but it was adding another title to a genre that really exploded during that era. Additionally, it was hyping the cart as the first game to actually require the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak on account of the supposed advanced graphics and massive in-game worlds and content.
If you played Donkey Kong 64, then you're probably aware that the game most certainly lived up to the hype. Whether or not the game looked better than Banjo-Kazooie was debatable at the time, but the worlds in Donkey Kong 64 were certainly expansive, and there were a ton of things to do. Hell, there was even a multiplayer deathmatch mode thrown in for good measure. With all of this content, Donkey Kong 64 definitely felt like a huge game. Here we are 13 years later, and this Nintendo 64 classic is still a huge game, even if it does suffer from some glaring flaws.
Donkey Kong 64 opens with a somewhat lengthy cutscene where we learn that King K. Rool is back — he's kidnapped Donkey Kong's buddies, he's threatening to blow up the apes' island, and he even went so far as to steal DK's beloved banana hoard. Oh. Hell. No. At the onset you only have access to DK, but later on you get to control a total of five Kongs. Each of them have their own set of upgradable attacks, guns, and special moves. Really, the scope of just how much each Kong can do is pretty large.
The worlds in Banjo-Kazooie were big, and they all featured plenty of objectives for the bear and bird duo. The sheer scale of what you could do in that platformer was impressive, but Donkey Kong 64 actually manages to top it by throwing in bigger worlds, more collectible items, bigger boss fights, and even some simple puzzles. In all honesty, I highly doubt the Expansion Pak was really utilized for the graphics. No, I'm almost certain the Nintendo 64 add-on was necessary to pack in all of the content in Donkey Kong 64.
The Kongs all have five Golden Bananas to collect in each stage, as well as regular bananas (color-coded depending on the characters) and special blueprints. There are also coins that can be used to buy upgrades and other items usually expected in collection-heavy platformers. The main problem with this set up is that you have to revisit the same stages at least five times to get everything with each Kong. This makes the scenery get a bit boring at times, and you may grow tired of backtracking through the same levels repeatedly, even if you are doing different things.
Another issue I had during my recent playthrough was that some of the game's puzzles simply weren't very entertaining. Hitting switches in one area and running all the way back to a spot I had already visited in order to collect a Golden Banana became a bit tiresome. At least the multiple characters were handled properly. Each Kong feels unique, and the fact that you need to play as certain characters to open up paths for other characters definitely adds a nice dynamic to the gameplay.
As far as the actual platforming is concerned, this is a classic Rare game through and through. Swinging from vines, climbing trees, leaping from hilltops, and rampaging through enemies is a total blast. Sure, the swimming is tricky (as expected with most Nintendo 64 era platformers), but gamers play platformers to run and jump around, and Donkey Kong 64 handles this classic design properly. Does it handle these tropes as well as Banjo-Kazooie did? To be quite honest, no. Rare's predecessor to Donkey Kong 64, though smaller in size, still provided better platforming and richer worlds.
Additionally, while the camera was an issue at times in Banjo-Kazooie, it's pretty awful far too often in Donkey Kong 64. Not only does it get stuck at awkward angles, but it's a trial just trying to wrestle with controlling it. It's a shame that Rare didn't improve the camera from Banjo-Kazooie, and it goes without saying that these tricky camera issues don't hold up at all these days.
Thankfully, Donkey Kong 64 still looks really pretty. After playing the game immediately following Banjo-Kazooie, I can honestly confirm that the Kongs' quest is not as graphically impressive as the previous game. That's not to say it looks bad, though, because there are some great lighting effects, enemies are designed expertly, and the worlds themselves are beautiful with rich colors and unique landmarks. The music is also good, though it's not as enjoyable as Banjo-Kazooie's. At least none of the Kongs make annoying sounds like Kazooie.
These days, Donkey Kong 64 is, for all intents and purposes, an incredibly fun 3D platformer that's still totally playable and full of enough content to rival some of today's popular titles. Sadly, the camera is a pain, and the overall quality of the game isn't at the level of Banjo-Kazooie. If you were a fan of the game back in 1999 and want some good ol' nostalgia, give it a play and enjoy it. If you never had the chance to experience Donkey Kong 64, I'd still recommend it, but be wary of its shortcomings.
The verdict: Donkey Kong 64 holds up as a great 3D platformer, but it's not a legendary experience like Banjo-Kazooie.