MC DK and his dope homemonkeys.
For some reason, King K. Rool, the evil kremling lizard, doesn't like apes. First, he takes Donkey Kong's horde of bananas. Then he kidnaps Donkey Kong's friends, locking them all up in dank cages. Finally, to add insult to injury, K. Rool has his giant Blast-O-Matic laser trained right on Donkey Kong Isle (that small island in the shape of Donkey Kong's head).
Perhaps when he was a young kremling, the monkeys all made fun of K. Rool in school. Or maybe chimpanzees killed his parents. Either way, K. Rool has a score to settle. So, it's up to Donkey Kong to fight back in his 64 bit iteration, Donkey Kong 64.
Startup the game and you'll be immediately treated to, definitively, the world's worst rap. Those of you too young to know Tupac from Puff Daddy will get a kick out of the sing along lyrics on the bottom, but most sane people will try to skip it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I've played it to friends (to prove my point) once too often and those lyrics are still in my head.
Characters and references are made to the past DK Country games, but with changes all across the board. Funky Kong, the former surfer dude, has gone all-out militant, a bit like that creepy shopkeeper in Pulp Fiction. Donkey Kong's girl friend, Candy Kong, seems to be coming on to everyone (A monkey with breasts just seems so very wrong to me). And that sweet granny Wrinkly Kong? Well… they killed her off, and brought her back as a shrieking, wailing ghost that dispenses helpful advice.
Of course, Donkey Kong and Diddy are back. In addition, there are three new playable characters you get after you rescue them. There's Tiny Kong and Chunky Kong -- the obligatory small and extra large members of the group. Their special abilities are to (respectively) grow smaller or larger. Lanky Kong, the long armed, orange orangutan can walk on his hands, thereby letting him climb sharp inclines. At first, I was ready to dismiss the new apes, but one look at Lanky's funny walk made them all bearable -- they were actually amusing.
Okay, so there's no real story or plot. Instead you are after 200 golden N64 brand bananas, hidden throughout the land. Whoop-dee-do. Bananas. But somehow, while you play, those yellow fruit seem as important as if you were placed in the one-track mind of a monkey. Every time you earn another one of the gold bananas a sound bite yelps out, "OOooOOH, BA-nah-NAA!" After awhile, you end up yelping with the game.
Play control is right on the money, straddling a large variety of different moves and techniques. The monkeys (apes?) each have unique moves that let them reach things the others can't. Each monkey also has a different color-coding that designates the items he can collect. Chunky, the proverbial idiot of the group loves those green bananas.
Every monkey can purchase a gun from Funky that shoots different types of ammo (coconuts, peanuts, pineapples-arrgh, there's that damn rap again.). The ammo can be used to trigger corresponding buttons as well as to shoot enemies. Every monkey can also play a different instrument. These are used for musical switches. Other buttons have face or color markings that can only be triggered by the correct primate. All of these things make up the keys to unlock the different gates. Do the math, and you end up with a whole lot of techniques to have to use.
It's redundant… it's repetitive… and it's... well... brilliant. While you play, you don't think about having to keep switching monkeys to get to an area. You don't think about having to shrink in size as Tiny Kong, and then open up a portal, so that Diddy can use his jet pack to reach a bonus. It just works.
Like the original Donkey Kong Country, there are countless mini games. These range from good puzzles and shoot-em-up challenges, to just-kind-of stupid tasks, like the Beaver Round-up. The original Donkey Kong arcade game and Rare's first game, Jet Pack, are also included. They aren't optional though... in order to reach the last boss, you must beat them both. All of the mini games give you unlimited chances to get it right. Usually the prize is another N64 banana. The many different goals help to keep the game going.
First boss to last, there's a similar pattern to defeat them: dodge then attack. For example, to defeat a giant dragon, you dodge his fireballs, and then throw the TNT barrel at him when he stops to rest. Once you understand the method of attack, it becomes a cakewalk. A more random quality in at least some of the bosses would have been appreciated.
Taking Banjo-Kazooie as the standard in beautiful platform graphics, Donkey Kong 64 nearly hits that mark… but adds in lots more lighting effects. Very cool. Just look at the mine-cart/ghost train mini game to see what power the N64 can still muster up. The early levels look alright, but the deeper you get in the game, the better the graphics get. And to view all this there's a pretty decent camera system based upon the Zelda design of "back that cam up."
The sound effects are well done, capturing that chittering-chattering monkey noise and the sharp rasping of the kremlings. Donkey Kong gives out a pained "Why me?" moan whenever he's shot out of a barrel. Most of the music does a good job setting the mood for the game. Listen for the opening of Creepy Castle, and hear a single piano play a slow, sad melody, while an old organ weaves it way into the piece. That's quality. After awhile, though, it trails into some more generic sounds. Notably, the original music from Donkey Kong Country made its way in here, slightly remixed.
Bottom line is you will get a lot of game for your dollar. Even after the 35-40 hours to complete every single last objective the game, there's still a simple, but worthy multiplayer mode to keep you occupied. The real problem is that right to the end, it's just more of the same. There isn't the sharp contrast that DKCountry brought to the SNES as most hoped and expected. While no major ground is broken from Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong is still all there as a 3D platform game. Ok, I'm done with the review, can I have my banana now?