I love 3D platformers. In fact, they are my favorite genre of video games.
My brother and his girlfriend over the past couple of weeks have been working on beating Banjo Kazooie and Tooie--the latter being my favorite game of all time--and that inspired me to pick up another 3D platformer. I chose Gex: Enter the Gecko since it was a game I loved when I was a kid. I expected to like it for nostalgia reasons, but as it was a game history wanted to forget about, I didn't expect much. I don't want to say I was blown away, but I had a good time. I won't go into too much detail since I'm just trying to draw a comparison. After beating it, I looked on my shelf to see what I was going to put in next. Then I saw that little yellow cartridge some have named as one of the best games ever.
Let's rewind a bit. It's the turn of the century. I'm sitting at my house when my brother comes home with a new N64 cartridge. It's a Donkey Kong game! This is exciting since my brother and I had logged at least 150 hours into both Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2. We put it into our N64 and for some reason it won't work... you need an expansion pack! Unfortunately, having spent all his money on the new game, he can't go out to get the peripheral. We loan the game out to our friend. When I was young I didn't understand why it took him months to get it back to us. Now I do. All I remember is going to his house sometimes and seeing fleeting glimpses of the game that looked absolutely amazing. While Gex was something I didn't expect to fully enjoy, DK64 was a game I had high expectations of from the day my brother brought it home.
This game is shit.
Not even the good kind
I started off the game really liking the overworld and gameplay hitting the ground running by giving you challenge barrels that act as a tutorial. The progression of things seemed natural until I entered the first world. I'm not a fan of hub-worlds being completely separate from the levels. I prefer the method used in Banjo Tooie, where every location is actually part of a living breathing world. Now the portal thing works for games like Gex and even Super Mario 64--they justify why you go to random locations. But DK64 never makes it clear if the portal is taking you to a completely different area or if they actually expect you to believe that these levels are still part of the island.
Why is this a problem? Because the levels are fucking massive. Now I know what you're thinking, "But Banjo Tooie has huge levels!" Yes, that is true. But you know what else Banjo Tooie has? Thoughtful and unique level design. A warping mechanic that actually works well. You can go to any warp pad and it will take you to any other warp pad in the area. In DK64 you have 5 sets of numbered warp pads. 1 takes you to another 1, 2 takes you to another 2, etc. In many cases, this means you will have to memorize the location of each number and it's counterpart in relation to each other set of warp pads so you can effectively navigate the levels. It also doesn't help that in many cases, the warp pads are placed in completely unnatural locations. It isn't until the last couple of levels that this specific mechanic gets an actual use outside of just being annoying, and even then it's hardly clever or interesting, but time-consuming. And god is this game time-consuming. Imagine your average "collectathon" game--you normally have anywhere from 5-10 major collectables per level. In this game you have 25 on every level. Not only that, but that 25 is broken down into 5 for each of the 5 Kongs. So essentially you have 5 levels packed into one space since there are certain areas that can only be accessed by certain characters.
Another thing I felt was immediately missing was the humor. Sure, the atmosphere and cutscenes felt like they were supposed to be goofy, but they just weren't funny. They were honestly more depressing. It just paints a sad tale of a whiny lizard completely unprepared for an invasion who has put all his faith in his crew, watch them all fail around him while he can do nothing but sit in his chair and bark threats at them. Also Troff and Scoff, whose character designs make them seem lighthearted and sweet, just appear creepy. I wish they would have picked a style and stuck with it. DKC had a bit of whimsy to it, DKC2 was dark, and DKC3 was like a children's buddy comedy. DK64 is what I can only describe as a thing with characters and gameplay. Even if Gex's low-hitting jokes aren't that funny, at least it knows what it is and has an actual presence.
I did enjoy each of the characters' quirks and special moves, but I didn't quite understand why they couldn't be condensed into one or two characters. When Banjo Tooie had assigned all of its special moves to the duo, it broke them apart and gave them individual moves. So essentially you manage the duo, and in specific locations, the two of them separately. Not only that, but you can also take out Mumbo for a spin and whatever Wumba turns you into in that level. Each different character had its specific purposes spelled out clearly so you didn't have to go back and forth so much. DK64 breaks these parts off, arranges them sporadically and confusingly and sets you to go.
One of my biggest problems with the game is that it left little to the player's imagination. Each special move is activated by a pad or a barrel stamped with the face of the Kong that uses it. The game straight-up tells you "This is where you do this, and that is where you do that." And if it doesn't have the barrel or pad as an obvious indication of what you need to do, you can just walk outside of the level and Wrinkly Kong will tell you exactly what you need to do. One such example is in Fungi Forest (in my opinion one of the worst designed levels of all time, trying to shamelessly take the clever level manipulation mechanic of Click Clock Wood from Banjo Kazooie, dumb it down, and spew it back out in a bewildering way) when DK needs to pull some switches in a specific order. This order is printed above a conveyor belt so you can catch a glimpse of it in first person mode--it is also shown in a brief cutscene of another banana being revealed. But if you ask Wrinkly, she will just let loose the code. The game has a built-in strategy guide for Christ's sake.
This did it better.
While the game may hold your hand in many of the puzzle-solving aspects, some of the gameplay is downright hard. I only say some, because the majority of the game is actually quite easy once you get down the grind of things. However, every now and then the game will throw at you a challenge way above that of the rest of the game. If this only applied to extraneous things unrelated to the plot, then I say go right ahead and include them. But I think many people will agree with me when I mention the Donkey Kong arcade game challenge. Basically, you can open up the original arcade Donkey Kong and beat 4 levels of it for a golden banana (oddly enough, this leaves DK playing a game in which he is the antagonist). This is fairly simple, until this fucking bird flies in and tells you to beat it again to win the Nintendo Coin. Little do you know at that point in the game, but you won't be able to access the final boss unless you have that coin. Except this time, the game is 5 times harder. I wouldn't be surprised to find if people still have uncompleted save files simply because of this mission.
And then of course there's the namesake of this rant--Beaver Bother. This is but one of the annoying as hell banana challenges you can access (which, by the way, have nothing to do with the actual game but are minigames that you often play more than once). Beaver Bother is a minigame in which you herd beavers into a hole in the floor. There is no strategy to it. There is no preferred method. The AI doesn't change based on what you're doing, I was silly enough to believe that maybe it did. I soon discovered that you're essentially playing a luck-based minigame. All you can do is run around in a circle, barking, hoping to god that they will pile themselves in the pit before time runs out. Of course, there are difficult parts outside of the banana challenges and Nintendo Coin mission (e.g., the Beetle races, the Rabbit race, your mileage may vary on the bosses) but this is absolutely the worst part of the game that made me want to put it down forever.
This game is just an oxymoron. It's very easy and it's brutally difficult. It's long-winded and it falls just short. It's complicated and lazy. Seriously, in many of the levels, there are structures with multiple entrances. They require you to either press a character-specific button or use an instrument to open each door. Then you have to either do a bit of uninspired platforming or go on a random killing spree to reveal the banana or a banana challenge. That is just lazy.
And yes. I do know that Banjo Tooie was released a year later, but that means they were both being developed at the same time. They have many similar aspects, but Banjo Tooie did it all better. I do know they are both Rare games. That doesn't mean that Rare didn't make sub-par games. And I even like Starfox Adventures. I also completed the game 101%. So every judgment I've made of this game I do have the right to assert. You can feel free to disagree with me, but nothing will change my mind. This game is decent, at its highest points. At its lowest, it's worse than Superman 64. Which I played. It isn't as bad as people say. But that's just me.
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