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Christmas Memories: Donkey Kong 64 and the Expansion Pak

It's getting harder and harder to write these posts. My memory just doesn't want to cooperate.

As such, this post and my last one will be on two individual gifts from the same year. First up? Donkey Kong 64, a game which I hate with a passion:

Yeah. "Collector's Edition." The yellow cart was the only version released.

Donkey Kong 64 was released in November 1999. Like the other Donkey Kong games at the time, it was made by Rare, who was a second-party developer for Nintendo at the time. 1999 was a time where Rare could do no wrong. Essentially, every game that they made was good, and a lot of times they were ridiculously innovative. Remember,  this is the company responsible for bringing Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, and Goldeneye to the world.

Sadly, this game is not on the level of Rare's previous efforts. To say that this game has not aged well is a gigantic understatement.

The game plays very similarly to another of Rare's N64 platformers, Banjo-Kazooie. In fact, it runs on the same engine and was made by the same people. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Banjo-Kazooie was a great game. The sad thing is that DK64 took all of the bad parts of Banjo-Kazooie and amplified them.

DK64 is a gigantic collect-a-thon, where the only way to progress through levels is to pick up things. There are a dozen different things to collect in each level: You need to get bananas to open boss gates. You collect banana coins. You have different ammunition for weapons, each of which is unique. You need to collect blueprints. There are crowns you collect for winning a horde-mode sort of mini-game. You need film for a camera. In one level, you have to play through the original Donkey Kong arcade game to get a coin with the N64 logo on it, and there is another level where you need to complete a version of Rare's old game Jetpac for another similar coin. To top it all off, the main MacGuffin of the game are golden bananas, which are the things you need to unlock more levels and ultimately beat the game with.

On top of all of that, you need to do all of that five times over in a level, since there are five 'Kongs in the game. Yuup. You need to beat every level five times before it is truly "complete." That is friggin' mind-numbing. In addition to all of that, the game is full of glitches and bugs that are just inexcusable for a standard release from a developer that was associated with quality.

I know what you're thinking: "Why is this a Christmas memory if the game isn't that good?"

It's really for something else that came with the game: The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak.

Ah, yes. This thing. See, when the Nintendo 64 came out, there was a lot of speculation about the little latch on the front of the console. The cover had "Memory Expansion" sculpted into it, and removing the cover showed something that looked like a small game cartridge stuck inside of it. It didn't do anything. It laid there, dormant, for three years. Most kids I knew, me included, forgot about it. It wasn't needed. The release of Donkey Kong 64 changed that, since it came bundled with the Expansion Pak, which went into the expansion slot on the front of the console.

This lovely device doubled the N64's memory from 4 MB to 8 MB, which turned the N64 into an even bigger visual powerhouse, eliminating a lot of the slowdown and fog that plagued games on the console. A lot of developers put in extra content for people who owned the Expansion Pak, such as Hydro Thunder's 4-Player mode and content from Brood War in Starcraft 64. A handful of games required the device for the game to function.

Simply put, this little pak (No "C" in there) was a staple for anyone who had an N64. It didn't interfere with any games that were made before it, so for most people, once you go 'Pak, you never really do go back.

My parents were smart when it came to wrapping Christmas gifts. They knew that I knew the exact dimensions of a Nintendo 64 box, or a Playstation 1 CD case. They knew that if I saw a bunch of CD cases or 6"X8" boxes under the tree, I'd know exactly what they are. Any other parent may not have bothered to change anything. My mom and dad started to mess with my expectations.

I hated getting clothes as a kid. That was always a "lame" gift for me. You could buy clothes any time of the year, so why bother getting them for Christmas, a time where you can't try them on before you buy them, and where it would be a nightmare to return them if they didn't happen to fit? As a nine-year-old child, I wanted to tell people that I got awesome stuff for Christmas. Telling your friends that you got clothes for Christmas was decidedly not awesome. Clothes were stupid, especially when it got in the way of getting more video games and toys.

Remember that part about me being an ungrateful bastard? Yeah. I kind of regret that now.

My parents weren't stupid, though. They knew that I saw the long, flat department store boxes as gift-wrapped quarantine signs - gifts that were to be avoided at all costs. That is why my parents had the brilliant idea of putting my video games in those boxes. It did the job: It surprised me on Christmas Day, and it made me actually want to open the rest of my stuff, hoping that the next gift was actually a copy of Crash Team Racing and not another Polo shirt.

To this day, I don't know how my mom or dad pulled off hiding a factory-sealed Nintendo 64 game in a shoebox, with the sneakers still in it...
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About Titannelone of us since 6:02 PM on 08.12.2013

Hey. I'm Titannel. I am a production specialist for a news station. I also enjoy the video games. I particularly focus on retro video games, though I collect for pretty much everything, against my better judgment..Anyone who can decode my banner wins fifty bonus points. For what? Eh.

Oh, what's that? You want a shorter description? Here's one:

"Production Specialist. Amateur filmmaker. Creative Writer. Real human being. And a real hero."