As I alluded to on last night's blog, today I sat down and spent some quality time with Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, for the Nintendo 3DS of course. I realize that I wrote about this game - albeit the Wii version - yesterday, but I wanted to finish this Week Of... Donkey Kong as strong as possible. With all the DK games I either didn't want to play or couldn't play, this newest addition to the franchise was the obvious choice to end my week.
Besides, if I wrote about Donkey Kong Country Returns, I just had to write about the superior version of the game, right?
That's right. As great and awesome as the original game was, this version for the 3DS is the epitome of Donkey Kong games. Not only does it take the the amazing game that graced the Wii a few years back, but it adds a few different things to make this version even more enjoyable and easier to embrace by the masses.
Most noticeably, they made the game a little easier. Everyone complained about the first version and how hard it was, so Nintendo did something about it, and allows the player to chose the regular mode, or the "new" mode before you start a save file. The new mode adds an extra heart to your life bar, allowing a little bit more leniency to your romp through the jungle.
Also, the 3D effects in the game are remarkable. The backgrounds and environments are already vibrant, lively and exciting, but coupled with the 3D technology of the Little System That Could, they look even that much more amazing. There is a slight hangup when using the 3D, which most games encounter at some point or another, where you have to manage to keep the screen in the "sweet spot" in order to maintain the effects properly without distorting the game at all. It can get very frustrating at times, especially if you are notoriously lazy with your hand placement, but remember, the 3D effects are an option. You can always turn the slider bar all the way down and call it good, and the details will still be as good as ever.
So that's that, my week of Donkey Kong has completed. I have taken a few things away from this week, as I hoped I would. For one, Donkey Kong is an iconic figurehead in the Nintendo universe, but it took a while to actually establish him as an icon. Nintendo has also made a few mistakes with the big ape over the years, mainly when they kept swapping him out for other characters, and then when they thought that banging on fake drums was the right choice of direction to move the franchise towards. With the latest two games, however, it gives me hope that Nintendo may have learned from the past and know how to keep Donkey Kong in the hearts and on the minds of gamers everywhere. If anything, they at least proved that creating a character to lead a franchise isn't that hard, but that's only if it's done right. Good luck, Nintendo. You will need it, I'm sure.
So as this week of Donkey Kong is quickly coming to a close, I've realized something. There are a lot - and I mean a LOT - of Donkey Kong games that I don't want to play. Not just for this blog, but I mean, ever. And strangely enough, they are all the ones that involved banging on conga drums. Donkey Konga, Donkey Konga 2, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and Donkey Kong Barrel Blast are all games that you will not see me playing for this blog, or anywhere else for that matter. (DKBB actually used simulated conga drums, but still, the concept is the same.)
In reality, when these games started coming out after the Donkey Kong 64 game, I completely lost interest in Donkey Kong as a franchise. Sure, I still played as him in Smash Bros. games, but as far as his own games? Call me disinterested.
Now, there was also Diddy Kong Racing, but as much as I would like to consider it part of this franchise, I'm having a hard time qualifying it. So with that, let's talk about the game that brought me, and most likely everyone else who knew how great Donkey Kong Country was, back to the franchise with excitement and appreciation. I played Donkey Kong Country Returns, and I loved it.
It came out on the Wii a few years ago, and when it did, it caught everyone by surprise. I remember when it was first announced at the big E3 press conference; the lights went dark, the video started playing and then the familiar Donkey Kong music kicked on. The crowd went crazy, and the footage started showing the beautiful worlds that they were developing, showing off just how far the series had come but how nostalgic it could feel at the same time. Real love and appreciation went into every detail of this game, and it is one of a handful of games for the Wii that truly show off how powerful, captivating and beautiful games on the system can be.
Playing this game all over again made me realize how amazing some of the level designs really are. The backgrounds and detail in the environments are breathtaking at times (more often than not, to be honest), but my personal favorite without question is the silhouette level, where the sun is setting and the only details you can see of your primate characters are their silhouettes. Well, the silhouettes and the bright red tie and baseball cap.
Another thing I have to talk about is something that I didn't forget, but was still caught off guard by it tonight, and that's how amazingly hard this game is at times. And by "at times," I mean "most of the time," especially when you are trying to get everything in each level. The developers didn't hold back at all when making this game challenging, and that's one of the most endearing aspects of it. Without it's ridiculous difficulty, it would be just another beautiful platformer. Sure, a lot of people complained that it was too hard, but to me, it was never unbeatable, despite how many attempts some levels took. But that just added gameplay and replay value to me, which I didn't mind because of how gorgeous and fun it was, and still is.
If there is one Donkey Kong game to show off as the crown jewel of the series, this game might be it. Although, it's not entirely perfect. It is missing something, I just can't put my finger on it...
Look, here is a quick peak behind the curtains. I wanted to play Donkey Kong 64 for this week of Donkey Kong, and if I was able to, tonight would have been the night. Unfortunately, I don't have the game, and since it is the only Donkey Kong game not to be on the Wii Virtual Console, I'm kind of out of luck.
Some things are just out of my control. Fortunately, for whatever goes wrong while i'm not in control, I always have back up plans. Always. Tonight was no different at all.
Besides, I kind of teased playing this game on last night's blog, so I guess I owed it to you all to follow up on that tease, right? Either way, it is what it is, and all you have to know is tonight, I played Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble.
Now, this isn't a bad game by any means. It is a formidable game, developed on the same engine as the last two. Only this time, it doesn't feature either one of our now familiar characters, instead using the sidekick from the previous game (Dixie) and a baby. Oddly enough, it plays almost identical to DKC2, which is a good thing for the game. The bad thing for this game, and why it isn't remembered fondly, is because people forgot it existed. They do now, and even worse, they did when it was released.
You see, DKC3 suffered from the unfortunate timing mishap of being released for the Super Nintendo after the new, hot, exciting console known as the Nintendo 64 was released. Sure, there were still people that picked up this game because they hadn't bought into the N64 yet, but the sales numbers are quite clear that they lost sales, most likely because it came out on a last-gen system. If N64 had been backwards compatible, this wouldn't have been a problem I'm sure, but we all are aware of the lack of interest in that feature that the big console companies have currently, and obviously back then as well.
The game is fun, don't get me wrong. It feels like the last two. For some reason, however, playing as these two characters just don't do it for me. They didn't back when I was kid, and they still don't tonight. I would much rather play as Donkey and Diddy Kong than what this game offers. Maybe they were trying to target an unreached market? I don't know if that's the reason for the decision, or if it was strictly to keep the franchise fresh, but either way, I had already invested in the previous characters, and wasn't ready to move on from them.
The original Donkey Kong Country was a classic game. I established that in the last blog. It was revolutionary for the genre, the franchise and the character of Donkey Kong. But also, it established his partner-in-crime more soundly, that being Diddy Kong.
In the original arcade games, there was a character named Donkey Kong Junior, but somehow, when the "Country" trilogy was created, Junior vanished from memory and was replaced on screen by Diddy Kong, mysteriously.
For whatever reason, the first Donkey Kong Country game established Diddy Kong as a formidable character himself, although in the first game, he was just a secondary helper character. He was basically the Luigi to Donkey Kong's Mario for as long as Luigi had been around. But much like Luigi eventually got his own game (Luigi's mansion on the GameCube), Diddy was granted his own adventure to set himself apart from his secondary role. Unlike Luigi, however, his coming out party came much sooner into the franchise than the brother of Mario had to wait.
In this game, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, the little monkey is put in charge of rescuing Donkey Kong, naturally. He isn't alone, however, as he is partnered up with Dixie Kong, who plays the role that Diddy had played in the previous game. The game itself plays much like the first version, with a few minor tweaks to pretty much perfect the wheel, as they say. The graphics are phenomenal, as the colors pop and the backgrounds are lively. It's almost hard to tell this is a SNES game at some points.
They did something very creative too, which I hadn't remember until I popped it in this evening. The game picks up on the same pirate ship from the final battle scene of the first game, which is an awesome tip of the cap to those who enjoyed the first game. Sure, to everyone new to the series with 2, this didn't mean a thing to them. But for everyone who fondly remembers the final battle because they beat it over and over again, this was the perfect way to start the second game. It was clever, not forced and to this day, not done often enough in gaming. That's the sad truth.
This game is awesome. I forgot how much I loved this game, mainly because of the nostalgia of the first one. But this is literally the Mario Galaxy 2 to the first one. It's far superior in every way, but because of the impact the first of these games had, the sequels are cherished but often overlooked.
Unfortunately, unlike the Galaxy series(so far), the Donkey Kong Country series became a trilogy. The third one wasn't necessarily a bad game, but it suffered from another setback that developers hate. But more on that tomorrow night...
Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo is truly the game that put Donkey Kong on the map in the hearts and minds of gamers across the board, especially those who were too young at the time to have played the arcade games before that. Also, this title made the distinction of finally putting the big ape in the forefront of the game and establishing him as not only a legit character in the Nintendo universe, but as a mascot for the company as well.
This still remains true today, as he has become iconic and one of the most recognizable faces of any franchise in gaming. And all because he just wanted to get his banana hoard back.
DKC is the first game in the series that is a true platformer, side-scrolling and all. Compared to the previous games in the series before hand, this is the biggest jump in change of direction the series will ever face. If I had to quantify it, I would compare it a lot to the innovative style of Mario 64 compared to the previous Mario games. It was that groundbreaking.
Before I owned my own SNES, I had to play it over at my cousin's house. When he got DKC, we sank countless of hours into it, especially on the nights when I would sleep over at his house. We beat the game backwards and forwards, learning where each and every secret was and how to collect everything possible. We knew that game.
Several months after its release, our local Blockbuster store had a promotion they were doing for Donkey Kong Country, where they hosted local tournaments for the game. It was touted as a "competitive, tournament" version of the game, where there was just the first level to play, but slightly redesigned. The goal was simple, or so I thought: to score as many points as possible on one single run, with the highest scores being posted for all to see. I signed up, of course, but I used my cousin's name. Why, you ask? Well, there is a good reason for it, I assure you that.
You see, they didn't tell you ahead of time what was so different about this special version of the game, or how you went about scoring points. So I signed up as my cousin so I could do a play-through without any pressure or worry of failing, just to see what it was all about. It's a good thing I did, too, because I was totally caught off guard by the game. The level was filled with bananas, and you scored points by collecting bananas, hard to reach balloons and getting as far as possible into the level in the given time, which I think was a minute. The level itself was practically unchanged, except for the fact that all the secret routes and hideouts were closed off, which meant if you were like me and thought it was a good idea to go after those, you simply wasted precious seconds. Oh, and the one special barrel you have to fall into a pit to find? Yeah, that was gone. And guess what happened when you died? Your run was over.
So with that, I came back the following weekend, signed up as myself, and rocked that game like I knew what I was doing. Because I did. I ended up getting second place for the whole store, which ultimately meant nothing, but it was cool seeing my name up on the big leader board.
As weird as it sounds, Donkey Kong Country was my first official attempt at competitive gaming. And I kind of, sort of, cheated. I don't feel great about it, but I don't feel horrible at all, considering I didn't get rewarded anyway.
Tonight, playing Donkey Kong Country reminded me of all those nights spent perfecting the game, and while I couldn't sit down and write down all the secrets, once I start playing it it's like I have been playing nonstop for years. That's a fun feeling, too. If only I could get some sort of award for still being awesome. Oh well, this blog will have to do.
The follow up to the iconic Donkey Kong was a legit sequel, not just a rehashing of the same game as before, which is all too common in sequels, both back and then and in today's market as well. The second game wasn't called Donkey Kong 2, but rather Donkey Kong Jr., naturally.
And it was awesome. And dare I say maybe even better?
Maybe I am a little bit biased towards Jr. because it was the first Donkey Kong game I remember playing in an arcade. Because of that, I always associate Donkey Kong games as being a duo of characters, with the big ape and Junior. It's hard for me to associate Donkey Kong as a villain as he was in his first game, or acting alone in his adventures. It's just the way it is in my mind.
Conversely, despite this being the only game ever where Mario is the bad guy, I refuse to accept that reality. Sure, he was actually named Mario, but let's be real here. This isn't the heroic plumber we know and love. This character is just a pissed off zookeeper who is trying to keep sanity and order while an escaped monkey is trying to breakout a father-figure of an ape.
Frankly, I'm glad this direction was one-and-done for the Mario character.
Anyway, tonight I played this on my 3DS. It was a free download from the Ambassador Program that Nintendo did when sales of the 3DS were abysmal. They wanted to thank all early adopters of the handheld system by giving us twenty free downloadable titles for our handhelds, which is one of the coolest things to come from a company in a long time.
The game is hard once we get to level three. Having to jump over those sparks that the stupid "Mario" is throwing my way. Once you beat that monstrosity of a level, the last level awaits where you have to unlock all the locks in order to free DK. Once you do, you can start the game over, but the difficulty ramps up. The thing that makes this game hard is that it's not all based around your hand/eye coordination, but rather your patience level. You see, the game requires a lot of patience to beat it. You don't have to just make precise jumps, but you have to wait for the exact right time to do it. And sometimes that means you have to wait quite a while.
I'm noticing one thing in this series so far. It is soooooooo hard, overall. Sure, with enough practice you can get very good at it, but if you just start playing the game without much time invested to it already, it would be easy to be scared away from it. But that's sort of what makes this series great - the surprising difficulty. More on that to come, I promise.
So is Donkey Kong Jr. better than the original one? No, probably not. It's just different, well-done and an important game that pushed the series into something that could (and would) go on for many, many years. Besides, any game where Mario is a bad guy can't be that great, can it?
So ... who honestly saw this series coming down the pipeline of possible franchises for the "My Week Of..." monthly feature? I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that probably no one had this on their radar, and that's a shame, really. Sure, I did just do a Nintendo franchise last month, and while Donkey Kong is a well-known, highly established character in the video game universe, his franchise isn't exactly at the forefront of people's collective memory.
It should be, though. The cultural significance of this series is remarkable, and one that goes overlooked far too often, despite the spotlight shown on it every now and again. In geek and nerd culture, Donkey Kong reigns supreme when mentioned or remembered, but his legacy reaches far beyond the confines of the gaming universe.
Take the phrase, "It's on like D***** ****," for example. Whoops! Actually, let's not use that specific phrase at all, since Nintendo actually went ahead and filed for a trademark on that very popular and sometimes overused phrase. So for the sake of me NOT getting sued over something so ridiculous, I'll just allow you the reader to say it out loud to yourself. Just don't say it three times, like Beetlejuice. The results could be ugly (or expensive, if you want to look at it that way).
Donkey Kong introduced the world to a little guy that was really good at jumping and saving the damsel in distress. Back then, we knew him as "Jump Man," but now, he goes by a far more common name. You might know him as Mario. And the lady he was trying to save back then, whom was named Pauline, would eventually become the lovely and always captured Princess Peach. You could say that without Donkey Kong, there might not be a Mario. That's a scary thought, and quite frankly, that doesn't sound like a world that I want to live in. Could you imagine where we would be as gamers without Mario in our lives? I shudder to think.
Aside from spawning arguably the most popular and recognizable video game characters in history, Donkey Kong has also been the feature game of an incredible documentary film called "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters." If you have never seen this film, stop reading now and go Netflix it. Seriously. I have no qualms with you ditching this measly blog project for an awesome movie like that. If you have seen it, however, then you know what I am talking about it. It documents the roller coaster ride that is competitive arcade gaming, where a prodigy of classic games (Billy Mitchell) and his Donkey Kong high score is challenged directly by an up and comer rookie in Steve Weibe. The film is simply fascinating as it depicts the seedy underbelly of gaming, yet somehow manages to paint Donkey Kong in beautiful watercolors for the world to see. Honestly, after watching the film for the first time, the very first thing I wanted to do, and ended up doing, was playing Donkey Kong, just to see where I was at skill wise compared to the best.
Let's just say that I was no where near being considered "good" at it.
And tonight, that point rang true once again. Basically, I suck. Well, I guess I wouldn't say I completely suck, as I can manage to get through the first few levels without much problem, but after that, I have to forfeit to the gaming gods and concede defeat. Man, it's fun to try though. Over and over again. One day I hope to get to that magical Kill Screen that I've heard so much about, but I doubt it will ever happen. Consider it on my gaming bucket list, with an asterisk by it to indicate that I don't foresee it happening no matter how hard I try. Ever.
The game, as it gets harder, just requires absolute precise jumps and timing, which for some reason, I have a hard time with in this game. I doubt I am the only one though.
Oh, and one more cool thing Donkey Kong has been known for happened just recently, about two months ago I want to say. A father actually re-coded the game for his three year old daughter because she wanted to play as Pauline instead of Mario. He also turned the platforms pink instead of red and basically customized it to make it appealing to a little girl. How awesome is that?
So yeah, that's what I got to start out My Week Of Donkey Kong. I look forward to a week of Kong, as he transitions from the antagonist to the protagonist. Oh, and I will be finishing up my week with the new Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for the Nintendo 3DS, which is receiving perfect scores from game reviewers on the internet. I simply cannot wait for that.
And I hope you can't either.
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Games played for project : 365