Tag Archives: donkey kong

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Monkey NoisesVideogames can do a few things better than any other medium, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does one of those things perfectly.

DKC:TF is a pretty straightforward platforming adventure. Donkey Kong was just donkeying around, enjoying his birthday with the members of his family that he remembered exist this week (sorry, Lanky Kong), when a group of malevolent penguins invaded his home. With the helpful flippers of some Viking walruses, Donkey and pals were escorted far from Donkey Kong Country, and banished to an even five islands away from home base. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, and even Cranky now must fight their way back to their tropical island, and there’s only an army of owls, deadly pits, and other assorted nonsense to repel the apes. At least there are a few frozen bananas to nab along the way.

And, so I can pretend I maintain a proper gaming review blog, I’ll note the experience does play like a dream. The DKC series may handle like Super Mario Bros. on a fundamental level, but the big guy always feels completely different than his plumbing rival. Recent Donkey Kong Country games dial that “heavy inertia” feeling from the original Rare games up to eleven, and, If you’re doing your best hedgehog impression and always moving as fast as possible, it’s very easy to experience a “rollercoaster” feeling. Yes, you have full control of everyone’s favorite gorilla, but there’s that unmistakable feeling that you can’t slow down, that you’ve gotta go fast, and you’re just doing your best to steer this barreling freight train as best you can. Mind you, that metaphor becomes a bit more superliminal on the actually-a-rollercoaster minecart levels, but that feeling persists through the rest of the game. And, if you don’t like it, don’t worry, you can still take it slow, too. Well, on most stages. I wouldn’t slow down when you’re attempting to outrun a lava flow.

But that’s all auxiliary to the best event in the game (and possibly the franchise). After five “worlds” of random island hijinks, the final (well, final-not-secret) world is… Donkey Kong Country.

THIS IS EVERYTHING

You’re finally home! Hooray! … Except, yes, the Snowmads have conquered the tropical paradise, and turned it into a frozen stronghold. So DK and pals must fight from DK home up to the tippy top of Big Crazy Volcano… which is the premise of the previous game, Donkey Kong Country Returns. The final world of Donkey Kong Country Tropical freeze is Donkey Kong Country Returns.

And I love seeing this kind of thing in a videogame.

Other noisesEven if nobody noticed, this got its start back in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. If you hang out on the south-western “Death Mountain” region of the map, you’ll note the bottom section of the peninsula is actually the entirety of the overworld from The Legend of Zelda (1). In one instant, that simple plot of 8-bit pixels completely recontextualizes Link’s entire adventure, and, wow, did you see that? This new game is, like, 800 times larger than the old one! Oh man, how is Link going to survive his biggest adventure ever!?

(And, for the record, I feel like every Zelda after Ocarina of Time has failed for using the same basic layout as OoT [and arguably A Link to the Past]. It’s not exciting to find Death Mountain in the North or Gerudo Desert in the West, I want to see what’s past those landmarks. C’est la vie.)

But this same trick has been used in a variety of games for a variety of reasons. In Metroid Prime, a frigate is explored early in the adventure, and then, after it crashes to the planet below, it becomes a sunken “ghost ship” that is an entirely new “level”, but is still recognizable from its earlier appearance. Speaking of Metroid, you see this often in “prequel” games, where an important location from the “next” game is revisited by a different group that has no idea about the significance of the latest locale. See Lufia and Lufia 2 for a fun, fatal example of this concept. And while we’re on the subject of 16-bit JRPGs, time travel is great for video games for this exact reason. The Black Omen might be unchanging, but it’s fun to see how the simple villages and dungeons of 600 AD evolve in 400 years.

Hot stuffAnd why does this work? Why is this fun? It’s all because videogames have to be very mindful of “space”. While your average modern action movie doesn’t have to worry about the surrounding area for its epic battles at all (pop quiz: how many countries have been destroyed by random Transformer fights?), videogames are all about space, because the player must inhabit those locations for proper exploration and storytelling experiences. It doesn’t matter in every game (I admit, I might not be able to draw a map of Metro City), but so many games must keep an eye on distance and location, else, well, nobody likes to get lost forever. And, if everyone is doing their job right, the player learns the ins and outs of any given area almost subconsciously, and, before you know it, you’re able to recall the layout of Midgar a lot more easily than your home town. If you’re going to swing by my place, just take the third left after Wall Market.

I’ll save any further gushing about this concept for when ROB inevitably chooses Bioshock, but the flipside to memorizing a map or area is that, when that area is changed, your brain immediately notices. Even if it’s been fifteen years since you played the previous game, since you spotted the new, “different” area, some part of your head recognizes that something is wrong, and why is this wrong, and let’s explore a little further, and find out what happened here. And, on top of that, when something that was previously “the size of an entire game” is reduced to “now it’s smaller”, you I can't see what's happening!subconsciously feel awesome, because, wow, look at how much more I’ve accomplished than last time! Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is six times larger than Donkey Kong Country Returns! DK is huuuuuuge!

Oh, and it is pretty fun to replay through reimaginings of all the Donkey Kong Country Returns levels in a frozen wasteland, too.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an entertaining game all on its own, but the way it recontextualizes Donkey Kong Country Returns is amazing.

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. A months ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a 3DS port, but now I’m kind of expecting a Switch port. We’ll see if that pans out.
  • Number of players: Two! And I really want to try that sometime! Diddy and the other helpers apparently can assist with a second controller, but I’ve never thought to actually try that with any of my real-life buddies. There are so many other games we can play where we can have apes fight, ya know?
  • Favorite buddy: Cranky Kong has Scrooge’s pogo stick! That makes him tougher than the toughies. On the other hand, the pogo ability is just as finicky as it was back in the NES days, so I’d rather have Diddy in my corner. Can’t tell you how many times that jetpack saved my bacon.
  • Jerks!Favorite Boss: One baboon laughing at Kongs is bad enough, but a baboon that splits into three just to mock a monkey even more? That’s cruel.
  • Did you know? There’s a patch/update for this game, and it seems to exist entirely to fix a glitch in the third world that would prevent the next level from unlocking. “Beat stage, go to next stage” is pretty much videogame 101, so you have to wonder how that glitch got out into the wild.
  • Would I play again: If there is somehow never another Donkey Kong Country game “like this” again (you never know with Nintendo), then I’ll play this again in due time. If there is a DKCR3, then I’m all about leaving the past behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Streets of Rage 2! Good! I was getting tired of using the “Nintendo” tag continuously. It’s time to see some streets raging! Or maybe people raging at streets. I don’t know! Please look forward to it!

Huge hooters

FGC #130 Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Stop looking at meAs I write this, everyone is discussing the end of the WiiU. In this case, I’m not referring to some perceived failure of the hardware, I’m talking about all the franchises that didn’t make it to the WiiU. Metroid, F-Zero, and Punch-Out all seem to have taken a console off despite maintaining a presence through the likes of Smash Bros. and the Virtual Console. Star Fox seems to have snuck in at the last moment, but it missed the Wii. And we got a sequel to Wii Fit before seeing a proper console Animal Crossing experience.

Except… we did get an Animal Crossing game on the WiiU, it was just a silly board game. Does… does that count?

This is the “problem” with Nintendo franchises. As it currently stands, it looks like the WiiU’s “big damn Zelda game” will be primarily focused on the Next Gen version, which leaves a number of us crying about the lack of a Zelda game on the WiiU. Except… with two wonderful HD rereleases and a wealth of Virtual Console options, the WiiU is capable of playing nearly every Zelda game ever produced. And, oh yeah, we got an entirely new Zelda game that, even without the DLC, boasted more content than any person could conceivably beat in a year; but it wasn’t a real Zelda game, so it doesn’t count. In short, Nintendo has the first industry problem of having so many worthwhile brands, people feel ripped off if they don’t see exactly what they want from a certain franchise. Imagine someone claiming any given Marvel movie is terrible because it doesn’t feature Pepper Potts and you’ll have the gist of it.

Moving right alongThis is primarily on my mind because I was recently having a discussion with a friend who thought the WiiU was terrible because “it didn’t have a Mario game”. Okay, so let’s look at a list of WiiU games with Mario in the title: Mario Kart 8. Mario Party 10, Mario & Sonic Blame it on Rio, Paper Mario: Color Splash… oh, wait, you want real Mario games? Then we’ve got the 2-D New Super Mario Bros. U (right there at launch), 3-D Super Mario 3D World, and, just in case you were in the mood for infinite Mario levels, we’ve got Super Mario Maker. But no, as my friend elucidated, he wanted a new Super Mario Galaxy style experience, and, fair enough, that never materialized on the WiiU. Maybe we’ll see something like that on the next console generation, but for now, we have to console ourselves with these other eight or so “Mario games”.

Ya know, that’s a whole lot more games than we saw featuring Bomberman

But I get it. I totally get it, because there are games like Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Full confession? I do not care for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.

For anyone that has missed out on this franchise, it’s sort of the evolutionary offshoot of Donkey Kong. No, it has nothing to do with Donkey Kong Country or any of its descendants; what we’re looking at is a game that is 100% based on the original Donkey Kong, when the big ape was kidnapping hapless damsels and not even thinking about bananas. This was well before Mario was established as the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom; hell, this was before Mario even had a name. “Jump Man” had a short hop that was barely capable of clearing barrels, and a chronic back condition that caused instant death should he fall any further than about three feet. Donkey Kong’s gameplay was a far MONKEYS AREN'T DONKEYS!cry from the acrobatic and seemingly invincible stars of Super Mario Bros, but it was a virgin effort, and Miyamoto and friends ironed out what was fun about Jump Man and used that to launch an entire genre.

Years later, Donkey Kong ’94 (technically titled Donkey Kong) came along for the Gameboy/Super Gameboy. It was a return to Donkey Kong’s original gameplay, and it wildly expanded Mario’s physical options. Mario now had the ability to perform a handstand, “bounding” jumps, and carry/throw items ala Super Mario Bros. 2. And Mario could now withstand a fall much greater than three feet! Like, maybe six! Wowee!

A number of people really enjoyed Donkey Kong ’94, and I can (technically) see the appeal. It’s “measured Mario”, rather than a hero that is expected to constantly barrel forward like a mushroom-fueled freight train, this Mario takes careful, deliberate steps around the world, and thoughtful play leads to a rewarding experience. Attempting to run around halfcocked will result in a very dead Mario, and, without a mushroom or starman to be seen, Mario is just as fragile as the old days. So take your time, and enjoy a Mario game that is more puzzle than platformer.

This applies equally to Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Pauline dropped out of the game to pursue her music career or something, so Donkey is stuck kidnapping an army of adorable Mario windup toys. Mario leaps to rescue his tiny homunculi sans any of his modern arsenal. With the exception of Come alongMini Lemmings stages (and their similar circumstances in the extra quest levels), this is that familiar DK ’94 gameplay all over again, with the very encouraging addition of all new traps and enemies that round out another hundred levels or so. Color/graphics upgrade aside, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is indisputably a more robust game than DK ’94, and it’s all a Donkey Kong fan could ever desire.

I… just kinda hate it.

I’ve played all the way through Donkey Kong ’94 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and… not for me. I like Super Mario Bros. I really enjoy holding down B and zipping through obstacle courses. I love searching gigantic castles for constellations. I adore flinging Mario from planet to planet, gravity and physics be damned. And the innovation of having a life meter/powerups? I’ll take that any day over one-hit kills (and, no, “I happen to be carrying something” in no way counts). I play the hardest Mario Maker creations for fun, because I enjoy experiencing that world that much.

I love Mario games.

This is no true Mario game.

It’s entirely subjective, and I know that. I can see exactly how this is a great game with the physics and rules involved… I just despise those rules. I don’t want to waste a hundred seconds trying to toss a barrel at a monkey, I want a turtle monster I can drop into the lava right the hell now. I’m just imposing my interpretation of a “Mario Game” on this “Mario Game” and demanding the experience conform to my expectations. It’s irrational, it’s possibly wrong, but it’s my opinion on the situation, and that’s not going away anytime soon.

So the next time someone says that the WiiU was a failure because the system didn’t have Random Game #2,521, try to be understanding. Our favorites are always going to be subjective, and no company, whether it be Nintendo, Sony, or Hudson Soft, is ever going to be able to satisfy everyone’s every desire. Sometimes even the best games won’t appeal to everyone, and part of living in this great big melting pot of a world is acknowledging that everyone has different tastes. We all want different things, and that’s what makes the world great.

I’ll just take a Mario with some ups.

FGC #130 Mario vs. Donkey Kong

  • System: Gameboy Advance, WiiU Virtual Console (in Japan/Europe, at least), and Nintendo 3DS if you’re a sucker (like me). Hey, 66% Ambassador Week here at the FGC.
  • Number of Players: Just one, but there was originally supposed to be a “build a course” feature included in the game… and it was cut and recycled into the sequel. That’s… kinda two players?
  • Misfit Toys: I feel like a number of random SMB2 characters wound up in this franchise. Shy Guys, Ninja, and Bob-ombs wander the stages. Granted, they’ve all appeared in other “real” Mario games, but these guys feel more at home when Mario is towing a key over his head.
  • Seems wrongActual Toys: Come to think of it, has Nintendo ever produced actual “Mini Mario” toys based on the designs of this franchise? I mean, I know there’s a mountain of Mario merchandise out there, but it seems like these lil cuties would be a slam dunk.
  • Favorite Boss Fight: The ultimate boss of the game, Donkey Kong in a giant mech, just seems so indulgent. Like, he was already a giant gorilla, did he need a giant(er) robot on top of that?
  • Did you know? There are additional stages that can be unlocked via e-reader, but the cards were released in very limited number exclusively in Japan. Also, there’s space in the game for twelve additional levels, but only six were ever released. To my knowledge, these extra levels are not part of the Virtual Console release… though maybe that’s why the North American version has been delayed? Maybe?
  • Would I play again: Since I have this game loaded onto my 3DS, I do occasionally fire it up for a round or two. I don’t like how this game eschews its “Marioness”, but it is fun for a level or two. I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Heroes! Ah, a veritable treasure-trove of run ‘n gun action. Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #115 Kangaroo

Go kangaThe most first world problem there is today is that we (I assume that if you’re reading this video game blog you are firmly entrenched in the first world) have far too many entertainment choices. There is a new blockbuster movie literally every week. 24 hour networks flood the airwaves with show after show in numbers far exceeding the hundreds. The whole of Western music is available for download instantaneously. And video games, oh my beloved medium of choice… Well, this is entry #115 in the FGC, and I’ve covered less than 10% of my collection alone thus far. And that’s simply my physical collection, I’m not even counting digital releases (most of which I’ve purchased for less than a Lincoln). Point is, I would likely die of old age attempting to complete every video game I have right now, and that would be ignoring the five or so new games that drop every week. If you are not entertained, you are not trying hard enough.

Of course, in thinking of “video games” as some giant wad of thousands of games, I’m ignoring the great gulfs in content between some experiences. I’ve played Grand Theft Auto 3 off and on numerous times in the last fifteen years (that can’t be right…), and I still don’t think I’ve found everything in that world. Similarly, I watch some people play games I know by heart and see techniques I never would have considered. Final Fantasy 9 has new sidequests! Top Spin can be useful! A block can be hit for 416 years! I’ve somehow written thousands of words about one single game! Whether intended or not, it doesn’t seem absurd to say that you could ream infinity hours of enjoyment from some thoughtfully constructed games.

But this, obviously, hasn’t always been the way. Video games, in their earliest incarnations, were barely more than you could fit into a single screen. Pong was two paddles and a dot. Pac-Man was a maze, some dots, Dunnofour larger dots, and a handful of moving pieces. Space Invaders was a fleet of invaders, barracks, and a ship that shot dots. I want to be clear that these games weren’t bad, they were merely very, very simple. Chess has endured for centuries, and it’s just a board and 32 pieces, so there’s nothing wrong with simple.

It was back in the age of Pac-Man and Space Invaders that Sun Electronics/Atari released Kangaroo in the arcades. Kangaroo is the eternal tale of a Kangaroo Mama getting separated from her Kangaroo Joey, and then Joey gets kidnapped by monkeys for some reason. Kangaroo Mama must now traverse four unique stages in an effort to rescue Joey and, if she’s feeling particularly saucy, collect fruit along the way. The only fruits Kangaroo Mama should avoid are the deluge of apple cores being tossed her way by a mass of malevolent monkeys. Heck, the final level practically becomes a bullet hell as Kangaroo Mama attempts to punch out a tower of chimps (a personal dream of mine, incidentally).

Kangaroo is actually a pretty fun arcade game. It has a protagonist that can do more than just jump (she can punch, too!) and you’ve got ducking options so you’re not stuck with only one way to “dodge”. By 1982 definitions, it’s pretty robust.

PowBut that is the arcade game, and ROB chose Kangaroo for the Atari 2600. As you might expect, Atari Kangaroo is a severely stripped down version of the arcade game. The graphics are reduced to practically nothing, an entire level (the most interesting, monkey-punching one) is dropped, and Boxing Guerilla, the breakout star of Kangaroo Arcade, is left on the curb. All that’s left is a game where Kangaroo Mama climbs a trio of ladder obstacle courses while avoiding incoming apples (dots) and the occasional monkey.

And it’s Donkey Kong.

Kangaroo Arcade, at its base, is a Donkey Kong clone. It’s a good Donkey Kong clone, and it’s one that added enough that it’s not immediately obvious… but once you strip out a few of the arcade’s innovations, Kangaroo Atari 2600 reveals itself as “Donkey Kong with a punch button”. Hell, it even hosts decidedly simian antagonists! Horizontal barrels have become banana-gobblers, and the vertical barrels are replaced with dropping apple dots. And now it’s just a matter of going left to right, jumping when you need to, and climbing every ladder. Hop to collect fruit (that isn’t nearly as useful as a hammer) for bonus points!

And it’s funny to compare it to what we have today. I want to say Skyrim was the most recent “everybody imitate this” hit, and, since then, we’ve seen a number of game reviews that boil down to “this is a Skyrim clone”. Have you ever really considered what that means, though? There are so many moving parts in Skyrim, so many things to do and see, that, were you to “clone” even a tenth of that game, Ouchyou’d still have an entirely different experience. The gameplay, layout, graphics, or general tone of a game may be a “clone” of Skyrim, but it still winds up being unique game. This has been going on since the age of “Mario clones” or “Sonic clones”. Hell, one of my favorite franchises started as nothing more than a “GTA clone”. Clones aren’t a bad thing!

But… they’re a bad thing when there isn’t much meat on those bones. While attempting to copy the Mona Lisa might yield an entirely new piece of art, copying a smiley face is just going to get you… a smiley face. It might be a different color, it might be a slightly different shape, but it’s still just going to be Boss Smiley. And that’s where Kangaroo lies. And where it dies. Kangaroo Atari 2600 is a lesser Donkey Kong, and that’s all it will ever be.

So, gentle reader, be glad we live in the advanced entertainment wonderland of today. A mere thirty years ago, games were so simple, the best we could hope for as a follow-up to a revolutionary title was “well, the same thing, but with a marsupial.” Sure, your death may eventually come at the hands of a collapsing cabinet of SNES cartridges, but you will not have died in vain, for you died in the name of sophisticated concepts, and the guarantee that we would never see a Kangaroo ever again.

This “first world problem” is more like “first world protection”.

FGC #115 Kangaroo

  • System: Atari 2600 is where it shows its true stripes, but the arcade is available, too. There was a later Atari release that was “arcade perfect”, but I refuse to count higher than 2,600.
  • Number of Players: Two player alternating. Go for that high score!
  • The screen is flashingRingabel: Also, every stage contains a bell that will replenish or “upgrade” the obtainable fruit throughout the level. This creates an actual reason to return to earlier parts of the stage to get the highest score… if you want to ignore your poor, lost joey like some kind of monster, that is.
  • Just play the gig, man: “Oh Susana!” and “Westminster Quarters” both get played at random points in the game. I have never understood why games past 1990 stopped using “classical” music.
  • Did you know? “Kangaroo” was actually part of the CBS Supercade animated series during 1984. She joined the cartoon block with Space Ace, and she replaced Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and, ironically, Donkey Kong Junior. Huh, if you consider DKJ his own (forgotten) entity, none of the stars of the Supercade went on to do anything interesting. Well, I guess there was that Mario guy…
  • Would I play again: No. I don’t even really like Donkey Kong that much.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen…SNK vs Capcom Chaos. Wow, we went a whole week without a fighting game, let’s get back to watching Ryu punch some Geese. Please look forward to it!