Tag Archives: we have no bananas

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 #226 Super Monkey Ball

MONKEY!Now this is a launch title.

The Nintendo Gamecube was released my freshman year of college. While I was lucky enough to secure a cabal group of lifelong friends early in my first semester, I unfortunately was not able to convince any of my minions buddies to ferry me along to the Gamecube midnight launch. I suppose my greatest enemy was the premiere of the new Justice League animated series, and, ya know, some people are bigger comic book nerds than videogame nerds. Losers. Regardless, I was forced to purchase a Gamecube later in the week (the indignity!), and the only venue with ‘cubes available to gleam was Electronics Boutique. Because EB Games was frequently managed by charlatans and malcontents, the only way to secure a Gamecube was through a “bundle”, which would require the purchase of the base system, one additional controller, and three games. Ha! I eat three games for breakfast! Sign me up!

Now, I mention this story because, truth be told, I likely would not have purchased those three “extra” games if not for the (mandatory) bundle. I knew Smash Bros. was dropping within a few weeks, and, while I didn’t yet know just how amazing Melee would be, I knew I needed some of that hot Pikachu on Mario action. Couple that thinking with being a poor college kid (is that redundant?), and, for once in my life, I was very likely to ignore 90% of the new releases for the year. After all, the N64 was on its way out, and I could pick up like half of that library for approximately five bucks. $150 worth of games I’d never play? That’s like seventeen servings of buffalo wings I’ll never be able to afford. The horror!

ROLL ON!Regardless, I wound up going for the EB “deal”, and I came home with Luigi’s Mansion, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, and Super Monkey Ball. Rogue Leader I barely played, but a number of my cronies enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a total loss. Luigi’s Mansion I played to completion a few times the following summer, but it was certainly no Mario 64 or Super Mario World. And the final title of the trio was Super Monkey Ball, a game I barely chose over the latest Madden and Tony Hawk games. I didn’t really like Madden or Tony Hawk, but at least they were known quantities. This Super Monkey Ball was… a monkey in a ball? The hell? Man, why did I stop my Nintendo Power subscription? I have no idea what I’m looking at here.

And Super Monkey Ball turned out to be the best of the lot. Go monkeys. Go.

On the surface, Super Monkey Ball is just Labyrinth, that one stupid game that your uncle got you every Christmas where you try to manipulate a wooden maze until a marble falls into the right hole. Twenty minutes later, you’ve won, and you move on to more complex games, like cone with a ball on a string or Candy Land. Super Monkey Ball attempts to relieve the inherent boredom in the system with two key features. One, there are almost a hundred “mazes”, so there is a lot to master here; and two, there are monkeys in balls. Not sure which genius came up with this concept, but there are tiny monkeys trapped in transparent “vending machine” balls, and, well, that goes a long way to humanizing an otherwise uninteresting concept. Monkeyizing? Whatever. What’s important is that guiding Aiai to collect banana after banana is possibly the most important task you will ever be coerced into completing, and every time that monkey falls into the endless void that is outside the current stage… well… Let’s just say that nobody likes a pile of dead monkeys. That should be incentive enough.

DAMMITBut if Super Monkey Ball was just monkey balancing, I wouldn’t be talking about it right now. Well, I guess I’d be talking about it, as per ROB mandate, but I’d probably be engineering some amazing fiction about monkeys being sealed in balls and forced to collect bananas for an uncaring, but all seeing, God of Monkey Sadism. Huh. Maybe we’ll save that for the sequels. No, what’s important about Super Monkey Ball isn’t the monkeys or their mazes, what’s important are the minigames that account for about 7,000 hours of my Super Monkey Ball playtime.

Let’s do a quick rundown. We’ve got:

  • Monkey Billiards: It’s pool, but you’re generally seeing the game from the perspective of the cue ball. If you’re good at geometry, you’re probably going to be good at this. Cyclops is amazing at this one.
  • Monkey Golf: Like Monkey Billiards, it’s golf (or more like mini golf) from the perspective of the ball. Somehow the monkeys have putters inside of their plastic balls, and the physics of that are dubious at best. Nonetheless, it’s golf, the end.
  • Monkey Bowling: This time, the monkeys must defeat a nefarious dragon and save the princess before the king of all bananas returns to his kingdom. Nah, I’m just messing with you. It’s bowling.
  • Monkey Race: It’s like Mario Kart, if Mario Kart was extremely limited, and you could occasionally transform your opponents into useless cubes. Considering we were still a ways off from the amazing Mario Kart Double Dash, Monkey Race could potentially hold its audience’s attention for a few courses.
  • Monkey Fight: Now we’re talking. Monkeys in balls inexplicably now have giant boxing gloves, and the idea is to “box” your fellow monkeys out of the arena, and be the last monkey rolling. I’m sure there’s some level of strategy or cunning to this game, but, more often than not, it becomes about as frantic as a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Sorry, new Gamecube controllers.
  • Monkey Target: And the most… misplayed Super Monkey Ball game. Your job is to build up speed, launch your monkey into the air, and then deftly navigate that flying monkey NOT REALonto differently valued platforms scattered across the ocean. This is impossible, so you spend most of the time discussing with your friends how exactly it would be the worst death ever to drown within a slowly leaking plastic ball as it sinks to the bottom of the sea. Also, this game is player-alternating, so feel free to get some drinks while the active player murders a monkey.

Individually, any of these “minigames” might occupy a night or two, and then be quickly forgotten; but when they all combine, they become a Voltron of unending fun. I don’t know if you know this, but people inclined to watch the many deaths of monkeys are also likely to have short attention spans, so “let’s try something else” without having to pop out a disc is a godsend. As a result, I can safely say that Super Monkey Ball was probably the most played console launch game with my circle of friends, and even rivaled Super Smash Bros Melee for that coveted “always in the Gamecube” position. It didn’t win, but it came close.

And I can’t help but feel like somebody noticed. After all, it seems Nintendo was just a generation away from making a system with a launch title that involved golf, bowling, and other “minigames” that somehow gelled together to build a better launch title. There may have even been a few boxing gloves involved.

One punch monkeyHm. Do people want a new Mario game with every system, or something that lets you freak out and break your fresh controllers with friends? Certainly something to consider when you look at those launch lineups.

Or maybe people just want to murder our monkey friends. I’ve never been good at reading the room.

FGC #226 Super Monkey Ball

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube and arcade. Oh, how I’d love to see one of those magical monkey machines.
  • Number of players: Four. Duh.
  • Number of dead monkeys at the bottom of Monkey Target Lake: Innumerable.
  • So, did you beat it? Kinda! I mean, I know I beat the beginner and intermediate courses…
  • Roll onFavorite Minigame: I have no idea why we played Monkey Bowling so much. It’s just… bowling. Like… who cares? Yet I’m pretty sure I saw that minigame every day for a year.
  • Favorite Monkey: Baby is a time traveling child of the hero from the future. How is that such a persistent trope?
  • Did you know? I want to say this is the first Sega game on a Nintendo console, but there was also Sega’s Chu Chu Rocket on Gameboy Advance first. Do portables count?
  • Would I play again: Replaying Super Monkey Ball was surprisingly nostalgic. I also no longer have patience for vending machine monkeys, so, ya know, probably not.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… T&C Surf Designs for NES! I foresee a surfing cat in your future! Please look forward to it!

BANANA

FGC #114 Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

So majesticI’ve tried to make these article perennial, I really have, but not even a year has passed since my first FGC post, and already Mark Hamill has made me a liar, Hyrule has produced Linkle, and Super Metroid finally got off its mandibles and went portable. I shudder to think how prehistoric my poor blog will look in another year’s time, when we’re all playing Karnov 2017 and Ecco the Dolphin is the number one game on the Virtual Reality Virtual Console.

Though all that is just preamble for my focus of the moment: the Nintendo NX. As I write this, the Nintendo NX is the topic of much debate, as there are alternating theories on whether or not this new system will bankrupt or save Nintendo. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that particular debate will rage on until about twenty years after the release (seriously, have we determined how the 3DS fared yet?). But more particular to my interests, as of right now, is that we have no idea what the NX is even going to look like, left alone its features or capabilities. Some claim it will be a mere Super WiiU. Others believe it to be a 3DS/WiiU hybrid system. Still others trust that it will be a penguin taped to an excitable golden retriever (named Brandy). Point is that no one has a clue what to expect, and other than “it will probably have a Mario game”, we’re all in the dark.

Ultimately, this can all be traced back to the Wii. The Wii (appropriately originally nicknamed “The Revolution”) was a complete and total shift in console creation for Nintendo. The “whacky” wiimote utterly changed the landscape of Nintendo games for an entire generation (I want to say Super Smash Bros. Brawl was the only Nintendo game on the system without mandatory shaking/pointing of some sort), and when the WiiU was released with its screen-controller, no one batted an eye at Nintendo’s latest whatsit. Going up?While you can expect the Playstation 5 or Xbox Two to be the same ol’ “like last system, but better!”, everyone is anticipating another interface shakeup from Nintendo. So when the first shots of the NX are leaked, and it’s a perfectly round sphere with seven incongruous buttons, everyone will claim that that’s exactly what they expected.

But Nintendo has been doing this for a lot longer than we’ve been Wii Bowling. The Nintendo Gamecube was the last (and maybe only) time that the Nintendo system of the day was just another one of three choices. Think about it: the NES had practically no competition, and the N64 required wholly unique programming for its cartridges (in contrast with the joy of CDs on its competitors’ systems). The Super Nintendo was the closest to the “your choice of system” style we have today with Xbone/PS4/PC releases, but, even then, there wasn’t nearly the overlap between Sega Genesis/SNES libraries we see with modern multiplatform releases. The Gamecube, meanwhile, definitely filled the niche of “Nintendo games… and third party, multiplatform releases” that people today claim they want from the next Nintendo system. Gauntlet, Prince of Persia, Spider-Man, Soul Calibur, X-Men (Legends), and even random collections of classic hits from the likes of Midway made their way to the Gamecube just the same as the Playstation 2 or Xbox. Nowadays, we can’t even get a lousy (great!) Mega Man Legacy Collection to grace the WiiU. The Gamecube might have boasted a slightly unusual controller, but beyond some odd button sizes, to the average consumer, the Gamecube was just another video game system choice that happened to have Zelda.

But even at its most vanilla, Nintendo had to try something different.

Going back to the Super Nintendo, Nintendo always had a thing for connectivity between systems. The SNES had the Super Gameboy for playing Gameboy games on the big screen, the N64 had its own add-on for allowing N64 controllers to read Pokémon games, and the Gamecube touted the ability to connect your new GBA as a makeshift controller. Even the Gamecube’s Gameboy Advance Player had a “connection port” so you could potentially play two-player GBA games TV-to-GBA. We really should have seen the WiiU coming.

Similarly, here are the DK Bongos. Like, seriously, here they are:

Beat it

For those of you unfamiliar with ‘em, take a moment to get acquainted with the DK Bongos. There’s a left drum, a right drum, and a straight “button” in the middle. The bongos also have the ability to detect local “noise”, so you can clap and the device will understand that. If you’ve been counting, that makes for five total inputs (left and right drums can be drummed simultaneously). If you’re ignoring the duck option, that’s all the buttons you need to play Super Mario Bros. (left, right, jump, fireball, and start). This is important.

The first and most obvious application of the DK Bongos was its launch rhythm game, Donkey Konga. This was not unprecedented: we were coming off the DDR craze, Guitar Hero was just grabbing a foothold, and even drumming-based games were a thing with Taiko Drum Master. If you were a rhythm game enthusiast, buying some whacky new peripheral was just par for the course. Hell, Samba de Amigo got its own maracas back on the Dreamcast.

Right in the trunkBut no one ever made a Sonic game that could be controlled by maracas, or even Halo: Big Plastic Guitar Edition. So when Donkey Kong Jungle Beat hit the shelves… well, there was a little confusion.

First of all, DKJB is a 2-D platformer. Nintendo is great at those! And DKJB is a pretty good platformer all on its own, with hidden areas and innovative enemies and beautiful environments. Bosses are fun “find the pattern” affairs, and, assuming you know what you’re doing, they don’t take forever to complete. And, like practically every Donkey Kong game, there’s a score system that is heavily influenced by finding the previously mentioned secret areas (not like DKC secret areas, to be clear, more like “there’s a lot of bananas hiding in that alcove”), or playing the game well, like comboing multiple monster homicides. Ninja monkeys need to die, and you should be rewarded for doing your part.

But the significant difference between this platformer and everything released before it was that this game is entirely controlled by the bongo controller. DK runs right when you beat the right drum, and left for the left drum. Hitting both drums together equals a jump, and clapping will trigger DK doing… something, whether it’s stunning an opponent or grabbing a friendly chimp for a boost. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is the first bongo-based platformer, and it’s better for it.

YummyI will admit that when the idea of a bongo-based platformer was first introduced, I was skeptical. But then I played the game, and, well, I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. It is an absolute blast to play this game, and it’s primarily because the game is so… physical. Your bongo playing turns DK into a barreling train, and it’s thrilling to build up BPM/speed and then slap both drums together to send the big guerilla flying. In a weird way, I feel that this gameplay is closest to what minecart stages throughout the ages have been trying to achieve, but failed every time. For practically the first time in gaming, there’s a significant feeling of momentum, that you’re not just pressing a direction on a joystick, you’re hammering that monkey to drum forward. It’s exhilarating, and DKJB offers an experience like none other. The “eat everything” finale of every stage is simply astounding.

And it’s exhausting. And that’s right about when I realized that this game was the Wii prototype.

I’ll be honest, while they were few and far between, I rarely bought the unique Wii version of a game when it was available on other systems. If I bought an Xbox 360 or PS3 game, I could expect a game where I’m thrashing the X/A button a bunch. If I bought that same game for the Wii, I was expected to flail about the room to do the tiniest thing, or break my usual flow and aim the wiimote at the screen, or any other of a number of stupid gimmicks. I know I’m not the first to say this, but so many companies (Nintendo included in a lot of cases) had no idea what to do with the wiimote and its motion sensors, so half the Wii library requires more shaking than a vortexer. Not only does this seem monotonous, but, more often than not, it adds absolutely nothing to the experience, So beautifulother than a wrist so spent your mother assumes you’re going to go blind.

But when you play Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, you can see how the Wii could have been a thing of beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the Wii, and enjoy a number of games for it (Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 might be the best two Mario games out there, which is high praise), but with so much cruft in the library (and believe me, I’ve played them all), the whole “wiimote” thing seems to average out to a failed experiment. But DKJB really shows how a more physical play experience can be fun, and its closest descendent, appropriately enough, seems to be the roll mechanic of Donkey Kong Country Returns. Yes, like many of you, I would rather have a button to slow that roll in the game (and thank you, 3DS version), but on more “straightaway” levels, I have to say, shaking the wiimote that your mama gave you like there ain’t no tomorrow is a thrilling way to bowl over banana bandits.

So, you know what? I’m ready for whatever Nintendo brings. It might be something simple, it might be something complicated, but I can safely say there’ll be at least one game that showcases the benefits of the system. Even if the Nintendo NX just winds up being a pair of bongos (or, dare I dream, some sort of… double bongos?), I trust that there will be a good experience somewhere in there, because Donkey Kong Jungle Beat already proved that even the weirdest ideas can be marvelous.

FGC #114 Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube, home of the bongos. There’s also the Wii rerelease that relies on the Wiimote, but it’s just not the same.
  • Number of Players: Just one, which is good, as it saves you having to find another pair of bongos.
  • Beat itA brief history of Bongos: There were three Donkey Konga rhythm games produced, though only two saw release stateside. With Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, that makes four games that support the DK Bongos peripheral. There was also supposed to be DK Barrel Blast, but that got ported to the Wii before it could gleam the ‘cube.
  • And I bet you still have four sets of bongos: Well, yeah. I had to have four-player Donkey Konga times.
  • Boss-Out: Oh yeah, while a number of DKJB bosses are typical “dodge and jump” style platforming bosses, there’s a collection of evil Kongs that challenge Donkey in a manner heavily reminiscent of Punch-Out. Dodge blows, then return fire with a left or right hook according to where there’s an opening. Is it any wonder the big ape later battled Little Mac?
  • Did you know? Speaking of Super Mario Galaxy, the Donkey Kong Jungle Beat team went on to design that stellar title, and apparently considered reusing the helpful chimps of DK world in Mario’s cosmos… as enemies. That seems like a jerk move, guys.
  • Would I play again: Probably, but no guarantees. I really like playing this game, but it’s also kind of exhausting, and requires pulling out a peripheral that, to say the least, doesn’t see much use otherwise. Though, oddly, playing this game makes me want to play Donkey Konga again, so… who knows?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kangaroo for the Atari 2600. Want to see a boxing kangaroo? Well, you know where to look. Please look forward to it!

Paddle