Tag Archives: n64

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

knock knockIt is 2020, and Banjo-Kazooie is still one of the best 3-D platformers of all time.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I have no affection for Banjo and Kazooie. I hit puberty right around when Banjo was making the scene, and that resulted in some lingering issues regarding the goofy bear. Actually, to be clear, I officially became a teenager a couple of years earlier (right about in time for me to focus on other things in polygonal graphics), and that meant I was well and truly over it by the time the Nintendo 64 was hitting its stride. Did I still play videogames? Of course. But did I only play videogames for mature, highly sophisticated teenagers such as myself? Indubitably. Excuse me, Rare & Nintendo, I only have time for developed JRPGs right now. Did you see that tactics game insult God during the intro? I don’t think this fuzzy creature is going to offer me a similar experience.

So I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie in its prime. Despite loving Mario 64, I had moved on to other genres by the time one was supposed to be collecting collectathons, so BK was dropped as easily as DK (he’s the leader of the bunch). And, as I eventually became a poor college student during this time, I didn’t wind up snagging the game in any capacity until the Gamecube had conquered the gaming continent (or at least the Nintendo island). Then I was able to pick up N64 games by the bucketful, as they had dropped in value from “hundreds of hours of fun should cost nearly a hundred dollars” to “you can have a new game, but you have to buy one less taco”. So Banjo-Kazooie was purchased with other titles that I had deigned too “kiddy” at the time (see also: Paper Mario). I played it for about a week, collected what I could, beat the bulk of the game, and then moved on to other adventures. There were new, better games out, and why should I waste my time on something so obviously past its prime? Just look at Eternal Darkness! Need I be more fair? Aim for something more in the same genre? Well, I recall jumping directly from BK to Mario Sunshine. “Now this is a modern platformer!” I exclaimed to an empty room while dropping bear ‘n bird forever…

And who knew that nearly 20 years later, I’d be writing an article about how Banjo-Kazooie kicks Mario Sunshine’s soggy ass?

Here we goWait, heck, I feel like I have to elaborate on my own opinions again. I like 3-D Mario titles. Hell, I consider all of them to be some of the best videogames out there. I’ve spoken of it before, but the feeling of controlling Mario is unparalleled. There is nothing like perfectly leaping over obstacles to grab another star, shine, or moon. I like Mario Sunshine. It is probably the Nintendo Gamecube title I revisit the most, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many smashing brothers reside in that system. 3-D Mario games are still the gold standard for moving and “playing” in a 3-D space.

And, to be clear, Banjo is no Mario. This bear might have the somersault jump, and something approximating Mario’s 3-D triple leap, but the similarities end there. Beyond that, Banjo’s moveset is a bit stiff. It’s not bad! It’s actually pretty great compared to some of the turds that appeared in the 3-D space in the late 90’s. But there are a lot of… little things that hold Banjo back in his first adventure. Shooting requires stopping and ducking, which is immediately frustrating when a witch is lobbing fireballs. Switching to Kazooie’s footwork is fun for climbing hills, but it’s another move that requires you stop and swap. And why are we even talking about a bird walking when she can be flying? Banjo’s Kazooie-aided float jump is pretty fun, but actual flight can be a bear. Landing and/or determining your exact location relative to the ground is difficult when you’re anywhere past about six feet off terra firma, and dive-bombing your opponents is nearly impossible to properly aim (and, half the time, you add injury to insult by losing health if you miss). Maybe it’s the familiarity, maybe it’s the focused design, but, somehow, Mario feels effortless to control, while Banjo is stuck in a number of situations where his abilities are lacking thanks to a combination of controls and camera. It should not take any more than a second to power-poop an egg into a hole!

Don't look at meBut judging Banjo-Kazooie as merely a platformer does it a disservice. Yes, Banjo doesn’t control as well as Mario. Mario wins that match every time, against every opponent. But Banjo-Kazooie does beat Mario in its own, chosen field: Banjo-Kazooie is a better collectathon than Mario 64. What’s more, Mario, from Yoshi’s Island to Odyssey, has never beaten Banjo-Kazooie at its own game.

Banjo-Kazooie is every bit the collectathon your parents warned you about (“Stay away from that bad boy, and don’t waste time grabbing everything in a collectathon!”). Every one of the nine worlds in BK contain no less than 100 music notes, 10 jiggies, 5 jinjos (required to obtain one jiggy), 2 honeycombs (health), and any number of silver skulls, eggs, and feathers of all colors. And, like many collectathons, every last bauble and collectible is simultaneously optional and mandatory: you need to nab a certain percentage of everything previously listed, but you don’t need every last item if you stocked up on some in an earlier level. Regardless of required amounts, though, this does mean there is a lot to find in every level, which is always a blessing and a curse. It is fun to find a new jiggy, but it is also a pain when you’ve got nine out of ten and… where did that last one go again? Was I supposed to beat some manner of giant crab, or explore the depths of the ocean? It’s… somewhere around here… Right?

But that is exactly where Banjo-Kazooie excels. By clearly defining the number of essential collectibles for every area, a simple checklist is immediately generated. By limiting the size of levels to something that can be easily traversed in minutes, you’re never stuck in an area that is far too large to explore for that final music note. By transparently outlining “extras” in an area with the assistance of a friendly mole, you always know if there is still a new move or ability to find. And when every world gives you a clear goal and a constrained play area, you wind up not having to sweat the small stuff. Found eight jiggies, have a general idea on the locations of those last two, but haven’t completed their associated challenges yet? Great! Now you can caper around the area at will, and all you have to worry about is eventually returning to those last few pieces of gold. When you know the parameters of every world’s challenges, you can have fun within those borders. No need to obsessively press A next to every nook, cranny, and NPC to hope for the best…

WeeeeeeAnd this is a lesson Mario never seems to learn. Mario 64 vacillated between “you can earn every star immediately” and “you must complete challenge A before moving on to challenge B” from level to level. Mario Sunshine decided to focus on sequential challenges, and wound up making each “world” more of a “level” in the process (and aggravatingly tossed unaccountable blue coins all over the place in the process). The Super Mario Galaxy games focused even further on making “courses” as opposed to “exploration worlds”, and would once again hide a collectible or two around a level, but never a consistent amount. Mario Odyssey finally returned to the exploration of Marios gone by… but every area suddenly contained an unruly number of moons. Would this mundane block randomly grant you a moon? Or do you have to defeat a mighty boss to get the same reward? How about jump roping for thousands of hours? All the collectibles were equal in value, but violently varied in their collection methods. And, since that “final moon” for the level could be found through something as routine as throwing a hat at an unexceptional frog (basically how I spend my Tuesdays anyway), a player without a distinct guide was forced to try every goddamn thing in every world about six times. Hey, sorry to bother you again, but maybe you are the one skeleton dude that will hand over that final moon…

Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have this problem. Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have autoscrolling levels, flying shyguys hording red coins, or areas that require six kinds of backtracking. Every one of its nine worlds is very honest about its challenges and collectibles, and, if you’re getting lost, there’s probably a googly-eyed toilet around that will shout some clues at you. There are no situations where you will have to repeat an entire area just for one last jiggy, and (by my count) there is only one possible challenge Nice placethat requires a powerup out of sequence with the rest of the game’s flow (that would be the running shoes in the ice stage, for the curious). Everything else is straightforward to a fault, and you’re every bit as capable of immediately finding everything in the first world as you are at the finale. Banjo-Kazooie is designed in such a way to help a player understand the rhythm of its worlds very quickly, and then, once that is accomplished, gently guide play from one challenge to the next.

Banjo-Kazooie is an expertly planned collectathon that wholly avoids the greatest pitfalls of the genre. That makes it one of the best 3-D platformers ever committed to cartridge. It is, to this day, a smashing success.

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

  • System: N64 to begin, and then it migrated over to the Xbox 360. It’s currently available on Xbox One, too, as part of the Rare Replay collection. This is ideal, as N64 games make my eyes bleed.
  • Number of Players: This is one of the few “Nintendo” N64 games that didn’t at least try to use all four controller ports. So one player here.
  • Reused Game: As I have stated before, I generally do not delete old save files from used games if I can help it. This is because I have brain problems, and treat save files like precious children. So, speaking of children, here’s what the previous owner of my copy of Banjo-Kazooie was up to…

    33 hours, and they didn’t even beat the game. Tell me your secrets, N64 cartridge! Did someone just like running around in circles for hours? That’s perfectly okay! Just tell me what happened!

  • Port-o-Call: Okay, I might insult the graphics of the N64 on a routine basis (I think it goes back to that teenage angst thing mentioned earlier), but the controls of Banjo-Kazooie really were made for the N64 controller, so playing it on the original hardware at least once adds a little context to how the whole “using a gold feather” thing made sense on at least one console. That said, definitely play the Xbox360 version, because at least that unlocks new features for other Banjo-based games.
  • Are you talking about the Stop ‘N’ Swop Eggs and the Ice Key? Yes. Please don’t get me started on Nintendo Power lying to me yet again. I’m still grumbling about Crash Man.
  • This is the worstHey, Mario 64 called, it wants its everything back: There was a lot of discourse in the 90’s that Banjo-Kazooie wholesale ripped off Mario 64. There’s a desert level full of pyramids and flying, a huge castle filled with secrets and portraits, and, perhaps most damning of all, an entire ice level themed around an impossibly large snowman. And, while these are all great points, it’s important to note that Banjo-Kazooie is 100% its own adventure. How can you tell? Well, you don’t see oversized cartoon eyes on Mario 64’s ridiculous eel, do you? Check. Mate.
  • Favorite Level: Tick Tock Woods actually disproves my thesis, as you are repeatedly returning to the same area with slightly different changes, and then have to explore the whole area all over again. It’s like a dry run for Donkey Kong 64! That said, it’s the exception that proves the rule, and I enjoy even the slightest scraps of time travel, so I’m down. Also, it contains the only worthwhile magical transformation in the game, so I’ll take it.
  • Everybody Talks: If I’ve got one complaint about Banjo-Kazooie, it’s that absolutely every damn thing has something to say, and 90% of that dialogue is awful. I don’t need a shark explaining that he is trying to eat me, Rare, he’s a shark. And the whole Gruntilda thing could be fun from a “she’s a scary/gross Halloween witch” perspective, but the entirety of her interactions with the world boil down to “she’s fat”. Over and over again. Same joke. She’s fat, and nobody likes her because she’s fat. And it’s wonderful to see that joke continued into the most recent Banjo adventure…
  • The goggles do nothing: And they insult people for wearing goggles!

    The goggles!

    But I guess it gets better.

    They do nothing!

    Partial credit.

  • Did you know? Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong are not disguised as a basic chimp and guerrilla lurking in the first world. Those are totally different characters, and, if you want Banjo and Diddy to interact, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
  • Would I play again: Probably! I was impressed by how Banjo-Kazooie fares compared even to its own direct sequels, and I’ll probably give Banjo another go in the future. It’s fun collecting things when a game is designed around placating my OCD, and not just running it into overdrive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES! Yes, that’s right, it’s inexplicable bee transformation week here at Gogglebob.com! Please look forward to it!

Bee yourself

FGC #523 Blues Brothers 2000

Gonna sing the bluesYou have to understand just how impossible it is that Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64 exists.

As one might expect, this long, sordid story starts with The Blues Brothers, the 1980 film. Ever seen it? It’s a great movie! It’s a comedy featuring two comedians at the top of their game, and it is also, incidentally, completely bonkers. It’s a movie with a plot, an easily followed story, and clear, well-defined characters… but it’s also a bunch of dudes just messing around and seeing what they can get away with. This was the movie that originally held the record for most wrecked cars in a single film (a title that would eventually be stolen by GI Joe, apparently). James Brown, John Hooker, and Aretha Goddamn Franklin all turned in amazing performances that proved they had no idea how to lip sync to their own songs. Dan Akroyd claims to have included cocaine in the film’s budget to “help the cast stay awake during night shoots”. This may have had an impact on some of the actors involved, as there is this anecdote (compliments of IMDB) involving John Belushi:

John Belushi disappeared while filming one of the night scenes. Dan Aykroyd looked around and saw a single house with its lights on. He went to the house and was prepared to identify himself, the movie, and that they were looking for Belushi. Before he could, the homeowner looked at him, smiled and said, “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The homeowner told them Belushi had entered their house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and then crashed on their couch. Situations like that prompted Aykroyd to affectionately dub Belushi “America’s Guest”.

Despite the Vatican approving of the film as an official “Catholic Classic” in 2010, there may have been some sinful behavior occurring during the creation of The Blues Brothers. And, unfortunately for the world at large, some of that behavior may have caught up with the iconic cast. John Candy, the marginal antagonist of the film, passed away at the far-too-soon age of 43. John Belushi, milk and sandwich fan, passed earlier at 33. And Dan Aykroyd, most tragically of all, made a guest star appearance on Home Improvement. The pillars of The Blues Brothers had fallen into oblivion since their amazing movie that had grown from little more than a Saturday Night Live sketch, so it was unlikely we would ever see the iconic characters ever again.

And then there was Blues Brothers 2000.

Press it my friendThe troubled creation of Blues Brothers 2000 could fill an entire article all on its own, so let’s just hit the bullet points. First of all, John Landis (director/writer) and Dan Aykroyd (Grosse Pointe Blank) originally created a script that was essentially exactly the first movie, just with slightly different guest stars. That was scrapped, but, somewhere between that and the final product, Landis & Aykroyd reportedly reached a point where they were convinced the “studio changes” made to the film would guarantee Blues Brothers 2000 would be a bomb. And it was! Ten years after the release of Blues Brothers 2000, Entertainment Weekly named the film #4 in the Top 25 Worst Sequels Ever Made. Why? Well, a pretty obvious reason is that Blues Brothers 2000 went in a wildly different direction from its origins, and adopted a very “magical” and arguably “kiddy” tone. Apparently this was a side-effect of that previously mentioned “studio meddling”, as the edict for Blues Brothers 2000 was to create something more child-friendly. Yes, somehow, somewhere, someone thought that it would be a good idea to make the sequel to a movie where the entire cast was high on cocaine into something that was an all-ages romp with a new, child Blues Brother that had previously starred in 3 Ninjas Kick Back.

But… well… it wasn’t a super terrible idea? After all, Dan Aykroyd had also starred in Ghostbusters, a film that took off in a surprisingly child-friendly direction. What was a movie that included harsh jabs at the concept of mortality, bureaucracy, and at least one instance of a protagonist preparing for some date raping became an animated series starring Garfield and produced enough toys to fill a (my) basement. Even now, the “child-friendly” Ghostbusters became more enduring than the “OG” versions of the characters, as you sure don’t see anything but Egon’s pomping rat tail on the comic shelves. Ghostbusters 2 seemed to lean into this child-friendly version of the Busters, so it made a certain amount of sense to hope for similar success with wee Buster Blues. It worked once, so let’s see if we can get Blues Brothers 2000 to the same point as Ghostbusters and its toys, spinoffs, and videogames.

Or you could just create the tie-in videogame regardless of movie popularity, and hope for the best. Let’s go with that option.

NEVER!There is evidence Blues Brothers 2000 was originally going to be a much more ambitious project. It was going to span multiple systems (aka the Playstation 1, and not just the N64, though this was also the era you could never rule out a Gameboy tie-in…), include some distinct racing/car chase segments, and, at the very least, contain many more locations from the actual film. Unfortunately, much of what was showcased in previews for BB2000 was never to be. What wound up being the final product was little more than a collection-based 3-D platformer that loosely followed the plot of Blues Brothers 2000. Elwood Blues has to get the band back together, and, thanks to a little clerical mix-up, he has to fight his way out of a prison and then against the mob to do it. Blues Brothers 2000 might not be an exact adaptation of its source material, but it’s the kind of thing that could work for a videogame. There’s a good chance it could be a successful movie tie-in product.

Of course, that would assume the game wasn’t released a solid two years after the release/failure of the movie. Hey! At least this Blues Brothers 2000 finally came out in 2000!

Big FightAnd Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 could have had a chance if it released concurrently with its movie. In 1998, we were a mere two years past the release of Mario 64. 3-D platforming collectathons were still fresh and new! Camera controls were difficult, but even Mario had an issue with his Lakitu a time or two. There would have been a lot more forgiveness for a janky 3-D platformer in 1998. But in the year 2000? This was after Banjo-Kazooie had demonstrated that Mario wasn’t the only jump ‘n collect in town, and then Donkey Kong 64 exhausted all that good will. In fact, 2000 was just about the end of that console generation, so the likes of Perfect Dark, Majora’s Mask, and the entire Dreamcast library were hitting the shelves. This meant Banjo-Tooie was there, too, a title many claim is one of the best N64 games available. 1998 could have worked, but two years later was not the time to release a game where a malformed 3-D dude collects musical notes. It draws… unfortunate comparisons.

And if you think those extra two years of production were dedicated to making a more polished experience, you’ll be disappointed. Blues Brothers 2000 has some interesting ideas, like a pile of varied minigames, “hub areas” that are more than haunted castles, and powerups that only spawn while a gramophone are playing (it’s inexplicable, but at least it’s interesting), but all of them are more than a little half-baked. First and foremost, there is a mandatory PaRappa-esque rhythm game that pops up on occasion, and it is impossible. This could have been Guitar Hero before Guitar Hero, but, nope, it’s a haphazard “press A now” affair with terrible beat-detection and absolutely no indictors as to what you’re doing wrong. It’s “difficult” entirely because there is zero useful feedback on what the game wants. The combat of the game is similarly difficult, as the hit detection is atrocious, so you can never be quite sure if you’re losing because your timing is off, or if Elwood is being tossed across the room because his opponent suddenly gained the same attack range as a Belushi-sandwich search. And there’s no invincibility frames for poor Elwood! The odds of him being instantly obliterated by some errant door laser are high! There’s a skeleton of a good idea here and there, as this isn’t just a “stupid” collectathon that treads the exact same ground over and over… but that skeleton probably needed another 2000 years of playtesting.

ZAPAnd, while we’re considering what it would take for Blues Brothers 2000 to become an actually good videogame, also consider whether or not Blues Brothers 2000 was ever supposed to be, ya know, Blues Brothers 2000. Surprisingly enough, there is not much information from the creators of Blues Brothers 2000, so we’re left to wonder what happened here. The first stage is Elwood breaking out of Jail? Great! That makes sense for the often-incarcerated Elwood. And Chicago? That’s a gimme of a level for the Blues Brothers. The Louisiana Swamp makes a certain amount of sense considering the film’s finale (even if it mostly looks like a more mundane Bob-omb Battlefield most of the time), but “Spooky Graveyard”? That is about as generic as a videogame level as you’ll ever see, and could have been imported from literally any other title in production. Both Blues Brothers films featured a variety of iconic locations and set pieces that could easily be converted to videogame scenarios, but Elwood was never afraid of no ghost. Was this some generic platformer that was eventually married to a movie property? Was this something that happened during production? Did someone just need another level, and “haunted” was what came up on the ol’ genre roulette table? Titus isn’t offering any answers, presumably because they are still working through the backlog of unanswered questions regarding Superman 64. That’s a Clark Kentian task all by itself!

Big funBut, whether Blues Brothers 2000 was a random hackjob or a very dedicated piece of licensed software, Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 happened. It is a very late 90’s Nintendo 64 title based on an ill-conceived sequel to a beloved classic starring many actors that were dead before said sequel was conceived. There is no way anyone should be able to control Elwood Blues with an analogue stick, but, apparently, here we are. Despite literally everything, there is a Blues Brothers 2000 game for the Nintendo 64.

The Nintendo 64: it missed out on the entire Square catalogue, but it had Blues Brothers 2000.

FGC #523 Blues Brothers 2000

  • System: Nintendo 64. Sorry, Sony fans, Nintendo has got a lock on Blues Brothers fun.
  • Number of players: The main campaign is single player. However, the rhythm game (which is a crime against humanity and basic decency) is available as a two player mode. I do not care for it.
  • Pak Watch: This is one of those N64 titles that would be capable of saving, but, nope, you need a N64 memory card controller pak to do so. Luckily, the whole of the game only takes like two hours, so you don’t really need that save feature. And additional lucky: no one will ever bother to play Blues Brothers 2000 through to completion, so don’t worry about it.
  • Just play the gig, man: You’re collecting musical notes to play music actually from the movie. And the background music seems to be N64-erized versions of familiar songs, too. The soundtrack of Blues Brothers 2000 isn’t quite as iconic as the original Blues Brothers, but, hey, it’s not bad hearing some bastardization of John Popper while hopping around.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea what happens if you reach the final area and haven’t found every last collectible. Presumably, you’re barred from seeing the true ending that involves a skeleton playing the trumpet.
    Jug band!

    Can’t miss that!
  • Say something nice: Elwood Blues looks kind of cool in a N64-polygonal cartoon character kind of way. And the enemies seem vaguely reminiscent of the later Psychonauts. Does this mean Double Fine drew inspiration from Blues Brothers 2000? Probably not.
  • Did you know? “The Warden” is the first big boss of Blues Brothers 2000. In the actual film, the warden is played by Frank Oz. By association, this means that, without question, Elwood Blues has beaten up Yoda.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. This is not a fun game in any real way. It is absolutely passable, but should not be played over any other game for any reason.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2! Whip it good, Miriam, it’s time to show the moon whose boss. Please look forward to it!

BONK

FGC #470 Donkey Kong

MONKEYS ARENT DONKEYSIn 1981, Donkey Kong was released in arcades. This joint effort of Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi was the first videogame to feature Mario, Pauline, and the titular Donkey Kong. It was also a pretty amazing way to spend a quarter or two. Donkey Kong resonated with many an arcade gamer, and became a success that wrote Nintendo, and its biggest stars, inexorably into the book of videogame history.

But damned if I have any idea why this game is any good.

Look, I’m not stupid. I know Donkey Kong came out in an era when a game having two whole stages (left alone four) was revolutionary. Nearly everything about Donkey Kong was ahead of its time in 1981, and it transformed gaming with something as simple as jumping. But here’s the thing: people still play Donkey Kong today. I still play Donkey Kong today. It’s fun! I like it! And I have no idea why! I could be playing any game on the planet that has dropped in the intervening (nearly) forty years, yet I still get excited when Donkey Kong Arcade is released for the Nintendo Switch. Why? I demand answers!

My first thought is…

Jump Man Jumps

Jump along!According to some sources, Donkey Kong is the first game to have a dedicated jump button. This seems insane, as, Jesus, what did games even do before a jump button? Was every videogame some variation on the absolute worst stages from Super Mario Maker 2? Or did some manner of Bionic Commando star in these adventures? I don’t want to live in a world where jumping is forbidden!

But the thing about Mario’s virgin jumps is that, unfortunately, they absolutely suck. Don’t get me wrong, I admire a man that can effortlessly leap over a rolling barrel (I, unfortunately, barely have the physical acumen to vault a rolling pickle jar), but Mario’s jumps are massive failures in every other scenario. Want to see Mario jump from a high elevator to a lower platform? Instant death. Need to make it over a girder gap and a mobile fire duck in the same bound? Burned to a crisp. Mario’s jumps are really only effective on barrels and the occasional pie, and they’re a far cry from the joy of motion Mario would eventually experience. Mario’s Donkey Kong jumps are, at best, simply utilitarian.

For the Sequel

Still jumpin'You ever wonder if Nintendo itself had any idea why Donkey Kong was successful? Given DK’s sequels, my personal theory has always been a resounding “no”. At best, it seems like Mario’s sad ups from Donkey Kong were repurposed into amazing leaps for the Mario Bros. series. The Mario of Mario Bros. lives in a very different world than his Jump Man ancestor, and it requires a man that can rise nearly a story in height on a routine basis. Later games took Mario’s jumps a step further by making them dangerous not just through his brick busting dome, but also through the raw stomping power of his magnificent boots. Jumping on things is what Mario is all about, and it seems like that was wholly codified by about the time they were cracking wise about it on the Super Nintendo.

Yes, it seems that if Nintendo wanted to carry one thing forward from Donkey Kong, it was that Mario could jump, and that is apparently a lethal weapon.

Restraint is Key

I hate these thingsBut even if future Mario titles expanded on Mario’s jumps, Mario’s Donkey Kong mobility is still pretty terrible. But maybe it’s deliberately terrible! Momentum is a huge part of any Mario title, and Mario’s lack of acrobatic prowess is supposed to be part of the fun. Mario is a very limited man that is just doing his best to rescue his princess du jour, so it makes sense that he can barely leap off an elevator without a trip to the hospital (and you know his insurance isn’t going to cover acts of Kong). It is important that Mario has a little weight to his jumps, and that his actions have consequences. It’s the restrictions that make Donkey Kong fun.

For the Sequel

OuchMario may have become a villain for Donkey Kong Jr., but the titular Donkey Kong Jr. inherited Mario’s fragility. DKJ is a mighty ape, but attempting to use a spring in the wrong place, or dropping off the wrong vine will lead to a very painful reminder of an ape’s mortality. Someone decided that short jumps and flimsy heroes were the essence of the Donkey Kong experience, so future games directly based on Donkey Kong carried that thinking forward for decades. Mario vs. Donkey Kong still features a Mario that earns a concussion after every missed jump. And is that any fun? Well, your mileage may vary, but I’d still prefer a Mario that can successfully leap out of black holes, and not an average joe that can barely survive broken knees.

Power is the Key

DESTROY THEM ALLBoundaries suck. But you know what doesn’t suck? Breaking barriers and going hog wild on your enemies. The hammer powerup is the Pac-Man-esque route to not only achieving victory, but also having a good time. It may not appear in every level (because, let’s face it, it would be completely useless for overcoming an elevator), but the hammer is the great equalizer of the Donkey Kong universe. Grab that hunk of lumber and rubber (I assume?), and the barrels that menaced Mario for so long are now a direct path to points galore. Even fire means nothing to a hammer! Sure, you’re not completely invincible to threats, and you lose the ability to jump (there’s those restrictions again), but, dammit, it always feels good to turn the tables on that stupid gorilla.

For the Sequel

Take that“Powerups” became another staple of the Mario franchise, complete with a Star Man that granted Mario the invincibility to feel like he was wielding his favorite hammer all over again. But in Donkey Kong Jr.? Or Mario Bros? Not a single powerup to be found. A powerup of sorts did return with DK being a villain again in Donkey Kong 3, where Stanley the Bug Man can occasionally earn an exterminating powerup that will tear through the big gorilla like an ape through a banana factory. It won’t last forever, but the return of an all-powerful tool in DK3 does feel a lot more empowering than DK Jr. and his silly fruit drops.

Let’s Collect Things!

COMPULSORY!But maybe the way the hammer inflates your score is the real prize here. Donkey Kong stages are littered with Pauline’s missing items: a hat, a purse, and an umbrella. Can Mario collect ‘em all? Can you? Well you damn well better if you want to say you’re the best Donkey Kong’er out there! This additional, optional challenge is perfect for the player that claims they’ve done everything the game has to offer, and it seems only appropriate that such an enduring game has more to its levels than initially meets the eye.

For the Sequel

Go YoshiGetting a coin or two used to be all Mario needed in his life, but the late nineties exposed how Mario has been a compulsive collector since he was a baby. Ever since that reveal, it seems like every Mario title has reveled in collecting stars, shines, and the occasional thousand or so moons. Mario no longer enters levels, he only sees his worlds as a series of locations with different doodads and trinkets to collect. And, yes, it all started back in the day when he was grabbing accessories for Pauline. It may have taken a few games of collecting spare change for him to get his groove back, but later Mario titles are practically defined by their collectibles.

It’s All About the Spectacle

BONKIt’s easy to discount it all now, but Donkey Kong is also a surprisingly cinematic game. The opening invasion of Donkey Kong is very straightforward, and his impact on a local construction site explains the initial level design. And, while we might not have a clear account of why a gorilla would invade a pie factory or elevator/jack store (?), we do know the end result of his evil deeds is a rapid trip to the bottom compliments of Mario’s quick thinking. Bowser barely got wiggly toes for his first defeat, but Donkey Kong’s descent is memorable and ends with a kiss. Sure, it all precedes everything happening again for on a nigh-infinite loop, but it’s still a fun end for a fun game. Maybe the most important aspect of a game is its charm point.

For the Sequel

Looking chillyMaybe the NES just didn’t need much of an attract mode, but it seems like Nintendo didn’t return to the realm of big monkey spectacle until Donkey Kong Country. But let me tell you, once those pre-rendered chimps started running around the screen again, we were never going back to a mundane Donkey Kong ever again. DK has become one of the most animated characters in the Nintendo pantheon, and whether it’s because he’s mostly mute or monkeys just lend themselves to exaggerated actions, this Kong is back in the spectacle sphere. I can’t think of any other Nintendo hero or villain more likely to kick it to swing music and belt out an autobiographical rap.

So Why Play Donkey Kong?

Hmmm… playing Donkey Kong and its many Nintendo descendants has brought one thing to my attention…

Poor gorilla

Mario…

Poor birds

Is…

Poor thingy

A…

Poor goomba

Sadist.

Wanton cruelty? That’s why I play Donkey Kong and its many sequels? Hm. Can’t really argue with the evidence.

Sorry, guys. Sometimes the right answer isn’t always the nice one.

FGC #470 Donkey Kong

  • System: Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Switch, N64 Donkey Kong Unlockable, E-Reader, Animal Crossing, etc. It gets around. For the record, Random ROB technically chose the NES version that includes Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Number of players: Has anyone ever figured out what 2-Player B Type is all about? Can Mario Punch another Mario?
  • Favorite Stage: I’ve always been a fan of 100m, as defeating Donkey Kong is satisfying, and nothing beats a level bathed in sentient flames. Also, the final challenge is appropriately crowded in the arcade version.
  • Bit of a graphical hit thereSpeaking of crowded: You lose it on the NES, but a number of Arcade Donkey Kong stages can get very overpopulated with enemies as the stages progress. And then Donkey Kong Jr. has its “final level” with an endless number of birds that practically turn the game into a bullet hell situation. Frankly, when you look at some of these challenges, it’s no wonder that Donkey Kong 3 became a shoot ‘em up.
  • Save Your Fork, There’s Pie? Okay, the cut level from Donkey Kong Arcade, 50m, is actually supposed to still be a factory area, and there are tubs of cement that are conveying around to cause Mario’s death. So Mario is not allergic to pie, he’s simply being drowned in cement. That make enough sense to everybody?
  • Did you know? Donkey Kong 64 is a poor way to play any Donkey Kong title, left alone the only legal way to play the complete arcade version at home for decades. Real Donkey Kong’s paw situation there.
  • Would I play again: I legitimately have no idea why I enjoy Donkey Kong, but I do enjoy playing it every once in a while. It’s not my favorite by any means, but it’s always good for a quarter or two. Bless you, you crazy monkey.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time! Cowabunga! Please look forward to it!

Delicious
They’ll always be pies to me

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

Phear Time!No matter how hard you try, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.

Depending on your rubric, the Nintendo Gameboy is the most successful portable system of all time. Sure, it might not be the highest grossing system ever (that would be the Nintendo DS, I believe), or the most graphically advanced experience (a single color would be nice), but it is the system that put portable gaming on the map. No more would we be stuck with Game & Watch or tiny Tigers; the Nintendo Gameboy was a real game system for real games with physics and powerups and everything. Super Mario Land may have been a whopping weirdo of a Mario game, but it was an experience that beat the pants off anything that claimed to be Mario’s so-called Cement Factory (look it up!). The Gameboy may be primitive by today’s standards (or the standards of anyone that is not enthralled by mushed peas), but its success was the first real example of a portable system being a viable system for the most dedicated (/easily bored) of gamers. Experiences that traced back to the arcade were finally available literally anywhere.

But nobody really cared about any of that, because, dammit, the Gameboy had Tetris.

Gameboy Tetris was ubiquitous. If there was one game that sold the Nintendo Gameboy, it was Gameboy Tetris. It was the only official way to fish out a 2-player mode on Nintendo hardware (and probably sold a few link cables as a result), but, more importantly, it was a puzzle game that could be played anywhere and everywhere. Sega may have eventually had Columns, but Nintendo was immediately associated with the one and only Tetris, and there wasn’t a man, woman, or child on God’s pea-green Earth that didn’t want a Gameboy with Tetris. Gameboy Tetris was pervasive long after other launch Gameboy titles were long forgotten (I’m sorry, who could forget Kwirk?), and it was all a testament to the unstoppable Russian juggernaut that was/is Tetris. After all, Gameboy Tetris is simply Tetris, 90% the same game that was created by some Alexey dude in Moscow a solid five years earlier. Yes, you can link the entire success of the Nintendo Gameboy to some random USSR denizen. How’s that for global relations?

So, when Nintendo needed to push the Nintendo 64, it seems only natural that they recruited some international Tetris-y dudes to sell their next system.

Noice!Tetrisphere began its life as “Phear”, a title created by H20 Entertainment, a Canadian game production company. Phear’s biggest difference between its original form and its eventual N64 version? It was intended to be an Atari Jaguar game, and was featured as such in the Winter of 1995. Now, everyone alive knows the sad tale of the Atari Jaguar, and how literally nothing could have ever saved that system (well, maybe an early, polished version of Typing of the Dead), so some would likely see it as a kindness that Nintendo rescued this poor, soon-to-be-forgotten software from the same fate as Bubsy. On the other hand, you can see Nintendo nakedly pulling the same stunt that catapulted the Gameboy into the stratosphere: here’s a cool puzzle game that could push our new videogame system. And, bonus, the advanced graphics of Phear/Tetrisphere could never be replicated on the meager Playstation hardware, so this is going to be the killer app of 1996! Look out, Mario 64, you’re going to have to take a backseat to the new Tetris, baby!

Unfortunately, it was not to be. 1996 came and went, and it was impossible to instantly port the partially completed Phear to the N64 to be the 100% completed Tetrisphere. Though all was not lost! This allowed H20 Entertainment to hit the next Christmas season goalpost, and Tetrisphere was uncut with all necessary bells and whistles by August of 1997. According to interviews, that extra time allowed for an additional second player mode (that was originally intended, but likely would have been dropped for an earlier release date), and, relatedly, the all-important frame-rate was improved so Tetrisphere could look that much more prettier. And I can’t help but notice that Tetrisphere is loaded with more modes and, frankly, character than the average puzzle game. There’s a lot to experience in Tetrisphere, and it’s likely a lot of that resulted from baking long enough in the oven.

But could Tetrisphere be the killer app of the Nintendo 64?

… Well, you can’t say it didn’t have a shot.

L for LoserTetrisphere is by no means Tetris. There are familiar “blocks”, but they’re not infinitely falling from some unseen heavens. In fact, you are responsible for dropping all blocks, and the challenge is figuring out exactly where on the sphere you’re supposed to drop said blocks. If you drop a shape exactly on a matching shape, and that shape is next to a shape of the exact same dimensions, then both blocks are going to disappear. Line up a few shapes of the same size, and you’ve got a lovely little chain reaction going that could spread across the surface of the entire sphere. Your goal is to peel layers off the sphere so the little robot dude trapped inside can be free to escape and do whatever robots do (conquer humanity?), so every block vanished is another step closer to your goal. Of course, if you drop a block on a non-matching square, you’re stuck with another cumbersome lump of useless obstructing your robot rescue. And just for an added bit of stress, if you make three mismatches, it’s game over. And it’s game over if you take too long, too. And it’s game over if you sneeze on the Pope, too, though that rarely comes up. Point is that there are a lot of ways to fail, and Tetrisphere seems like it wants to be challenging.

But the fun of Tetrisphere doesn’t come from the potential challenge, it comes from lining up all the blocks for thrilling chain reactions. There is nothing quite like cramming all the blocks into proper locations, guessing the shapes of the blocks on the lower levels, and watching as the whole sphere destructs after some carefully measured movements. It is very possible to clear entire layers in one wisely deduced drop. Heck, sometimes it even happens by accident! It’s equally electrifying when you drop a single piece, and, thanks to the natural geography of the sphere, layer after layer is obliterated, inevitably causing an instantaneous rush of dopamine. Look at all those blocks go boom! I did good!

And, after this happened a few times, it finally hit me: these poor saps invented Candy Crush a solid decade too early!

WeeeeeeTetrisphere works almost exactly like Candy Crush and its addictive ilk. You shift blocks/colors/candies from spot to spot, and, when they’re all properly aligned, you see a “connection” that eliminates a swath of shapes. Sometimes it’s just one or two blocks. Oftentimes, it’s a whole screen full of nonsense that seems to go on for minutes as blocks you couldn’t have even seen before all appear and instantaneously detonate into tiny pieces. You know you didn’t have anything to do with that enormous chain reaction, but you feel great anyway, because, dude, did you see how many points I just got? Friggin’ nailed it, man! And that’s how players instantly become addicted to these mobile match games: it feels amazing to be responsible for so much winning/destruction. I am become God, matcher of fruits.

And Tetrisphere nailed that feeling back in 1997. Nintendo identified that, and hoisted that feeling onto a system that could have won the hearts of an entire videogame generation. But, alas, the Nintendo 64 was not a portable system, and, given the choice between the sweet happy feelings of Tetrisphere and playing around with an amnesiac with an unusually large sword, audiences chose the blade. Sorry, Tetrisphere, no one can say you didn’t try.

In more ways than one, Tetrisphere could have been the next Tetris, but it was not meant to be. Too late for the Gameboy, and too early for the mobile market. Tetrisphere: the middle child of failure.

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

  • System: Nintendo 64. Could there be a remake in the future? No. No there can’t.
  • Number of players: Two player mode is viable in this game, unlike some versions of Tetris. Unfortunately, two Tetrispheres on screen at one time is kind of nauseating, so screw that noise.
  • These guysFavorite Bot: You’re supposed to take on the “control” of a handful of different robots, and each supposedly impacts a different stat like “speed” or “power”. But damned if I can tell much of a difference between the different automatons, so I’m just going to say… Rocket? He is first…
  • Opaque Fun: Hide & Seek mode is actually where the bulk of interesting modes are hiding, but you would never know it from such an innocuous title. It technically plays like normal “destroy the sphere” mode, but there are all sorts of fascinating additions, like “drill” (random extra “bombs” are around the sphere) or “tower” (an annoying tower has to be worked around at all times). This is where a lot of creativity shines through beyond the usual modes of your average puzzle game… and most people never even tried the mode in the first place. Who over the age of seven gets excited about hide & seek?
  • So, did you beat it: Who has the time? Wasn’t this on the same system as Ocarina of Time? I think that may have held my interest a little longer…
  • Did you know: I cannot emphasize enough how the Atari Jaguar controller would have completely destroyed any ability to properly control this game. That control stick was terrible, and its 27 buttons wouldn’t exactly help a game that requires a whole two different kinds of input. Phear really dodged a bullet there.
  • Would I play again: This is another one for the “super interesting anomaly… but I’m not playing it again” pile. I like what I see, and I could see how Tetrisphere could have been amazing on a more viable system… but it’s not like there aren’t better alternatives all over the place right now. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Our annual Christmas Special! I’m going to wax poetic about the best videogame Christmas gift I ever received. What is that game? You’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

Yay!