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FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!

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