Patreon button  Steam curated reviews  Discord button  Facebook button  Twitter button 
3DS | PC | PS4 | PS5 | SWITCH | VITA | XB1 | XSX | All

Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64) artwork

Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64) review

"I was disappointed that this didn't live up to the high standard of the SNES' DKC series, but I discovered there was a huge gaming world out there waiting to be explored. "

Rare's Donkey Kong 64 is a game that's taken quite a beating from the gaming public of late. Receiving a few one out of tens. Not even Blues Brothers 2000 got scores as low as this (That fact you have no idea what I'm talking about shows how awful that game was, plus the name helps). But really, this is brilliant. I'll admit, it's only for people with patience and who don't mind noticing striking similarities between this and Banjo Kazooie (Rare's earlier, similar, but tighter platformer). I was disappointed that this didn't live up to the high standard of the SNES' DKC series, but I discovered there was a huge gaming world out there waiting to be explored. And I had great fun doing so.

The villain of the Donkey Kong games has always been King K Rool, and this is no exception. The crocodile king (Now thankfully out of his decidedly ridiculous pirate and scientist phases) and his army of Kremlings drive his motorised island up in front of Donkey Kong Island, ready to explode it with a big ol' laser. But the laser needs charging, and K Rool fears DK and his friends will get in the way. So he steals a load of golden bananas and kidnaps DK's four friends (Who you recover over the first three levels).

These Kongs are Diddy, the small monkey with a baseball cap (Capable of higher jumps, and jet pack usage). Tiny (Small pig-tailed girl ape in funky sixties hat, capable of hovering, shrinking in size and teleporting at special places). Lanky (An ugly, ugly monkey who can walk on his hands for better grip, and inflate himself like a balloon. Chunky (A huge ape who can become giant, he can also lift the heavier objects). Then of course there's Donkey Kong himself, who you start off with, he has an invincibility skill.

As well as having their own moves (Most of which can only be activated by standing on a pad on going in a barrel, and only last for a limited time) all of the Kongs have their own instruments and weapons. Tiny has a feather shooter (Yes, utterly pathetic, I know) Chunky has a great big pineapple launcher, and so on. Switches are clearly sign-posted with the fruit that will activate them. These are usually used for opening doors. Use of musical instruments is much less prolific. Only certain puzzles require the use of Diddy guitar, Tiny's saxa-ma-phone or Chunky's *ahem* triangle. Some of these puzzles are quite clever, either opening up new routes or rewarding you with shiny objects. For instance, in a temple on the second level, you must play your instrument loudly, so as to shatter the glass roof. The sunlight which is now pouring in will melt a pool of ice, allowing you to swim in it.

Swimming highlights one of the real high-points of this game, the controls. Usually I despise swimming in platform games, even 2d ones, it's just too fiddly and difficult. This is the first instance where I can say that the exact opposite applied. The controls are so responsive that it makes splashing around in the game's vast lagoons a pleasure. Also there's not one of those loathsome 'airometers' so you can swim for as long as you like. See the pretty seaweed and fishies!

Control is just as good for everything else though. Pulling out your guns and using them requires almost no thought. and using the first person aim and snipe mode is a doddle. It's a testament to Rare's programming abilities that there are SO many different moves and styles to master (Across the five kongs, there's about 100 moves to master) and it all fits together so seamlessly. Admittedly, some of the moves seem unnecessary (I can't think of many times I needed to use the orange grenades) but still easy to use. So, thankfully, the difficulty in the game will be the fault of the player, rather than the developer's laziness.

I've never seen a multi-character system used so well. Across the levels, there are barrels called 'Tag barrels' Once a kong is rescued they will be in this barrel at all times. You can exchange characters here any time you like. And you will need all of them in equal amounts. Certain doors will only be opened by Lanky's Grape shooter. And some entrances are too tiny for a normal kong to fit through, but one of our characters can shrink remember? It takes an eagle-eyed player to notice all of these character-specific details, and you'll have fun experimenting with all your monkeys to try and solve a puzzle. Understandably, the better special moves don't last forever. You can pick up crystal coconuts (anyone who used to watch the DKC tv show should get a kick out of that) in any of the levels, and each one you collect powers your special move for a certain amount of time. Donkey Kong's invincibility and Tiny's and Chunky's size-changing abilities are among those that use the crystal coconut system.

Although there's lots of exploring and experimenting to be done, there's also a healthy dose of diverse challenges. Beat a vulture in a jet-pack race, collect enough coins on a minecart ride (This is immense fun, and one of the highlights of the game) or murder the ballroom dancers of the staggeringly huge and strangely haunting castle level. There is ALWAYS something for you to do, and it's always fun, and there are some quite original twists as well. Being able to change one level between night and day, unlocking certain areas and bringing out certain enemies in the process is pleasingly mind-taxing.

The game has it's rewards in heaps though. Apart from the golden bananas that are so shiny, they will reduce even the hardest-nosed adult to the level of a drooling child, there is lots of other stuff to pick up as well. By defeating certain enemies (Each character has a big enemy to defeat in each level) you can retrieve Snide the weasel's blueprints for a laser machine. The amount of blueprints you get will determine the time you have in the final level (and trust me, you want as much as possible). Also collecting enough normal bananas in each level will cause Cranky to let you have a go on an old classic, ah the memories. AND You must collect coins to pay for your various new moves, weapons, instruments and upgrades for them all.

With all the mini-games on offer (some disappointingly frustrating) all the challenges, and the vast world to poke around, this game is definitely much more involving than most other platformers on the N64. It's amazing detail, superb animation, vast worlds and inventive gameplay make it very hard to leave alone. Admittedly, the multiplayer is absolute monkey dung (that's putting it nicely)but this won't really harm the game at all, you'll be too enchanted the whole time.

DK64 looks terrific. With the expansion pak being mandatory, I was expecting good graphics but not to this standard. The levels being as monstrous as they are, there is some understandable framerate drop in some areas. Not enough to ruin the game though, and certainly not to the extent that was shown in Banjo Tooie. Walking around the DK Isle, the magical crystal caves, and the sublime and stunning underwater section is enormously spellbinding. All the characters cast shadows, and burning torches set up some moody corridors to run trough. The lighting effects are unimaginable. Watch as the larger enemies cause purple shockwaves with their fists and your Kong's face is illuminated in a light purple. You wonder how the game can cope with such gigantic levels with such little framerate drop and STILL let the characters show all their personality in what has to be some of the best character animation on the N64. I don't understand how people can even think of criticising this part of the game. DK64 looks stupidly good.

It sounds good too. Actually, it sounds identical to Banjo Kazooie, but perhaps not quite as catchy. The tunes are a lot more relaxed and calm than BK's. This creates a nice (If sometimes boring) out at sea atmosphere. The best music in the game is, by far, in Frantic Factory. It's a sinister, cute and horribly infectious tune that fits the level perfectly. The sound effects are all fittingly over acted, something I like in a game. Curiously the few few minutes of the opening cut scene contain voices, but not the rest of the game. DK64 has a minimal amount of text so this puzzles me. But far be it from me to second guess Rare's sound abilities. And -Yes!- Monkey noises!

This is easily one of the biggest games around. Each of the five Kongs have 5 golden bananas, 100 coloured bananas, and many other things to collect in the levels. That's 500 bananas, 25 golden bananas and countless crystal coconuts and coins in each level. There are eight levels as well as a huge hub spanning across two towering islands. The game is far more difficult to beat than any other Rare platformer I've played. There are lots of tough bits and the game is one of the hugest platformers ever (THE hugest before Banjo Tooie arrived on the scene). I'd like to say you'll have fun going through as there are plenty of exciting bits, but this is obviously not the case for some people. For that I'd recommend you try before you buy, it's a lot less even than the Banjo games, and people are split on how good it is.

You can tell I'm on the side that likes it, but it still has it's faults. For one, it is far too similar to Banjo Kazooie. the clever new touches and the multi-character system make it worth purchasing it even if you own BK, but it would have been nice for something TOTALLY new. Something Donkey Kong Country really. Also, there's almost definitely too much to do. That may sound like a ridiculous criticism, but I had to write things down there was so much to keep track of. For people who say there isn't enough depth or stuff to do in platformers they should try this. The challenge of tracking down the banana fairies and photographing them all will take hours buy itself, let alone the behemoth of a game that goes with it. Sometimes the overwhelming feeling of stuff you have to do and things you must keep track of becomes overly confusing, and you have to take a break before you overheat and cry (Strong men also cry, strong men also cry). This could have been helped if Rare added less character specific obstacles, and if they incorporated less moves. Frankly, it's a bit confusing to have to remember to play the guitar to activate the pad that Diddy can spring from to shoot the switch that raises the door to the maze too tiny for anyone else but Tiny. Got that? Well, there are plenty of other headaches like it in the game too.

But better to have too much to do than too little, I say. And if there's games you want a little more to, it's top quality platformers like this. DK 64 will last for months on end, it did for me. And it kept me thoroughly entertained and involved. But I was never having as much fun as I did playing the less complicated and slightly more charming Banjo Kazooie (surprising, considering the number of times DK64 reminded me of it). I did have a lot of fun, but I was left with a bitter taste of hype. This is an excellent and Her-uge adventure that will keep you occupied and enthralled, but it's not up to Rare standards, or Donkey Kong Country standards. Try, then hopefully buy.

Monkey Shines
+ It's massive. And that's an understatement.
+ More involving than most platformers, even B-K
+ The most gorgeous platformer on the face of this earth
+ Outstanding multi-character system
+ If you liked Banjo Kazooie, you'll like this
+ Compelling fun, and rewarding too.
+ Plenty of intriguing and original bits to separate it from the crowd
+ Challenging to the end, but fair
+ Cool music

Monkey Shi*CENSORED*
- Untouchable multiplayer
- It has an intro 'rap' at the beginning. No I'm not lying.
- Too similar to Banjo Kazooie
- A bit too much collecting, but not quite as much as everyone says.
- Almost too much to keep track of.
- Not as focused as Banjo Kazooie, it loses something in it's complicated techniques.

maxh's avatar
Community review by maxh (Date unavailable)

A bio for this contributor is currently unavailable, but check back soon to see if that changes. If you are the author of this review, you can update your bio from the Settings page.

More Reviews by maxh [+]
Wario Land II (Game Boy Color) artwork
Wario Land II (Game Boy Color)

''It's very well done, and nicely presented but it seems rushed to me, and it's not nearly as fun as it should be.''
Harvest Moon 2 GBC (Game Boy Color) artwork
Harvest Moon 2 GBC (Game Boy Color)

Unfortunately you can't go and tip cows under cover of darkness (I'll have to stick to real farms for those perks) but you can do just about every other imaginable thing that you might be required to do if you were a farmer.
Bugs Bunny in Crazy Castle 4 (Game Boy Color) artwork
Bugs Bunny in Crazy Castle 4 (Game Boy Color)

But really, on the parts of the buyer and the developer, what's the point?


If you enjoyed this Donkey Kong 64 review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

You must be signed into an HonestGamers user account to leave feedback on this review.

User Help | Contact | Ethics | Sponsor Guide | Links

eXTReMe Tracker
© 1998 - 2024 HonestGamers
None of the material contained within this site may be reproduced in any conceivable fashion without permission from the author(s) of said material. This site is not sponsored or endorsed by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft, or any other such party. Donkey Kong 64 is a registered trademark of its copyright holder. This site makes no claim to Donkey Kong 64, its characters, screenshots, artwork, music, or any intellectual property contained within. Opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the opinion of site staff or sponsors. Staff and freelance reviews are typically written based on time spent with a retail review copy or review key for the game that is provided by its publisher.