In the early days of gaming on the NES, the technological limitations of the hardware prevented developers from accurately recreating real world activities like skiing or hiking. Hence, the act of collecting coins and such was used in videogames as a metaphor and substitute for the absence of those activities. However, times have changed and current technology has, to a degree, caught up with reality. Recreating some of these real world-activities is no longer so difficult as games like Wave Rave 64 (jet-skiing) and Tony Hawks Pro Skater (skateboarding) demonstrate. Upcoming games like Shenmue promise to go even further by replicating an entire bustling city for players to interact with. But in spite of technological advances that eliminate the need for recreational metaphors, coin collecting in videogames has remained a convention, one that is all too apparent in DK64.
Whats even scarier is the extremity to which DK64 takes the original premise of coin collecting. The main goal for players is to recover the 5 golden bananas per stage, but 1 of those golden bananas can only be gained by collecting a blue print piece. You also need to collect 100 or more (depending on the stage) regular bananas in order to unlock the boss of the stage, who must then be beaten in order to attain a key. 8 of those keys are required to free the K. Lumsy character, who then opens new areas along the way. Collecting 75 of the same regular bananas will also entitle players to a banana medal. 15 of those banana medals (along with something else that Ill mention later) will be rewarded with the Jet-Pac mini-game. Traditional coins also need to be hoarded in order to purchase new weapons, instruments, and abilities. Fruits of all sorts and crystal coconuts also must be collected in order to power those weapons and abilities. Hold on, theres more. Film rolls are needed in order to capture fairies and beating the battle-arena stages that are littered about will reward crowns. Obtaining a certain amount of fairies and crowns will undoubtedly lead to more secret surprises.
If all of this isnt enough to knock your socks off, then hear this. A majority of these collecting tasks need to repeated FIVE TIMES (one for each of the five playable characters in the game PER stage)! Thats right folks, right after you collect 5 of those golden bananas, you get to do it all over again, 4 more times; totaling 25 golden bananas for one stage alone. Found 75 regular bananas or a blue print? Great. Now do it again 4 more times for each character. Sound labor-intensive? Maybe a bit tedious? You betcha, but not entirely. Its not all work and no play. Some of the puzzles can be quite clever and some fun can be had in that questing for fruity goods. The mini-games are also welcome diversions and one can never claim there isnt enough to do in DK64.
Despite my gripes about the whole banana economy that drives the gameplay in DK64, I cant deny the effort that was put into this game. The graphics and animation in the game are simply stunning. Environments are technologically impressive (the coal mine cart-ride for Diddy Kong must be seen to be believed) as well as wondrous in nature. Audio in the game is equally impressive, boasting Dolby Surround sound effects and extensive music including a fully vocal rap number in the introduction sequence. Character designs for the various animal characters do tend to get a little cheesy and generic-looking, as though they were churned out of a factory, lacking any real personality (remember the Poochie episode from The Simpsons). Still, the overall presentation is rock solid and much more likable than Rares previous release, the misguided and ill-conceptualized Jet Force Gemini.
DK64s biggest misstep is that it doesnt realize that what makes a game like Super Mario 64 so brilliant is that it doesnt force players to endure the task of obtaining all 120 stars. It was, in fact, the journey itself, which is filled with running, jumping, and frolicking in the outdoors (hearkening back to childhood memories of rolling in the grass and splashing in the water) that captured our hearts as well as our imaginations. Thats not to say there isnt any youthful or joyful romping in DK64, only that it is overshadowed by the burden of having to collect so many things and accomplishing so many goals. Consequently, DK64 often loses touch with its own playfulness and simply becomes too much of a chore. Given the choice of either having to endlessly collect stuff or play in natures vast beauty (simulated or otherwise), Id take the latter any day.