Patrick Hope: Bonus Stage: Too big to fail
This is a very important milestone, because as of today, Welcome to Bonus Stage will be 1 year old. Yes, that’s right. We’ve made it through 52 columns without getting burned in effigy or run out of town. Never let it be said that Welcome to Bonus Stage doesn’t set the bar high.
Anyway, one of the questions I get the most, aside from “Why are you so awesome” and “Do you have to relate everything to wrestling,” is “Is the name of your column a reference to something specific?” And the answer is yes, it is. While a lot of games have bonus stages, only one has its bonus staged prefaced by an announcer saying “Welcome to bonus stage!”
That game is “Donkey Kong 64.”
By the time late 1999 rolled around, almost all of Nintendo’s big franchises, save for Metroid and Kirby, had gotten some form of treatment on the Nintendo 64, and “Donkey Kong 64,” made under the watchful eye of Rare, was poised to be the biggest one yet. This was a game so big that it required the Expansion Pak accessory (which was included with the game when you bought it). A special green version of the console was rolled out along with this game as a bundle and it even got the hype treatment of a VHS that subscribers to Nintendo Power received. I sure remember getting one and it totally hyped me up to play the game.
It contained eight worlds, all chock full of stuff to do with the five playable members of the Kong clan. Even though Rare’s previous 3-D platformer effort, “Banjo-Kazooie,” had nine worlds, it only had one playable character and notably less stuff to do. One of the worlds, Fungi Forest, is even a leftover that was supposed to be in “Banjo-Kazooie,” but never got used. So does “Donkey Kong 64” live up to the substantial fanfare and expectations that were heaped upon it? Well, yes and no.
A big problem with any game that promises to be absolutely massive is that players can find themselves in a massive open world with absolutely nothing to do. Think the wilderness sections of “Assassin’s Creed III,” which are huge but pretty dull unless you’re really into hunting bears or something. “Donkey Kong 64” has the opposite problem. There is so much to do in each world that it gets overwhelming.
Each Kong has five Golden Bananas, this game’s version of Stars/Jiggies/Chaos Emeralds/whatever, in each world. And each Kong has their own set of special moves, musical instruments and projectile weapons that have their own types of ammo, have to be paid for with each Kong’s own treasury of color-coordinated Banana Coins, and you also have to collect each Kong’s blueprints that only have a use at the end of the game while collecting their own color-coordinated bananas to get Banana Medals, which you need to play some old arcade games which you have to play to get the Nintendo and Rare coins, which are required to beat the game. I’m not kidding. You need all of this stuff. And by the time you’ve gone through each world five times to get everything and backtracked about a jillion times to the DK barrels to switch out to a different Kong, you’re going to be really sick of even the most interesting worlds.
But “DK 64” isn’t just an exercise in tedium. When it does something right, it does it really well. It just feels at times like there’s a ton of padding. The inclusion of the arcade Donkey Kong and Jetpac, Rare’s first game, are really cool additions, some of the Bananas are really clever challenges, and almost all of the boss battles, from the rogue-jack-in-the-box Mad Jack to an actual cardboard cutout of villain K. Rool, are pretty imaginative. There just ends up being a fair amount of junk that you have to wade through, like all of the backtracking, and some of the bonus stages, like Beaver Bother, which might be the worst minigame ever.
“Donkey Kong 64” is a game that most people should play, if for no other reason than to see the logical conclusion of the collectathon subgenre.
There’s so much to do that it’s simultaneously awe-inspiring and frustrating. This game even won a possibly dubious Guinness world record for most collectibles in a platform game. “Donkey Kong 64” represents some of the best and worst in games, but is interesting nonetheless. And a game that remains interesting regardless of whether you’re talking about the good or the bad seems like a solid namesake for a column, right?
Patrick Hope is a local attorney and video game enthusiast. Thanks to my readers who have helped keep this going, because without you, I’m just talking to myself.