Get the collectathon on like Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong 64 (1999)

When you’re part of the squeezed middle like me, you’ll know all about not having enough money to buy a house, though you’ll probably have plenty of disposable income otherwise. You could save your hard-earned cash towards property prices, but why bother? They only ever go up, so you have already lost that battle.

You’re not gonna keep up with it. So why not spend your money building a collection of something instead? With any luck, you might be able to sell your completed collection for top dollar in twenty years’ time, which is conveniently around the time you’ll finally be able to buy that house.

But what to collect? One road you don’t want to go down is those silly Funko Pop figures, which usually adorn at least two of the walls at your local GameStop. They all look the same, except maybe a slightly different colour on each, and they’re almost always the sign of a whopper. Expensive habit too of course, which is true of almost anything you’ll collect, but at least pick something that has a clear beginning and end – after all, they’re never going to run out of Marvel characters to immortalise as Funko Pop characters for manchildren to buy, now are they?

For that reason you won’t want to get into comic book collecting either. Imagine trying to track down a copy of Action Comics #1, Superman’s debut? Even if you could find one, you’ll have to be paying about $3 million to lay your hands on one in nice condition, and I should imagine that that price will only climb. You might as well get into modern art dealing at that stage, for God’s sake, because you’ll probably have a similar level of knowledge, pick about the same number of winners.

That also means stamp collecting is out – you’re going back even farther in time there, and one little flood or leak or paralysing moss problem and you’re tens of thousands of quid down. Best of luck explaining that to the insurance chap, who’ll do everything in their power to avoid ponying up the fifty quid to replace your toaster, never mind all those Queen Elizabeth stamps you’ve foolishly spent bundles of cash on.

So what can you safely collect then? Although I don’t advise you to take a leaf from my book (and I don’t collect books, nor leaves), I’m into retro games, and lately to my eternal shame, Pokémon cards. I can’t recommend either of them to you really, because retro game prices have been spiralling further and further out of control – good when you’ve got a few to your name, not so good if you’re taking on the unenviable task of completing a full console set, like I’ve tried to do for the Nintendo 64.

It’s worse still when you have the dubious luxury of spreading yourself thin across multiple consoles. I have seventeen systems, how am I gonna collect for all of them…? And it’s well and good collecting the greats of the console, like Super Smash Bros. and Ocarina of Time. But when you’re spending 30 bones on Bass Hunter 64 and hundreds of bones on a generic racing game like San Francisco Rush 2049, you’ll have to take some pains to convince yourself that you’re getting a good deal.

But you know, the best collections start from when you were a kid, when things weren’t that expensive yet and nostalgia hasn’t yet taken its toll, and anyway someone else was generally paying for your indulgences. That’s how my N64 collection got started, and Donkey Kong 64 was a proud part of the ensemble. I will say that I got off to a rough start with DK64, when we brought the game home only to realise that it needed that red grill, the old N64 Expansion Pak, to add a vital 4MB of RAM to the polygonal proceedings.

Always fun to buy a game you can’t play – I’d repeat that mistake several times with PC games , but at least a switched-on cashier would often warn you about the game’s system requirements. Anyway, once we’d found a twenty quid Expansion Pak, I was on my way to enjoying some Donkey Kong 64. Pretty high cost of entry for this 3D monkey game, so what is it really like?

Well, before getting to that, I have noticed that there’s been a backlash against this game, possibly only a recent thing. Too much to collect, too much back-tracking, too many clunky minigames, too much character switching, that type of thing. Those criticisms do hold some weight, and this game can be a real slog if you lose track of what you’re doing. But look at it for what it was, the biggest undertaking in gaming gorilla history.

It was Rareware at the height of their game, doing their best to pull the Nintendo 64 out of the doldrums. This game doesn’t surpass Donkey Kong Country or its sequel, but what we’re left with is one of the biggest collectathons of all, Banjo-Kazooie with monkeys. You’re talking about eight enormous worlds, with 200 MacGuffins to collect, a doubling of Banjo’s 100 Jiggies. But that’s just the beginning of the haul – 10 Battle Crowns, 40 Banana Medals, a heap of Special Moves, and a whopping 3,500 regular Bananas to grab across five playable members of the Kong Klan.

It’s the colour collectathon of an age, a game that pushes the easily-knackered N64 engine to new heights, and a real treat to play every few years. It’s not easy to get access to these days actually, not much in the way of re-releases, though you can pick up a copy on the Wii U of all things. Otherwise it’s back to original hardware, where even with that extra grunt provided by the Expansion Pak (OK, less a grunt and more a gentle clearing of the throat), the frame-rate can still sometimes play silly buggers. That’s nothing new for N64 titles, but you’ll have to learn to live with it if you’re gonna make some of those tougher jumps.

It’s actually quite true to say that a lot of the game’s Golden Bananas are hidden behind mini-games, some of them downright annoying. Actually, if you want to know more about my kollector kredentials, I’ve never managed to get all of the Golden Bananas in this game – best I could do is two shy of the total, thanks to the infamously bad Beaver Bother minigame. Always a pain to have a glaring gap like that in your collection, but that’s what pretty much every collector has to deal with eventually, except of course the impossibly rich ones.

I can admit that Donkey Kong 64 has some flaws, and it won’t have been everyone’s cup of tea. But I say that there’s no game quite like DK64 out there, and it’s still worth playing to this day. Approach each level methodically, and even the constant switching of Kongs is fine – I think the levels are better designed than you may remember, even if the N64’s dreadful draw distance doesn’t help you with the collecting. It can be frustratingly difficult at times, but so too can be tracking down that Shadowless Charizard card.

Outside of all that, the soundtrack is another classic Grant Kirkhope work, who, just like Rareware themselves, was at the top of his game. The graphics are good for the console, the instruction manual is hilarious, there’s even a fun 4-player arena shooter in there for good measure. There’s almost as many ideas as bananas in this game, and I rate Donkey Kong 64 as one of the console’s best. It should definitely take pride of place in your collection, anyway.

16 September 2022

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