The Theory of Evolution


Of course it would happen. The hype was there. The curious public was there. The only thing that was missing was the game. And now it is there. Donkey Kong 64 has shown its face to the world and it was only a matter of time before the criticisms came rolling in.

"It has slowdown for a few frames in the corner between Chunky's caged banana and Funky's Armory in Jungle Japes if you repeatedly press B!"
"The game is too big and Miyamoto is my God so I will worship Zelda which is near the same size anyway."
"I want Perfect Dark."

And thus begins a battle which we thought had ended with Banjo-Kazooie. Oh, surely you remember back to the summer of 1998. Rare had released a wonderful new platformer, but something was not right! There was already another platformer for the system under the name of Super Mario 64. Surely you can't have more than one platformer! Something had to be done. And sadly, that something was to bash the obviously superior game and call it, of all things, a clone. It's human nature to not want to break away from what is regular. If there is a new idea that goes against, or even improves upon an existing idea, it must be wrong. People do not realize their judging mistakes until it is too late.

And here we are with Donkey Kong 64. Five years ago, Donkey Kong Country was released, which revolutionized games as we know them. It brought to life the character which millions would come to respect in the future. Along with this overwhelming originality was a new feel for games, and a new series for that feel to be associated with. Donkey Kong Country 2 brought a darker, more sinister feel to the game, and rightfully so. After all, it took place on the enemy's island. Donkey Kong Country 3 had a happy-go-lucky feel to it which was unexpected for a Donkey Kong game, but we quickly adapted it and went on to Doorstop Dash. Donkey Kong Country 3 is what initially started the evolutionary growth of the Donkey Kong series. But unfortunately, it was overshadowed by an all new power which had just broken its way into the gaming arena.

Three Dimensions. The entire gaming community was buzzing with anticipation of finally running in circles in a game. Such an insignificant old-fashioned side-scroller such as DKC3 could hardly hold a torch. That was yet another mistake people made. Too quick to judge. I own both Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong Country 3. If you asked me on any given day which I would rather play, I would go for the "old-fashioned" game. The one that has more spirit. Unfortunately, sales for Super Nintendo declined as sales for Nintendo 64 shot up, and it wasn't long before our beloved 16-bit system was dead.

Not as many people got to see this milestone in Donkey Kong evolution. So it is no surprise that as they play Donkey Kong 64, they are confused. It takes the initial feel from all three games and builds on it. But if one is missing, the game is an inferior piece of happy-go-lucky garbage with crappy music and a stupid characters. Or so some people say. Many found fault in this game for the sole purpose of finding fault. If you must resort to this, you are a truly unhappy person. Games were meant to be enjoyed, not to be unnecessarily criticized.

99.9% of people were anticipating this title as if it were Donkey Kong Country. Unfortunately, Donkey Kong Country is five years in the past. This is not the same game, and it should not be rated as such. No, there is not the graphical revolution from single shades to full-blown rendered bliss, but there really shouldn't be. The purpose of games is not to beat previous games. When Pac Man was released, people did not say "Pac Man has 15 MHz more than Pong, and Pong has sucky graphics, so I'll go with Pac Man." The purpose since the beginning of electronic entertainment was, at the risk of redundancy, to entertain. And Donkey Kong 64 has done just that. As I think back, I cannot remember a single game that has entertained me as much as this. I wake up every morning wondering if I'm going to discover the Lost World, and this excites me. Thankfully, Rare realizes that to keep people entertained, you must have a good game, and this is what they deliver. Jetpac, Rare's first game, is incredibly entertaining, but the software limitations of 1983 only could take it so far. Now software limitations are nearly nonexistent. If you can think of something, you can almost always cram it into a 512 MB cartridge or DVD disc. Games are evolving at an incredible speed, getting bigger, prettier, but not necessarily better. A 200 hour game with 500 trillion polygons per frame would not be a good game if the control was far off, the story left nothing to be desired from the game, and it didn't have a natural feel to it. A few games do have all of these crucial elements, and it shows in replay value. I can go back to every one of my Donkey Kong games beginning with DKC, and play for hours on end. This is entertainment.

But then there are people who always complain that Donkey Kong 64 isn't Donkey Kong Country! It's too different. Wrinkly is dead. Everything is in 3-D. Donkey doesn't raise his arms when he jumps. What these people don't realize is that while games are evolving, series are evolving. Perhaps Donkey Kong 64 was Rare's way of cleaning the slate and creating an entirely new feel for Donkey Kong games. Despite the disagreement of many, companies such as Rare do care about where their games go, and they make plans for them accordingly. Donkey Kong 64 is nothing more than one more step in the evolutionary process of Donkey Kong games. The series is evolving, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

An observation by Chad McCanna