The Top Ten DKU Games of the DKade
With nearly every site doing a top ten of, well, everything considering that we're ending a decade and starting a new one, it only seems right to do a Feature regarding the subject here, too. Yet, it's not just because of conformity that the site is getting another Feature; the DKU (or DK Vine to some visiting veterans) turned ten this year as well, covering both the good and the bad over the years. A lot has changed since 1999; while we won't go down that (possibly alcohol-inducing) road, let's reminisce over some games of the past decade (or "DKade") instead. A few things to note: ports and re-releases don't count towards this list. This isn't to say that they're bad games, but if this was the case, most of the games on the list wouldn't even be new games. Also, the list's criteria depends on a few aspects: the quality of the game, and if it affected the DKU in a way that's more positive than negative. Anyway, on with the Feature:
10. It's Mr. Pants
Release Date: December 7th, 2004
While this may seem like a questionable choice for some, 7 out of the 10 people that bought this game could tell you why it deserves to be on this list. A game that possibly has the most unique presentation out of the other games listed, this game has the spirit of what Donkey Kong: Coconut Crackers could've been. With over 100 puzzles to solve, three other different gameplay modes to indulge yourself in, insanely catchy music and Mr. Pants himself, this game has the opportunity to entertain you for hours on end. Despite its faults, it's truly a unique game in the puzzle genre, and one of Rare's best titles for the Game Boy Advance (DKC ports notwithstanding).
9. Punch-Out!! (Wii)
Release Date: May 18th, 2009
This game's DKU-ness was definitely a surprise. Not only because DK himself showed up in the game, but due to the fact that there was finally another Cameo game that could be considered as great. It's no secret that the original Punch-Out!! was one of the more revered titles during the NES' lifespan. This updated version kept a well-balanced level of difficulty (as well as an even tougher mode), controls on the Wii not worthy of too much complaint, and stereotypical fighters getting past the radar of news outlets (and soccer moms) everywhere. These merits alone not only make it a good DKU game, but a good Wii game, period. It's truly a gamer's game, and having it be DKU is the icing on the cake. Made of chocolate bars.
Release Date: November 19th, 2000
One of the first games of the decade also deserves to be on this list for a few reasons. The first reason is for being the sequel to one of the most beloved games on the N64. Ever since the title was dropped at the end of Banjo-Kazooie, many fans waited to see not only what would be next, but what the Ice Key and Eggs that Mumbo Jumbo teased us with would do. The rest, as they say, is history. Stop N' Swop wasn't what it was meant to be (although the XBLA version somewhat fixes this), yet the game itself was fine without it. In many ways, this game improved upon Banjo-Kazooie. Tooie had bigger levels than the first (opinions may vary on whether this was a good thing or not), more characters, more bosses, and more players with its many multiplayer modes. While some people may prefer the original to Tooie due to a variety of reasons, it's still a great game on its own, with just as many fans adoring the sequel as much as the original. Except for Canary Mary. She was winged evil incarnate. And if you can't find it on the N64, there's always the improved version on the Xbox Live Arcade with better controls, better graphics, and Stop N' Swop.
7. DK Jungle Climber
Release Date: September 10th, 2007
After years of DK-related disappointment, a developer by the name of PAON decided to change everything with 2005's DK: King of Swing. It was a great portable diversion, and had bits of continuity to make most DK fans happy. However, the game did leave room for improvement. 2 years later, PAON delivered a sequel that did just that. Gone were the sprites from the first game, and back were the ACM-like graphics from the DKC trilogy. The controls were greatly fixed for the better, and the speed of the game felt just right. It may have gotten quite the difficulty curve towards the latter half of the game, but at the end of the day, the game was fun. Not only was it fun, but it still had continuity, and was a fantastic improvement over the first PAON Donkey Kong title. It and King of Swing may not have been the platformers that DKC fans have been waiting for, yet that's not a reason to shaft DK Jungle Climber. If anything, it shows that PAON has what it takes to be faithful to what Rare established 15 years ago. Whether PAON's next DK game is (provided they can still develop them) a sequel to this or a new platformer, it's something to hopefully look forward to in the future.
6. Grabbed by the Ghoulies
Release Date: October 21st, 2003
Here at the DKU, it's no secret that Ghoulies is a beloved game to most of the staff and veteran forum members. Developed by the Banjo team, Ghoulies was a modern day beat-em-up taking place in a haunted mansion with many different ghouls to kick the crap out of. It had charming characters, quite a bit of innuendos for the older crowd, and had a hilarious story that ended with an unexpected plot twist. Unfortunately, the gaming press tore it apart for being Rare's first Xbox game (i.e. not Conker, Banjo, Perfect Dark, etc.). While it's true that the game could've sported a few improvements (length, multiplayer), it was what it set out to be if you gave it a chance: a fun beat-em-up in an age where the genre is nearly all but dead. Fortunately, for those that haven't played it, the game, while not so easy to find, is rather inexpensive. Failing that, there's Xbox Originals. If you can get over the "Rare's First Xbox Game" stigma six years after the fact, you may see what we see in terms of an underappreciated Rare game.
5. Viva Piñata
Release Date: November 9th, 2006
After Rare released their first non-DKU Xbox 360 games, fans were awaiting their next title with a mixture of excitement and fear. Much like Rare is doing right now with Project Natal, thus proving that history repeats itself, they were quiet for a long time before deciding to reveal their next game: Viva Piñata. It wasn't surprising to see that fans were divided upon their first reaction to the game: some were completely outraged at the promotional video shown in March of 2006, while some took the "wait and see" approach. When the game came out in late 2006, both gamers and critics saw that, beneath the cutesy exterior and TV show tie-in, there was a surprisingly deep amount of content hidden within. The visual style and premise was unlike anything that Rare did before 2006. The game had lots of charming characters including the piñatas themselves, there was always something to do, and the game had a very addicting and unexpected quality to it. Unfortunately, despite gamers and critics believing that VP was Rare's finest game in years, it didn't light the world on fire as Rare and Microsoft expected. Perhaps it came out at the wrong time. Perhaps more money should've been spent advertising it during the Winter 2006 season. Regardless, Viva Piñata spawned a direct sequel, a spinoff most would rather soon forget, and a portable version of the first game. While Trouble in Paradise was an improvement, it felt much more overwhelming compared to the first game. A fair amount of VP's content was recycled to speed up development time as well, which should explain why its sequel is not on the list. Much like a certain Wind Waker, Viva Piñata's reveal and subsequent release showed the DKU that its looks were truly deceiving. Beneath the paper mache, there's a very addictive game waiting for those willing to try something different.
4. Star Fox Adventures
Release Date: September 23rd, 2002
Star Fox Adventures holds a place in the hearts of gamers for a few reasons. For starters, it's all that gamers have of what was once called Dinosaur Planet (and before that, Diddy Kong Racing 2, according to the November 5th, 2008 edition of Scribes), before Nintendo decided to axe the original story and characters in lieu of Fox and friends. Another reason is because it was Rare's final game on a Nintendo console before moving to Microsoft's greener pastures. It was also David Wise's final soundtrack on a console before his departure from the company. Like many games during the N64 era, SFA was Rare's attempt at taking what makes a Zelda game successful and improving on its concepts. While opinions of SFA as a "Zelda Killer" (as Dinosaur Planet was originally labeled when it was revealed in 2000) may vary, there's no denying that Star Fox Adventures was an above-average game. Sure, things like the Arwing missions felt tacked on, but there were so many things going for it as well. The graphics look gorgeous and still stand to this day (due to delaying the game, no doubt), and the game's considered to be one of the best-looking Gamecube games around. The music was absolutely incredible, and was no doubt one of Wise's greatest efforts. The controls were easier for gamers, as SFA supported automatic lock-on to enemies. While it may be a bit on the short side, that just gives players more incentive to replay it. Even though lots of things were cut for time, as well as its tumultuous development history, Star Fox Adventures was, and still is, one of Rare's greatest action-adventure games.
3. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Release Date: March 9th, 2008
It's safe to say that a lot of gamers were surprised when Super Smash Bros. Brawl was shown after Nintendo's E3 conference in 2006. Little did we know that the trailer would be the start to one of Nintendo's most hyped-up games in the company's history. The sleepless nights spent waiting for the official Brawl website to update with daily posts was either worth it or a cause of anger the next morning depending on said updates. And who can blame us? Brawl is the sequel to one of Nintendo's greatest franchises, and there were many additions in terms of characters (such as Diddy Kong, thankfully), levels, and more modes of gameplay. There was a ton of music, a ton of extras, and a ton of replay value. All in all, there was a large amount of new content. "If that's the case," you may be thinking, "why isn't it higher on this list?" Well, Billy, there are a few reasons. While Brawl is undoubtedly a quality game, there are a few things that missed the mark, so to speak. Loading times, for example, varied between long and too long on a system that's supposed to be more powerful than its predecessor. Also, with the advent of online play today, Brawl had a lot to live up to in order to be an incredibly replayable game in that department. Unfortunately, the lack of a decent online mode in this day and age is something that can't be overlooked, and the game suffered because of this. Despite its issues, Brawl overall continues the trend of improving with each subsequent release, and it has the potential to be played until the next Smash Bros. comes out. Which brings us to...
2. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Release Date: December 3rd, 2001
Before you raise your pitchforks and torches due to the placement of this game on this list, let's go back to the wondrous time known as early 2001. The original Super Smash Bros. is almost two years old, and there's a good chance that the game was still being played in many N64s during that time. Then E3 2001 comes along, announcing, among other things, Super Smash Bros. Melee for Nintendo's new Gamecube console. As a Smash Bros. fan, you rejoiced because the game looked (and looks) fantastic. Mario even had stitches on his overalls! One of the reasons why the game is higher than Brawl is because, overall, Melee felt more like a bona fide sequel than Brawl did. The huge graphical leap from Gamecube to Wii slightly pales in comparison to the leap from the N64 to the Gamecube; in terms of content from the N64 to GC, there were more characters and stages, more ways to play with your friends (or yourself) in multiplayer, more control options, and an expanded single-player mode. True, there are a few issues with Melee, but all the same, there's a reason why Melee is still the Gamecube's best-selling title to date. Melee's significant additions to a retrospectively simple first title led it to being a game that's still played to this day.
1. Conker's Bad Fur Day
Release Date: March 5th, 2001
And coming in at number one is Conker's Bad Fur Day. Is it really surprising, though? The game has been in many lists on this very site, even going so far to be considered the DKU's best game of 2001. Like Star Fox Adventures before it, BFD had a tumultuous history, and was meant to be a platformer along the lines of Banjo-Kazooie. Yet, unlike SFA, something wondrous happened along the way, and Rare just decided to make a completely batshit-insane game instead. Needless to say, it worked. As one of the N64's final games, it really took advantage of the system's hardware and produced some amazing graphics. The soundtrack sports an impressive amount of diversity, whether the songs are clearly spoofs of movies, or timeless catchy tunes like "Rock Solid." The story is completely random, but it's just one of the things the game greatly benefits from. Its sense of humor, while a bit outdated, was unlike what was available at the time. Both the single-player and multiplayer modes give you plenty of different scenarios to do, such as fighting evil Nazi teddy bears, shooting it up like The Matrix, or stealing money from anthropomorphic weasels. It sported very few faults, and is considered by those who played it to be one of Rare's greatest accomplishments to date. For reference, its own remake, in which remakes are typically designed to improve on their original versions, paled in comparison to the amount of content this game had. Years later, the game still feels, for the most part, like a complete package. Much like DKC was in 1994, Bad Fur Day was, and is, a revolutionary title, loved by many of those who played it. This game has so many things going for itself; it should be a no-brainer as to why it's the best DKU game of the DKade.
And there you have it: the top ten DKU games from 2000-2009. While the future of the DKU is still in a hazy, unclear state, these past ten years delivered many hells of many gaming experiences. If we're lucky, perhaps the next ten years will bring further enjoyable experiences for us to simultaneously love and bitch endlessly about. Here's to the next DKade!