Bad Game Design – Donkey Kong 64


Oh my Kong. Yep, we’re definitely doing this. So I’ve never done a “Bad Game Design” before,
and to kick it off with this game will undoubtedly be controversial. So before we dive in, I’d like to say a couple
things: first off, I understand the irony of introducing a series on negatives during
the month celebrating my favorite game franchise, and believe me I was surprised too. But second, I LOVED this game as a kid. Please don’t think that I hold some horrible
grudge with DK64. In fact, I beat it 101% and used the strategy
guide to the bone when I was younger. It was one of my favorite games on the N64. I know that a lot of people have deep adoration
for this game, and it does have a lot going for it. But when I played it again on virtual console
last year, I realized there are a lot of things that are objectively bad in this game. So, I wanna talk about it, but of course I
hope you’ll understand that I still like this game, and don’t mean to offend anyone out
there that might hold this as one of their favorites. Now as I mentioned, it does have some good
concepts in place, so let’s start by talking about the positives. Donkey Kong 64 was all about making things
bigger. There’s a huge island to explore. Unlike previous games, where you’re just hopping
from level to level on a picture of an island, you’re actually discovering new parts of the
world as rocks break apart or new doorways become available. The story itself is bigger – K Rool doesn’t
just want your bananas anymore, he’s got a giant laser beam pointed at your island! I’d consider the stakes raised! Even the way the atmosphere changes as you
go to K Rool’s ship, from a sunny beautiful day, to gloomy and rainy, just gives so much
character and charm to the world. And that’s probably this game’s biggest strength
– its personality. Everything has that Rareware charisma and
memorability and I haven’t even mentioned the Kongs! You get 3 brand new ones to play with and
you can learn about them by the DK Rap, or by just watching them in the tag barrel – look
at Chunky, I love how he doesn’t want you to pick him. They all had their own abilities, powerups,
musical instruments, and even frickin’ guns! But you see, this is where the flaws start
to come through. The game had incredible scope, and the ideas
were solid on paper, but they could’ve been executed much better in the actual game. There’s a lot of things I COULD talk about
in regards to what’s wrong with DK64, but none of them are the major issue I had except
one of them. I COULD talk about how there are just too
many collectibles. This is a very common complaint I hear about
this game, but it never really bothered me that much. Sure there are some items that are a little
unnecessary, and they use gating to make some of them feel more important, but when you
compare it to other collect-athons of the era, it’s really not THAT bad. It gives you more things to do, and I don’t
find that a bad thing. I COULD talk about the bad camera and controls,
the glitches or framerate issues, and while this did hinder my experience greatly, and
frustrated me to no end, I chalk all that up to the limitations of the N64 and developers
still figuring things out in 3D space. It certainly wasn’t the only game around this
time to have these problems, and it also explains why they had to reuse some of the bosses for
multiple fights. I COULD talk about the misuse of bonus barrels
and how they were more of a nuisance than an actual bonus. The placement often seemed completely random
and the games themselves were either really annoying to complete, or entirely broken (BEAVER
BOTHER C’MON) They repeated the same games over and over, but to be fair, that’s an issue
Donkey Kong has always had, from the original trilogy all the way to the new generation
of titles. In fact, DK64 had way more variety in the
bonus games – they just weren’t fun to play. I literally just started to avoid them by
the end of the game. I COULD talk about the under utilization of
the animal buddies. These are some of my favorite parts of the
series and always made levels more enjoyable, or at the very least helped you clear hard
sections. In DK64, they’re extremely limited, only showing
up in small areas of levels, and are used but a handful of times for a couple golden
bananas and a few minigames. Not to mention we can only play as Rambi and
Enguarde? Give me Squitter, Rattly, Expresso! Heck, use Squawks to fly around instead of
just telling me some dialogue or tutorials. This is a big problem with the new games as
well though. C’mon Retro Studios, we need more animal buddies! Finally, this one is a bit personal, but I
COULD talk about how annoying the Donkey Kong arcade game was to complete for the Nintendo
coin. Like, this would be a fun easter egg, but
it’s required to beat the game, and it’s not even so much that it’s really hard, but you
have to re-pull the lever every time you die and it just takes forev-UGH! Okay, but none of these issues are what bothered
me most when I replayed through this game. It all boils down to one major problem that’s
pervasive through the entire experience, and that’s how segmented it was. Every. Single. Collectible in this game that has value is
designated to a specific Kong for them to collect. Not just the golden bananas, but the colored
bananas, the banana coins, the blueprints, the banana medals, and even a lot of non-collectibles
– the switches, the pads, certain doorways, the gun switches, the music pads, the animal
buddies, even the boss fights! Everything is separated from each other and
assigned to a specific situation in which you need a particular Kong and their abilities
to reach it. Now, why is this a bad thing? On a pause screen, everything looks neat and
organized, 5 bananas for each Kong, etc. Well, let’s start small. Look at the opening section for Gloomy Galleon. Just in the first hallway you have blue, green
and purple bananas, so you’d have to backtrack here 3 different times just to collect a few
measily bananas. But that’s not all that’s here – there’s also
gun switches for Diddy, Chunky and Donkey Kong, Simian Slam switches for Lanky and Tiny,
not to mention a kremling to kill for a blueprint and a ton of these banana balloons that always
happen to be placed at the most inconvenient places. All of which need to be collected with different
kongs. Now sure, this could easily be done in a few
minutes with a couple quick trips to the tag barrel, but this is just flat ground that’s
easily accessible. Now look at the climb you have to do in Frantic
Factory. This does the same thing, with placing different
colored bananas all up the tower, but with a much more perilous and time consuming journey
than before. And this wouldn’t be too bad as just a few
specific examples, but the thing is: THIS IS THE WHOLE GAME! Every string of bananas has to have at least
3 colors. Areas that lure you in with a specific Kong
will also have other collectibles for different Kongs, just so you’ll have to come back here
again later to collect them. You can’t walk 5 steps in a new world without
needing to switch in the tag barrel if you want to collect everything as you go. It won’t even let you gather your CORRECTLY
colored bananas if you transform into an animal buddy! Now, Creepy Castle is probably my favorite
level in the game from a design perspective, because they finally decided to place bananas
in areas that make sense. When you start this level, you can collect
50 bananas in a row with Donkey Kong, then 50 more in a row with Tiny, AND it will help
you explore the entirety of the castle exterior, giving you all the warp pads in the process. This is so much better! I didn’t feel like I had to go back to a tag
barrel every minute, and it helped me get familiar with the level without halting my
progress. Unfortunately, the rest of the game does not
follow this example. The majority of it feels like a hassle, an
out-of-the-way ordeal, and it didn’t have to be that way. And these are just the small fry items! Let’s talk about the golden bananas, the main
collectible in the game. As I mentioned, every golden banana is designated
to a specific Kong and will use their abilities to reach them. The problem is that this will often lead to
many different areas that are just cut off from other Kongs, or a bunch of little rooms
that only certain Kongs can enter. It becomes a game of “hit this switch or play
this instrument 5 different times to have the same outcome”. Instead of a connected world where you have
to use the Kongs to work together, it feels like 5 separate games layered on top of each
other. They do tasks alone and need to be switched
out all the time if you want to get enough collectibles to progress in the game. Even if a banana IS accessible to every Kong,
it’ll be grayed out unless the right character comes to pick it up. What if instead of isolated efforts, you could
get bananas with any Kong, and give multiple options to get them? Why does every Kong have to have an even number
of bananas? In the original trilogy, it showed whichever
Kong you beat the level with on the map screen, and you could start to see which Kong you
favored more. It doesn’t require you to beat a certain amount
of levels with each Kong, it lets YOU decide that Dixie is obviously the best choice and
you should never choose Kiddy. But why not let DK64 have this kind of competition
as well? Have the stats screen show which Kong has
collected the most golden bananas, and regular bananas. Don’t restrict your favorite Kongs from being
useful! I assume they designed it this way to let
each Kong feel valuable and like they’re used evenly, but you could still make them valuable
without the limitations. What if there were many ways of getting a
banana high up in the air, like Lanky’s float ability OR Tiny’s hair spin? What if Donkey Kong could turn invisible to
reach a lever that opens a door, but you could also open it with Chunky by throwing a rock
at it, or use Diddy’s head bash? Give the player more freedom to explore with
whichever Kong they want. Some things are segregated for seemingly no
reason, like the boss fights! Why do I have to fight Dogadon as Chunky here? Look he doesn’t even want to fight him himself! Why not give me the OPTION to get huge and
beat him up, OR use Diddy’s jetpack to fly behind him and hit a sweet spot, or shrink
down with Tiny and climb him, Shadow of the Colossus style! Okay, maybe that’s a little too ambitious,
but you see where I’m going with this. It would not only give more options to play
the game with, but provide a ton of replayability where you could try battles again with different
Kongs. Heck, maybe even challenge runs, like beating
the game with only 1 Kong! In theory, it made sense to have a wide variety
of scenarios in which you collect bananas, but what it felt like was 5 separate treasure
hunts happening at the same time. And there are some things that DON’T require
a specific Kong to do, like taking pictures of the banana fairies, getting the Rareware
coin, or the arena battles, so it’s not even consistent, it feels like some things were
decided randomly to be separated between Kongs or not. Now there is one example of this game using
the various abilities in a fantastic way, and that is the final boss fight. This battle is really long and actually can
be really frustrating if you die in the last section, but it uses every Kong and a vast
array of their abilities all on one specific foe: King K Rool. One phase, you’ll be destroying the lights
with Diddy, and the next you’re crawling into his shoe to tickle his toes with Tiny. I would’ve loved to see more of this in the
rest of the game! Do part of the task with one Kong, then finish
the job with another. Like destroying layers of a fruit hut by using
each gun to reach the center, or put a boss to sleep with Chunky’s triangle while you
deal damage, but then wake him up to move him with Diddy’s guitar. Anything to use the different abilities in
a cohesive way instead of an exclusive one. My whole point in critically looking at a
beloved game from over 15 years ago is to look at the future. Obviously DK64 is way old and there’s no reason
to want to change it for its purposes alone, but this kind of thing is important to think
about as games continue to evolve. With a small resurgence or collecathons coming,
and the old team coming back together to make Yooka-Laylee, I hope to see more creativity
than ever with the genre. Please understand that all of this critique
comes out of a love for this type of game, and wanting to improve it even more! It looks like Yooka-Laylee will be focusing
on interconnected and ever-expanding worlds to try things that haven’t been done before. I’m nervous and excited at the same time to
see how it turns out. But I hope we can learn from mistakes in the
past to help improve games that have yet to come. That wraps up our first ever Bad Game Design
– I promise the next one won’t be so negative. Thanks for watching! Hey guys, I hope you’ve enjoyed Donkey Kong
Month this year, it was a blast for me to put it all together, even if it meant I had
to play through the entirety of DK64 in a week for footage. Don’t forget to subscribe if you aren’t yet
because there’s a ton more videos to come, almost every week! Also be sure to give this video a thumb’s
up and tell me in the comments below your thoughts on DK64. I know a lot of people still love it to this
day so it would be cool to get a good dialogue going. What did you like, what did you dislike, and
what do you think they could’ve done better? Finally you can always help support the channel
and improve quality for the future by chipping in on Patreon. Anyway, I’ll see you guys next time. Stay frosty my friends!

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