Which is the Better Game? Donkey Kong 64 vs. Donkey Kong Country Returns
An archived post from the past that solidifies why one of these games is better than the other one.
Editor's Note: Geez. This reminds me that I really have to cross both of these games off my bucket list.
This is a blog that I've been looking forward to making for a long time now. As I've mentioned repeatedly, I grew up with the N64, primarily Rareware. And of those games, one of my favorites was Donkey Kong 64 which still remains one of my favorite platformers of all time.
So when I heard that there was going to be a new Donkey Kong game, I was psyched. Donkey Kong Country Returns was going to be a 2D platformer in lieu of the DKC games (which I've never played) which is a direct contrast to DK64 but I was still psyched to play it. And want to know something? This game was worth eleven years of an absence of a good DK game. 'Twas damn awesome.
But which was better? Was Rareware the master forevermore or did Retro Studios put in enough awesome content to make it better? Let's find out! Now just remember that this will all be treated as an opinion piece... even though I speak solely in truth so your contrasting opinions don't matter whatsoever.
Story & Characters
I've decided to meld these two categories into one because, as I've stated time and time again, the storylines in Donkey Kong games (or any Nintendo platformer for that matter) don't make much sense.
Seriously both of these games have a story in the simplest sense of the word possible. In DK64, K. Rool decides to destroy Donkey Kong's home island and sends him on a golden banana scavenger hunt to distract him while K. Rool rebuilds his Blast-O-Matic. In DKCR, the evil Tiki Tak Tribe steals Donkey Kong's bananas to make more Tikis (don't ask).
Just to give you an idea of how retarded both of these are, bear with me. In DK64, K. Rool kidnaps all of the Kongs except Donkey. I mean really? Not only were the golden bananas they stole only a stone's throw away from DK's house but he was doing push-ups. Seriously just throw a net over him and call it a day.
In the latter, the reason why the Tikis steal the bananas is because; wait for it; they own their own private factory where a chicken hypnotized under their control smashes the bananas into pulp. The banana pulp then gets plopped onto stumps of wood which then get transformed into Tikis.
Since we've firmly established that both stories are utterly retarded, let's move onto the characters. Given the fact that Donkey Kong 64 is a far more open-ended game, it obviously has far more characters than its 2D counterpart. For example, it possesses 5 playable characters while DKCR possesses no more than two.
Also, when you begin visiting secondary characters DK64 has access to Cranky, Funky, Snide, Candy and Troff 'n Scoff (don't ask what each of these characters do, we'll be here all day). In Donkey Kong Country Returns, you only meet up with Cranky who is the best of those characters being the lovable curmudgeon that he is.
So, yeah, you can probably guess that DK64 is the victor. In addition to having more characters, it also has far more likable ones making it succeed in both quality and quantity. The main reason why I say it is for two chief reasons.
The first is the villain. In DK64 we have King K. Rool: the leader of the Kremling while in DKCR it's Tiki Tong, the leader of the Tiki Tak Tribe. Whereas Tiki Tong really only exists for the purpose of having a final boss character, K. Rool stands out to me as one of the best villains in a platformer. Seriously, there's nothing funnier than a Bond villain trying to be evil and serious yet he is constantly dragged down because of all of his henchmen are complete losers.
The other is that DK64 has Chunky. Out of all the Kongs, Chunky is the best, hands down. He's pretty much the big strong guy who's an utter coward and always gets caught up in a lot of goofy antics (watch the DK Rap to see what I mean). Yet for some strange reason, he's the only Kong who never went anywhere.
You ever notice that? Donkey and Diddy are pretty much the series' staples and Lanky and Tiny went on to cameo in some other DK games yet Chunky has never appeared since. Why is that? Chunky's freaking awesome! On the sole merit of Chunky being awesome, he wins it for his game.
This is definitely going to be one of the harder categories to decide since I love both of these games' bosses. Donkey Kong 64's bosses are engraved into my childhood with them either being scary, tricky, fun or a combination thereof.
Donkey Kong Country Returns' bosses blew me away when I first played the game. I wasn't really expecting much but it actually turns out that when the game intends on giving you a boss fight, they really do intend on giving it. Barring Mangoruby (the centipede thing in World 5) each and every boss fight in DKCR is awesome.
But which is better? I've pretty much promised myself to have no ties whatsoever in this comparison so which game has the better compilation of awesome boss battles?
Let's start off with both games' coup de grace: the final boss. The final battle against Tiki Tong was definitely one of the hardest bosses on the Wii, and extremely fun to boot, but I'll give it to the multi-part brawl against K. Rool. It's just so flat-out hilarious and comes out of nowhere (if you've played the game, you know what I mean).
But seriously, let's look at them on the whole. At first one might think DK64 since, after all, the game came out twelve years ago and I'm still raving about the game's boss battles. But you want to know something? I'm willing to bet you that in another twelve years, I'll be raving about Donkey Kong Country Returns' boss fights and how awesome they were.
Right from the first boss fight against Mugly, DKCR never lets up in the boss department. DK64 sort of took until the third boss for them to really start getting memorable so that's a bit of a seven-to-six strike there. The new wins in this category.
I am perfectly aware that the soundtrack cover you see above you is for the first DKC game but I couldn't find one for DKCR so just make do with what you've got.
With that said, thank God that after such a tricky category to decide, I get an easy one to judge next. I do not hesitate for a moment when I say that Donkey Kong 64 wins by a long shot.
That is not to say that Retro Studios made a bad soundtrack. On the contrary it's damn good. But let's do so quick comparing and contrasting here. For example let's look at the overworld music of both games. (Granted DKCR is more of a map screen than an overworld but you get what I mean).
Yeah, DK64's overworld music sounds like you're gearing up for an epic adventure. DKCR's just sounds like a standard map screen music, nothing special. Not convinced? Here's a boss song that sounds very desert-sounding from both games.
Again, DK64 just has a faster tempo and a much catchier beat. What about the mine cart music (both games have multiple so let's just choose the best of each)?
This is actually a bit of a trickier one to decide but, after some consideration, I would again deem Grant Kirkhope's work as superior simply because of how fast-paced and catchier it is. Once more, how about my favorite boss song from both games?
That French tempo for the chicken is one of the catchiest songs ever but the former is just one of the most epic songs ever. For the final comparison, I'll choose my favorite song from both games to compare.
The latter game's is nothing short of sheer musical beauty but I'm tipping my hat to Hideout Helm (the first song). One of the most atmospheric, suspenseful songs for one of the most atmospheric, suspenseful levels in video game history.
Please keep in mind that I'm not actively trying to find reasons to prove DK64 as superior, this is really what is going through my mind and what happens when I compare the two. I'm willing to concede that some songs on the DKCR are better than their counterparts. For example, the forest level music (or main forest level music in DKCR's case).
Whilst DK64s Fungi Forest sounds okay, the main forest theme of Donkey Kong Country Returns is just awesome. It really increases this sense of awe and wonderment as you explore this forest. Another good example is the opening music of both games:
Okay, let me just say that most people either love or hate the DK Rap. I'm really in the middle: I think it's okay (particularly because of Chunky's antics) but it's not really memorable (what the Hell does "take it to the fridge" even mean?). In DKCR's case, there's always a point when you're playing an awesome game where you know that it's going to be awesome. When the opening music does that impression, that's definitely a good sign.
So yeah, Retro Studios definitely got a lot of the songs right but they just can't compete with the undisputed champions of awesome platformer music: Rareware.
I couldn't find any snippets of the actual multiplayer modes so please settle for those random screenshots.
Anyway, this is another easy victory for Donkey Kong 64. I'd hate to say it but DKCR really makes a better single-player game than a multiplayer game. Whilst DK64 fits into the same category, its multiplayer is still freaking awesome.
In DK64, basically you go to the multiplayer mode and can have death matches with your peers. While at first you might try some cloak-and-dagger methods of sniping with your guns, it'll inevitably wind up in a fistfight. If you can get three other buddies to play the game with you and all four players are in one location, it's nothing short of pure chaos in the most fun way imaginable.
Donkey Kong Country Returns' multiplayer is just... unappealing. In addition to the fact that the second player is going to routinely die (since Diddy can't survive without Donkey) it's also limited to just two players which is a shame. Compare this to New Super Mario Bros. Wii where you can have up to four players play with you (which is another form of utter chaos in a very fun way).
Also, the ability to mess with your fellow player isn't there either. I don't know about you but when I play with my brothers and friends at video games, I like to screw with them. In DKCR you're pretty much required to work together. I want my death matches dammit Retro Studios!
Mine Cart Levels
When I saw the E3 trailer for Donkey Kong Country Returns and I saw that there was going to be a few mine cart levels I said, "Hell yes." The mine cart levels in Donkey Kong 64 were nothing short of a pure blast so I correctly predicted that such a tradition would remain.
And remain it did. The mine cart levels were consistently some of the best levels in the game. Seriously, they're so awesome that there's actually an entire world based entirely off of mine cart levels. They look surprisingly simple but actually require some strategy, especially in the later levels.
But which is better? Again, I promised no ties so we have to make a choice. Both games' mine cart levels are an utter blast to play but, after some decision-making, I've decided to give the point to the Country for two reasons.
First is that the mine cart levels are more well-designed. It's kind of hard to explain but I found myself wanting to go back again and again to them whereas I had enough of DK64's mine cart levels after finishing them for the second or third time. Also there's more hidden secrets which also helps.
The second reason is that there's just more of them. I normally do say quality over quantity but when quality's about equal, bring on the the quantity baby!
This is another hard one although unlike the last categories, its not because both games' transformations are so awesome but because they're both so underutilized that it's hard to decide which game got the usage of your animal buddies right.
Now, as I've said before, I've never played a Donkey Kong Country game before so I don't know how the animal buddies were utilized in the original trilogy and I only know of two (although there's apparently many more): Rambi the rhino and Enguarde the swordfish.
In Donkey Kong 64, these two only appear in very specific areas and can only be used by a certain Kong. You can only use Rambi as Donkey Kong in the first level, Jungle Japes, to uncover hidden switches for more golden bananas. If you go too far out of the safe zone, you get turned back to normal (K. Rool's evil laugh that occurred whenever this happened used to scare me as a kid).
In the Gloomy Galleon level, you can turn into Enguarde as Lanky in order to change the water level which you'll have to do to get various golden bananas and destroy some treasure chests and, once again, if you too far out of your safe zone, you'll turn back to normal.
In Donkey Kong Country Returns, you can uncover Rambi in some levels although he's few and far between. In fact, he only appears in about five levels in the whole game: two in the jungle, one in the ruins, one on the cliff and one in the volcano.
Since we've established that both transformations barely appear in either games, let's look at fun factor. In both games, Rambi is an unstoppable force of destruction who will annihilate all in his path.
So in the former, Rambi and Enguarde are fun to play with... for the first five minutes. Seriously, since you're only limited to a very small area, Rambi gets real old real fast. Enguarde is even more boring because there's nothing to kill underwater.
This is certainly where Country Returns takes the cake: Rambi may not appear much but you certainly have full range to use him. As long as you don't hit any fire, you can use him as long as you want and it's an utter blast to utilize Rambi.
Not only that but the levels where you get to play as him are more diverse. I especially state this with the level in the Ruins where you can use him which is one of the best levels in the whole game. So yeah, the winner is pretty clear here.
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, is this going to be hard. Both of these games are some of my all-time favorite platformers and games in general. But which is better? This is definitely one Hell of a hard decision but I'll have to make a decision.
First off, please keep in mind that the winner will be subjective and this blog was hard to make in and of itself because they're two radically different games (one's in 3D, one's in 2D). If it wasn't for the fact that both games were called Donkey Kong, I wouldn't even be making this blog right now.
With that in mind, let's start off with replayability which has, more often than not, been the defining aspect in a lot of these comparison blogs. Some of them anyway. And this is in the category of ones where it doesn't matter.
Why? Because both games have a Goliath of content that will keep you coming back for more. It took me about a full year to get everything in Donkey Kong 64 and I'm only halfway finished with getting all the collectibles in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Here's why:
The first game is similar to Banjo-Kazooie in that there's a certain number of major collectibles in each level: 8 worlds, 25 golden bananas per world, 5 golden bananas per Kong. And these worlds are big. Huge. Giant. Colossal. Gigantic. Literally, this is one of the biggest games ever made. Trying to find every golden banana will take you one Hell of a long time.
In Donkey Kong Country Returns, you have to find all the letters that spell KONG, a varying amount of puzzle pieces, finish a time trial mode and, after getting all the letters, mirror mode on each and every single level. So you could literally play these games for several months and not even come close to 100%-ing the whole thing.
Since we've struck down that argument, let's begin looking at some other stuff. For example, the graphics. I normally don't take graphics into consideration when reviewing a game but it just has to be mentioned here. Why? Because Donkey Kong Country Returns is gorgeous. Seriously, there's more than one point in the whole game that had me picking my jaw up off the floor because of how amazing the whole thing looked.
Still, that doesn't impact the whole thing proper so we're back into deadlock. After much decision-making, however, I have come to a conclusion which really stooped the lowest degree of argumentation in the modern video game critiquing world: dimensionality.
What it all comes down to is the fact that Donkey Kong 64 is 3D while Donkey Kong Country Returns is 2D. I didn't mind this at first but while testing out the unappealing multiplayer mode, my brother complained that it seemed like a step backwards.
While that's a bit of a crude way of putting it, he is actually correct, as much as I'd hate to say it. Video games are currently going through a time right now where going retro is all the rage. I don't really mind but I'm really starting to pine for some true 3D platformers again. As in something that makes me want to collect stuff while exploring this huge world.
Barring Mickey Mouse's recent flawed outing on the Wii, there really haven't been enough games like that anymore. And, when you think about it, it's actually much harder to make a 3D platformer don't you think? After all, you don't put the player on an axis and tell them to move left or right, you have to make them go anywhere.
Again, I love both of these games and they're both some of my all-time favorite platformers. I definitely respect Donkey Kong Country Returns for bringing the legendary ape back to his own franchise but, at the end of the day, I have to give the final point to the game that was in 3D and therefore harder to make (especially given how freakin' huge it was). The winner of this comparison is Donkey Kong 64.
Also, as long as we're on the topic of retro revivals and the fact that there haven't been enough explorathon 3D platformers on the Wii, maybe DK64 could get its own retro revival. Retro Studios, hmmm? Huh?