First, let’s just clarify that this is not a hate piece against our dear jumpy Italian plumber, but a discussion about why Donkey Kong doesn’t get enough love, and why it definitely should. Despite being one of the main franchises on the Nintendo catalog, the last original Donkey Kong game, Tropical Freeze, came out in 2014. Furthermore, the last (and only) 3D game on the franchise, Donkey Kong 64, was released more than two decades ago, in 1999. This doesn’t seem fair, especially since we have the 40th Anniversary of the Donkey Kong franchise this year, on July 9th, a celebration that Nintendo so far forgot. Sure, there are some rumors about a possible new Donkey Kong game and animated series being developed. However, without an official confirmation, we can only hope and wait.
The latest rumors claim that the team behind Super Mario Odyssey is actively developing a new Donkey Kong title, which would mean we won’t be getting an Odyssey sequel anytime soon. If confirmed, this would be fantastic news! While everyone else keeps hoping for a Super Mario Odyssey 2 announcement, there’s a primal drum that constantly plays at the back of my mind, driving my dreams to a forest filled with golden bananas. And while recent 2D Donkey Kong games are amazing, another shot at a 3D game for the franchise is long overdue.
Why Did Donkey Kong 64 Fail?
Before pounding our fist against Nintendo’s door and demanding a new Donkey Kong game, we need to understand why the franchise only had a single 3D title. Donkey Kong 64 was not so well-received when it came out, and while it still a solid game for fans of Collect-A-Thons, it has some noticeable flaws.
In Donkey Kong 64, Rare used everything they learned with Banjo-Kazooie to created their biggest game yet. Instead of a single playable character, Donkey Kong 64 has five main Kongs, each with unique abilities that use a complex control scheme. Each Kong also has its own set of collectibles, which other Kongs cannot grab. That means players constantly need to switch characters to collect every item on a level. The task soon becomes a chore, as the player cannot change characters freely but need to use special barrels spread across levels. Yep, there’s a lot of backtracking involved in Donkey Kong 64.
Donkey Kong 64 levels are enormous to make matters worse, and all because they need to be filled with five sets of the same collectibles. However, there’s not enough content to make each corner of these levels interesting, which results in a lot of empty space to wander through. The cherry on top of this messy design decision is that to beat Donkey Kong 64, the player needs to find a pair of well-hidden coins representing the toughest challenges in the game. No way around it. Just buckle up and do your best to even know these coins exist!
Nevertheless, the biggest offender of Donkey Kong 64 might be the mandatory minigames. Unfortunately, many collectibles are locked behind minigames that are not particularly fun. What’s worse is that each minigame gets repeated dozens of times across the game, another proof that Donkey Kong 64 tried to extend its duration much beyond what it should. It’s not exactly a fun experience to finish Donkey Kong 64 while collecting every possible item, and the thing that can suck the fun of some levels is the repeated minigames.
Even if we cannot deny Donkey Kong 64 was flawed, that doesn’t mean we can’t praise everything it does well. Boss battles are incredible, for starters, and the game has a personality that makes it charming even in its lowest moments. The “DK Rap”, for instance, is one of the best original tracks of all time, in any kind of media! It’s also lots of fun to play with different Kongs, each with their own types of attacks, jumps, and special powers. Sure, a direct sequel would take a lot of work, as there is a lot to fix. Even so, there’s also a lot to save in Donkey Kong 64, which makes it all too sad that Nintendo never gave a full 3D DK game another shot.
What a New 3D Donkey Kong Game Could Look Like
I get it. It’s hard to make a good sequel when the base game is not perfect. The Super Mario franchise already has many successful 3D titles, but that’s because its very first 3D game, Super Mario 64, is a masterpiece that still holds up more than 20 years later. Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and even Super Mario Odyssey were built upon what Super Mario 64 created, expanding the concepts already present on the Nintendo 64. It’s like they say: you don’t need to fix what’s not broken.
A 3D Donkey Kong game would have to follow a different development path and tear down the original game before rebuilding something new. However, that also means Nintendo is free to experiment with new mechanics and deliver something unique. There’s no need to hold on to Donkey Kong 64 as an example of what can be done; the DK franchise could explore the 3D in any way it would like. Maybe, instead of a Collect-A-Thon, the next Donkey Kong could have a linear structure in which the goal is to reach the end level by using all your monkey agility.
Different Kongs could still be featured in a new 3D DK game, each with unique abilities that allow them to take different paths on the same level. That would mean that Nintendo doesn’t need to overcomplicate things by adding multiple skills to each Kong. By only changing speed, height, and jump distance, the new 3D DK game could already have enough variety. A more constraint control scheme also means the designer could focus on making movement feel good.
All we want to do in a DK game is jump around, balance on vines, and get shot by barrels. Without having to worry about hundreds of collectibles and dozens of different skills, Nintendo could pour its energy into making these basic mechanics fluid and responsive in 3D. Once the basics are in place, Nintendo can bring all the creativity present on Donkey Kong Returns and Tropical Freeze by designing wacky levels with new interactable objects and enemies.
We can have a lot of variety in a game while still keeping it simple for the player. That’s the lesson we can take both from Donkey Kong 64 lukewarm reception and Tropical Freeze universal acclaim. So why not use this wisdom to imagine a new 3D DK game? Pretty much every Donkey Kong sidescroller is terrific, but bringing the franchise back to 3D can lead it to new and exciting paths. We all need more monkeys in our life, and the Nintendo Switch would be the perfect home to a new 3D DK game. The timing would also be perfect because of the 40th Anniversary of the Donkey Kong franchise. Furthermore, Nintendo needs more original titles from its biggest franchises to keep relevant in the upcoming years. Let’s hope the rumors are accurate and that the Super Mario Odyssey team can bring the same level of excellence to a new Donkey Kong title.
The film is currently scheduled to be released theatrically in the summer of 2022.
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