Archive for the ‘Rare’ Tag

Goldeneye 64

Friday, November 16th, 2012

 

Goldeneye 64

We took a look two week’s ago at a James Bond film that have a soft spot for, so I thought it might be a good idea to get this week’s topic out of the way on a “mini-binge”, so that we can move on to more relevant things (Ha!). Conversions of popular films into video games have a somewhat checkered history. Typically seen as a means of further cashing-in a film’s popularity, you often find that not a lot of effort is put into making them playable, enjoyable and – perish the thought – innovative & visionary experiences. A notable exception to this rule may include the Super Star Wars trilogy on the SNES, but even now as writing, I am truly racking my brains trying to think of games that buck this rather troublesome trend. Particularly nowadays, the broad plethora of detritus released in this respect is almost staggering. It is as if nothing is sacred nowadays.

My somewhat cynical outlook put to one side (for the last time, I hope), back in 1997, developers Rare put aside their finesse in creating monkey-based platformers and instead decided to enter the arena of first person shooters. This genre of video game fare had typically been the type of thing you’d see on a PC, and not a console. Controller issues was one issue, but other factors such as Nintendo’s staunch anti-violence approach to games released on the SNES had scared developers away; ID Software were reportedly so annoyed by the heavily censored version of Wolfenstein 3D, they gave the games source code to the developers of this shockingly bad clone. So when Goldeneye 64 first came along, it was somewhat of an anomaly in the Nintendo 64’s then-present library.

Goldeneye 64 puts you at the helm of James Bond himself as he attempts to thwart the machinations of the Janus crime syndicate and the insidious weapon known as Goldeneye. Players are able to experience many of key points from the film, as well as a variety of uniquely designed levels that fit seamlessly into the game’s central plot. On top of the main story, there are also two bonus missions based off the films Moonraker, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. There is a good variety of locales and challenges that players can expect to overcome, ranging from stealthy espionage to more explosive entanglements. Each mission is instantly unforgettable, and quality is the name of the game from start to finish.

The game has 3 difficulty levels, with scaling objectives for each. This is an extremely nice touch, as it gives the more borderline masochistic the opportunity to whet their desire for carnage further, with the bonus of new objectives to complete as well. Individual mission objectives are both well thought-out and challenging, although not without their fare share of frustration. The NPC AI, for example, has a knack for always throwing themselves right into the middle of firefight. In missions where certain NPC’s are essential for the completion of certain objectives, the results often lead to frustrating and oft parodied conclusions. Despite this, the failing of objectives is made less annoying by the fact the mission doesn’t instantly end when you fail objectives, enabling players to experience easter egg-esque moments in almost every mission.

One of the most memorable aspects of the game for me was always the cheats. You can put aside your Konami codes, however – unlike the vast majority of other games at the time, these could be unlocked by completing certain levels as quickly as possible, on different difficulties. A encyclopaedic-level of different cheats are potentially un-lockable, ranging from weapon cheats through to one of gamings best – and, if Gears of War 3is anything to go by, iconic – ever cheats – DK mode! These cheats were always a major boon for me, as they enabled me to complete the game on higher difficulties and unlock the game’s ultimate game mode – 007 difficulty, which allows the player to set their own difficulty for each individual mission, based on a number of different parameters. No game since, to the best of my knowledge, matches Goldeneye 64 in both of these regards.

Controls is probably the only area in which you could fault the game severely. This is more a problem of the N64 itself, and I have always find the controller to be one the system’s major weaknesses. I mean, how the bloody hell are you supposed to hold it?!? Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem for a game that made little or no use of the D-PAD, and Goldeneye attempts to resolve this by mirroring the functions of the D-PAD and the C-Buttons. This initial problem aside, and the main problem you find is that aiming and moving can be incredibly clunky. If the enemies were any more intelligent or agile, then this, I think, would make the game virtually unplayable. Thankfully, the AI is suitably archaic enough (by today’s standards) for this not to become a major issue.

I’ve done something rather deliberate with this review: I haven’t talked about the multiplayer at all. A major sin, you may argue, and I cannot deny that it is one of the game’s finest points. I do think, though, that Goldeneye 64’s multiplayer is often the most touted – and, sometimes, only – feature that people talk about this game. Scrapping the multiplayer entirely, and there is so much in this game for almost anyone to enjoy. It sets a fine example in how a video game tie-in should play like, and it remains the only such game to have successfully establish a legacy that many developers today actively covet and aspire towards in their work.

(Image courtesy of gamesutra.com)

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Donkey Kong Country (1994) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) helped to cement Rare’s (known then as Rareware) reputation as one of the premier first-party developers for Nintendo. This is despite the fact that Donkey Kong’s creator – Shigeru Miyamoto – is purported to have said ‘that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good’. An unfair comment perhaps, given that the game owes a lot to Miyamoto’s own Super Mario franchise, in terms of platform gameplay, world select screens and boss fights, and Miyamoto himself later withdrew the remark, citing development pressures surrounding Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. 

I remember having nothing but good memories of DKC, and spent a great deal of time as a child attempting to beat the game. Although it was frustrating in certain regards (the saving system meant you could potentially lose significant progress if you lost too many lives), I remember it as being one of the most graphically advanced looking game in the entire SNES library, and helped to establish Donkey Kong as one of heavy-hitting characters of the Super Nintendo era, alongside Mario, Link and Samus.

A sequel was therefore not entirely unexpected, and was duly delivered in 1995 in the form of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. The evil crocodile villain, King K. Rool, having been defeated by Donkey and Diddy Kong in the first game is back, but with a vengeance. He kidnaps Donkey Kong and demands the Kong’s secret banana horde in exchange for him (cause, y’know, crocodiles can’t get enough of bananas…). Not wanting to displease the anticipating players, I would imagine, Diddy teams up with his cousin/girlfriend/long lost twin sister, Dixie Kong, to help rescue Donkey from Crocodile Island.

I get the impression that the developers may have gone on a major Treasure Island binge prior to making the game, as this is quite possibly the most pirate-y game on the SNES: the Kremlins have peg-legs, King K. Rool is now Kaptain K.Rool, sporting a blunderbuss and full pirate attire (sadly, however, lacking the Jack Sparrow appeal). While this does help to add a layer of distinctive onto the game, when compared to its prequel, I can’t help but look back now and laugh at the extreme levels in which this is deployed.

Little changes with regards to gameplay – players can once again expect to traverse a wide array of differing platforming stages, in diverse environments, collecting bananas, extra lives (manifested as balloons in the shape of Diddy Kong). The ‘tag-team’ format of the first game returns, although this time player’s will have to suffice with simply Diddy Kong and Dixie, with Dixie’s special pony-tail float ability being a major help when overcoming certain obstacles. Players can also once again take advantage of a number of animal buddies, such as Rambi the Rhino or Enguarde the Swordfish, to help overcome obstacles. World Map’s make a welcome return, as do a number of different bosses that the player will have to overcome, before eventually facing the the Kaptain himself in a showdown that would put Dr. Robotnik to shame. The game will feel very familiar to those who have played the first game, but packs enough of its own new content to make it distinctively enjoyable for the player.

The music is simply amazing, with David Wise’s, Rare’s in-house composer, returning to fine form after his sterling effort in DKC, with compositions that match the surroundings and often add another layer of enjoyment onto gameplay. For example, in one level, the player has to traverse a galley as Rattly the snake. The music used, an upbeat and catchy version of the DKC’s final boss theme, really suits the mood as you jump constantly across the level. I also like the level completion ‘riff’s – depending on which character you use to beat the level, you’ll be treated to funky tune, courtesy of the Kong in question – a beatbox tune from Diddy and an ace guitar riff from Dixie. I realise this probably sounds naff by today’s standards, but theres a certain mid 90’s cheese to it that I really enjoy.

One of the things that still strikes me as being the most noteworthy aspect of the game is the bonus levels. DKC had these aplenty, but DKC 2 takes it the next level. Upon successful completion of the ‘Bonus Barrels’, players receive a special KremKoin (badum-tisch). Collecting enough of these will allow players to travel to the ‘Lost World’ and eventually unlock the secret final boss and ending. This is the first time as a child I remember a game having such an incentive in place, and really does help stretch the experience just that little bit further.

So much could of gone wrong with this game, but for a sequel it is surprisingly fresh, and expands upon the original significantly enough to make it stand out on its own. Alongside the first game, and the eventual third game in the series, Donkey Kong Country 3: DIxie’s Kong’s Double Trouble, it stands out as one of gamings greatest, albeit rather poorly named, trilogies, and a true testament of the capabilities of the SNES.

(Image courtesy of donkeykong.wikia.com)