August 2021 in Summary: It’s on Like Donkey Kong!

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Haunted Hall

The release of a new Ace Attorney game is something I’m both excited for and slightly annoyed by. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great series, but it’s also filled to the brim with spoilers that I know that when a new installment comes out, I have to drop pretty much everything I’m doing to play it if I’m to experience it completely fresh, hence the low number of films I ended up watching this month.


Films watched in August 2021:

In theaters:

  • <None>

At home:

  • Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1975)
  • Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1964)

This month, I decided to see Celine and Julie Go Boating, which is a hallmark of the French New Wave. It’s… certainly an interesting film, I’ll give it that, going a postmodern route well before interactive fiction made it cool. I think I’d have to watch it again before it begins to click, but I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Hey, did you know that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo had the musicians play snippets of famous video game themes? I know I was shocked when I heard the Star Light Zone theme from Sonic the Hedgehog and the Final Fantasy theme play; I was like “Wait a minute, I know this song”.

The reason I mention this is because, to celebrate the 2020 Olympics, I decided to see Tokyo Olympiad, which is a documentary made by Kon Ichikawa about the 1964 Olympics, which also took place in Tokyo. It’s interesting watching these events in a more cinematic style than the televised play-by-play style as is standard you normally get. It’s certainly worth a watch for any sports fan. In fact, you can watch it for free on the Olympics’ official website.


Games reviewed in August 2021:

Donkey Kong Country 2 - Squitter

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Also known as the one where Red Metal regains his Rare fans.

I think one of the more interesting articles I read was from a defunct online service named GameSpy. On that site, the critics put together a list of the most overrated games of all time, and Donkey Kong Country ranked ninth. Although there were a few well-reasoned arguments for some of the other entries, the list was, to put it mildly, a product of its time. The 2000s in general saw its most vocal critics completely adverse to any kind of new content, and were thus overly negative all the time (Hint: there’s a reason the “angry review show” took off this decade).

If you took these views at face value, you’d get the sense gaming lost its way some time shortly after the SNES’s debut and that the 1980s was the medium’s golden age. While I do think the 1990s are a tad bit overrated (it’s important to remember what a feast-or-famine decade it was for art in general; the good stuff was indeed great, but the bad stuff, which isn’t as remembered, was truly abysmal), I find declaring the 1980s the best decade in gaming would be like declaring the 1950s the best decade in rock music; it’s a celebration of prototypes and blueprints over the finished, fully realized products the architects were supposed to make using them.

While some good did come out of these reevaluations, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night getting its dues when it was largely ignored upon its 1998 release, it did ensure that the first wave of independent critics who would blow up online in the following years took a rather stodgy, conservative approach to their craft. I myself was partially inspired to write about video games as a means to combat these mentalities, so I’m glad that, in the long run, we all collectively decided that the snarky, dismissive zeitgeist that the first wave of independent game critics defined themselves by aged worse than a majority of the games they criticized.

Now, while I do agree to some extent that the original Donkey Kong Country is overrated, the same criticism is absolutely not applicable to either of its sequels. Whenever I see somebody claim that they’re just rehashes of the original, I’m convinced they never played the games in the first place because if they did, such an assessment misses the mark by such a wide margin, it would be a miracle if the volley landed in the same time zone.

GameSpy - WTF

If Donkey Kong Country 2 and Donkey Kong Country 3 are rehashes, I’d love to see what this guy considers pushing the envelope.

As I said in my review, do not believe anybody who says Donkey Kong Country 2 is just a style-over-substance affair that came out at the right time; it is every bit as good today as the day it was released. In fact, for those who don’t buy into the 2000s reevaluation, Donkey Kong Country 2 often competes with Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island when it comes to determining the best platformer of all time. For my money, though, I’d go with Donkey Kong Country 2 for boasting just a little bit more variety than even Yoshi’s Island while not being as demanding when it comes to its 100% completion requirement, which, in turn, isn’t balanced out by being less difficult. Really, there’s not much else to say; play the game if you haven’t, and you won’t be disappointed.

Donkey Kong Country 3 - Cliffside

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

Also known as the one where Red Metal confuses his Rare fans.

In case you’re wondering, I’m afraid it may be awhile before I review Donkey Kong 64. Unlike its three predecessors, I only ever did one complete playthrough of that game, and that was back when it was released. I remember liking it more than even Banjo-Kazooie, but I’ve also heard some pretty convincing arguments as to why, exactly, Donkey Kong 64 effectively killed the collectathon as a subgenre (unless your name was Mario, that is). I would therefore have to play it in its entirety again before I could make a fair judgement, although I remember thinking even at the time that it wasn’t as good as Donkey Kong Country 2 or Donkey Kong Country 3.

Anyway, back to Donkey Kong Country 3. I always found it to be a bit of a shame how even diehard fans of the series can be so dismissive of Donkey Kong Country 3 because it really has just as much to offer as its predecessor. I think a lot of this may stem from three factors: that the original game was the bestselling installment, that it was the only game in the trilogy in which the title character was playable, and that Donkey Kong Country 3 had the much lamer Kiddy Kong pinch hit for him.

However, I also just think that Super Mario 64, great though its overall impact may have been, did trick a lot of people (myself included) into thinking that 2D was outdated and that 3D was the only way forward for gaming as a whole. Indeed, the time period roughly spanning 1996 when Super Mario 64 was released to 2008 when Mega Man 9 saw its debut was absolutely not a good time to be a side-scrolling console game. Games such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night were dismissed as being behind the curve, and even being a part of a big-name franchise (as Symphony of the Night itself demonstrated) did little to assuage this. It was therefore up to the power of hindsight to give these games the recognition they deserved. Donkey Kong Country 3 doesn’t get mentioned in this conversation as often as Symphony of the Night probably because it was released around the same time as Super Mario 64 (in fact, Super Mario 64 is actually referenced in Donkey Kong Country 3), but it absolutely was a victim of that initial 3D craze – and arguably the first one at that.

Whatever the case may be, my stance on Donkey Kong Country 3 is the same as it is for Donkey Kong Country 2 – don’t believe the negative press this game has received; as a platformer, it’s every bit in the same league as the likes of Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island. Sure, its flaws are a bit more obvious than those of its predecessor, but it’s still a quality experience that manages to outshine countless other developers at their best. Yes – even with Kiddy Kong.

Commander Keen 4 - First Stage

Commander Keen in Goodbye, Galaxy – Episode Four: Secret of the Oracle

Secret of the Oracle is the game that made good on the promises Keen Dreams proposed, being a far more polished product than the original while not saddling players with a terrible weapon. Other than that, there’s really not much else to say about the game. I found it to be the most difficult game in the series to talk about – not really because it’s bad, but because it’s just so bland that it doesn’t really stand out in any way. It may be an improvement over the original, but it still lags behind what Mario accomplished with his own series.

Commander Keen 5 - Foreshadowing

Possible foreshadowing for id’s next success?

Commander Keen in Goodbye, Galaxy – Episode Five: The Armageddon Machine

As mentioned before, The Armageddon Machine is the only game in the series I could realistically envision anyone enjoying at face value these days. If it’s any one game that I think successfully foreshadowed the kind of design id would go for in their first-person shooters, it’s The Armageddon Machine. This is where the mazelike design actually has a sense of purpose to it that the previous games simply didn’t have. The experience is still marred by the fact that the game isn’t designed around having such a fragile protagonist, but it’s still a significant step forward id needed to make before they struck gold the following year.

Commander Keen 6 - Gameplay

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter!

Forget Donkey Kong, August of 2021 seems to have been the month of games with overly long names.

Anyway, on occasion, I’ve heard old-school id fans lament that the Commander Keen series never had a proper ending, leading some to program their own fanmade sequels in the form of mods. While it is disappointing to have a series cut itself short before it concludes (even if its story isn’t exactly anything spectacular), and I myself grew up with the Commander Keen series, there’s no getting around that the series was never really good, and even as early as 2003 when I played this installment for the first time, it was evident as to how poorly it held up. Therefore, I actually find myself giving John Carmack and company credit for making and subsequently riding the bigger wave when they did – even if it was at the expense of this series’ existence. Platformers just weren’t suited for the PC gaming sense as it was in 1991, and even at its best, Commander Keen never exceeded the standard the original Super Mario Bros. set.

Aliens Ate My Babysitter did allow the series to end on a comparatively high note compared to the original trilogy and Keen Dreams, but if you were to make a list lamenting series that ended too soon, I wouldn’t reserve a spot for Commander Keen on it.

Kalimba - Gameplay

Kalimba

C-C-C-C-Combo Breaker! Anyway, I find that, in general, the puzzle-platformer is a genre that’s very difficult to do justice due to the opposing forces involved with the methodical, cerebral nature of puzzle games and the fast-paced nature of platformers. In this regard, I would argue Kalimba hits all the right notes, providing a simple experience that lends itself to many different combinations. Its fatal flaw, however, is that it just simply doesn’t get enough mileage out of this idea, and it’s over before you know it. Had it gone on for just two or three worlds more, I would’ve considered it an underrated gem. As it stands, it’s a bit of a waste of potential – albeit interesting enough to tide over fans of the genre.


Featured articles:

Movie Review – Wings Of Desire – ManInBlack begins the month by reviewing one of the best films of the 1980s: Wim Winders’s Wings of Desire.

Backlog Tale – SaGa: Scarlet Grace – AmbitionsSaGa is a series I’m passingly familiar with, having played the inaugural Game Boy installments, so DanamesX’s take on SaGa: Scarlet Grace made for an interesting read.

Martin Scorsese: Are Marvel Movies Cinema? – Alex of Alex’s Review Corner pitches his two cents about Martin Scorsese’s infamous “Marvel movies aren’t cinema” declaration. My take: I see where Mr. Scorsese is coming from, and I like that he is able to back his words up with actual talent (unlike 99% of people who make such statements), but I think he ultimately attacked the problem from the wrong angle. The real enemy in this situation is creative stagnation, and the Marvel films, in practice, are more beneficiaries of this stagnant system than they are the perpetrators.

The Suicide Squad (2021) Movie Review – Seriously, they couldn’t come up with a more distinct name than The Suicide Squad? Anyway, here is Lashaan Balasingam’s great take on James Gunn’s interpretation; I should probably see it at some point.

Final Fantasy X – Depending on who you ask, Final Fantasy X was either the series’ last truly good installment or when things started to go wrong. Buffalo Retro’s take on it was quite interesting.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles – It’s nice to see Matt of Nintendobound finally getting into the Ace Attorney franchise, and at the risk of tipping my hand a bit, I can say he picked a winner.

Initial thoughts on the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, or why strict corporate culture isn’t always a bad thing – Whelp, looks like Activision ‘dun goofed again and is facing a lawsuit. As the resident law-talking guy around here, AK pitches his two cents about Activision’s latest debacle.

Disgaeadventures – And finally, to cap the month off, Aether takes the plunge into Disgaea, one of the few games I can think of in which you can, in fact, definitively go over 9,000 in terms of levels.


Links to my articles:

Game reviews:

19 thoughts on “August 2021 in Summary: It’s on Like Donkey Kong!

  1. Thanks for the mention! I hope that Activision and other developers are forced to conform to at least basic norms of decency. Just as long as they can’t simply throw money at the problem to make it go away, which is all too often the case in our legal system for those with the resources.

    Your comparison of the 80s for videos games and the 50s for rock music is spot on. We have to have respect for guys like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly for the massive impact they had on pop and rock, and some of their music still holds up, but the developments in music especially from the mid-60s went far beyond those roots. In the same way, I think you can still have a good time with the original Super Mario Bros., but would anyone really take that game over Super Mario World or even Mario 3? It’s the same reason I don’t advise that people start with Sonic 1 when trying out the classic Sonic games (though if I do run through them myself, I’ll certainly start with 1.) And same with the Mega Man series and a lot of others that had their starts in the 80s/early 90s. I feel like we’ve at least gotten past that “modern game anti-hype” or whatever you’d call it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that would be nice. I guess even if they end up throwing money at the problem, we can take some solace knowing that their business strategies absolutely aren’t viable in the long term.

      And I find that while pioneers are important, very rarely do they actually end up being the best in their field. And Super Mario Bros. is probably the most famous of those games, having sold the best, but otherwise, even the most diehard Mario fans are generally going to favor 3 and World over it, for both have much more to offer. 3 in particular stands out for being one of the very, very few ’80s games that actually holds up.

      In any case, I’m really glad that pessimism towards modern games is now unequivocally dead in the water, as the medium and community surrounding it is much better off for it. A medium isn’t going to go anywhere if its most ardent supporters constantly shoot down everything. Even Yahtzee eventually went from dunking on every game he reviews to outright praising good ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d say this was an awesome month, with all the DKC reviews and your very accurate take on them. By “accurate”, of course, I mean that it is similar to mine. =P

    Thanks for the nod. And I guess you have finished The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles by now. I am looking forward to reading what you have to say about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I certainly got a lot done, that’s for sure. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with having that much conviction in your opinions.

      You’re welcome! I was thoroughly impressed with those two games, so you can definitely expect a review of them in the near-future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I too was surprised when I saw the video game theme songs being played at the Olympics. A nice touch. And as a gamer, they definitely get my respect there. Thanks for the shoutout too. I appreciate it. Hopefully, when you get the chance to try out The Suicide Squad, you’ll have a pleasant experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the mention! The SaGa games are still intimidating to play, but I hope to one day get the hang of “properly” playing them.

    The comments of the Donkey Kong Country series sounds like earlier internet forums of hating something because its popular. DKC2 is one of those games from my childhood that me and my brother played constantly, but never finished. I recently played it on the Nintendo Switch Online service and laughed when my latent muscle memory got me through the first world in a fast time while still collecting all the collectables. The DKC series just sticks with you since they are fun games to play and designed well. Even the newer games by Retro Studios help keep the flair of the older titles while adding new things to them. Games just good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! I’ve only finished the first two games – the games known as The Final Fantasy Legend and Final Fantasy Legend II, but it is an interesting series to say the least.

      Yeah, that’s an aspect of early 2000s gaming criticism that hasn’t aged well. Granted, criticism in the 2010s arguably swung a little too far in the other direction and became susceptible to recency bias, but it is nice to see them excited for new content (I just wish they’d give more indie developers the spotlight). And yeah, DKC2 is good times – so is DKC3. I haven’t played the Retro games to completion, so I should definitely give them a try at some point.

      Like

  5. You made it! You’re finally out of Commander Keen games to review! You’re free! To go on to the next mediocre but hallowed game series, no doubt. I hope your posts for that one are just as intriguing as it was for these.

    Liked by 1 person

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