Donkey Kong 64

Donkey Kong 64

With the last installment seeing its release in 1996, Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy served as both the pinnacle of 2D platforming and its swansong. During that time, Super Mario 64 was released as a launch title for the Nintendo 64. As the first successful fully three-dimensional platformer, it changed the direction of AAA gaming forever. While it is speculated that Nintendo’s landmark title may have resulted in Donkey Kong Country 3 enjoying less critical favor than its two predecessors, it was a success in its own right. Even so, Super Mario 64 made it clear that 3D was in, and it only made sense to adapt Donkey Kong Country to the new rubric. Gregg Mayles, who had served as the lead designer for Donkey Kong Country and its first sequel, led the effort to turn this possibility into a reality.

Development of this game began in 1997. It was originally slated to be released on Nintendo’s proposed 64DD (DD being short for “Disk Drive” or “Dynamic Drive”). The 64DD was intended to be a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 capable of reading magnetic disks and acting as an enabling technology platform for the development of new applications. It even boasted dialup connectivity in an age when the idea of connecting home consoles to the internet was in its infancy. However, development moved to the base console when the 64DD was delayed numerous times before being cancelled outright for international markets.

In the meantime, Mr. Mayles had acted as the lead designer and co-director of Banjo-Kazooie, which would become Rare’s first 3D platformer. Following the trail Super Mario 64 blazed, that game demonstrated Rare’s aptitude in platforming after dabbling in other genres with Blast Corps, Goldeneye 007, and Diddy Kong Racing – not a mean feat given the sheer number of developers who failed to adapt to these uncharted waters. Demonstrating they were every bit Nintendo’s equals in terms of 3D platforming, fans eagerly awaited a new Donkey Kong game more than ever – and that is exactly what Mr. Mayles and his team intended to give them.

With many developers transitioning from the Banjo-Kazooie team, they were determined to bring Donkey Kong into the third dimension. In fact, the game was so ambitious that the team allegedly ran into memory problems while programming it.

Expansion Pak

According to programmer Chris Marlow, a bug which caused the game to freeze after playing it for a significant length of time arose during development. It couldn’t be resolved without using the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak – an upgrade that provided an extra four megabytes of RAM (random-access memory). However, his story was disputed by artist Mark Stevenson. While such a bug did exist, according to Mr. Stevenson, the Expansion Pak wasn’t the solution to that problem. Regardless, Rare, at a great expense, made the decision to bundle each copy of the game with the memory upgrade.

Despite this setback, development of the game proceeded smoothly, and the project was completed in 1999. Keeping in line with the Nintendo 64 branding, the game was named Donkey Kong 64. Like Banjo-Kazooie, the game was met with a warm critical reception, being considered the single most ambitious title on the Nintendo 64 at the time. Review outlet IGN took note of the sheer amount of content and dubbed Donkey Kong 64 Rare’s War and Peace. With these sentiments having been expressed just one year after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, can Donkey Kong 64 truly be considered one of the platform’s all-time greats?

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Mega Man 7

Mega Man 7

Having ended its run with a severe case of creative burnout, the Mega Man series received a new lease on life when Mega Man X debuted in December of 1993. A distant sequel to the original set of games, Mega Man X had a noticeably darker tone than any entry in what enthusiasts would retroactively dub the classic series. Combined with fast-paced, exploratory gameplay and a plethora of new mechanics, Capcom had yet another hit on their hands. With the release of its own sequel, Mega Man X2, the following year, an entire new series for Capcom’s signature franchise was confirmed.

Although Mega Man X was well received, fans of the classic series were a little worried. It was clear Capcom had struck gold with Mega Man X, so a sequel seemed inevitable. This caused fans of the NES games to worry if the classic series was effectively over. These worries were eventually assuaged when Capcom announced the development of Mega Man 7. Yes, for those put off by the dark tone of Mega Man X, this game would be a compromise, ignoring the new direction while still letting it develop and finding a way to revisit the series’ roots at the same time. In fact, such was the zeal for a continuation of the classic series that when Capcom revealed they did not intend to release Mega Man 7 despite having finished an English translation, the overwhelmingly negative reaction made them rethink their plans.

Timing and scheduling conflicts ensured a fairly difficult development cycle. Despite bringing the series to a new platform, the team had only three months to complete the game. Despite these setbacks both primary artist Keiji Inafune and Director Yoshihisa Tsuda felt the experience to be a lot of fun. The latter compared it to being part of a sports team camp, although he wished he and his team had another month or so to work on it. Regardless, the game was completed and eventually released domestically in March of 1995 under the name Rockman 7: Showdown of Destiny! Thanks to the efforts of Western fans, the game saw a release in North America and Europe later that year, renamed Mega Man 7 – the subtitle removed once again. In the wake of Mega Man X, what does the continuation of the classic series have to offer?

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Donkey Kong Land III

Donkey Kong Land III

Donkey Kong Country 3 was released in November of 1996. Although it received positive reviews, its sales figures were noticeably less than those of its direct predecessor. This is largely because it had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of Super Mario 64 and the 3D revolution it kickstarted. Regardless, as Rare had much success in the Game Boy market with their Donkey Kong Land series, it only made sense for them to make an equivalent game for the concluding Donkey Kong Country trilogy installment as well. This game, entitled Donkey Kong Land III was released in October of 1997 in both North America and Europe. Japanese enthusiasts would receive a color update for this game in 2000, which utilized the abilities of the then-newest Game Boy model. Donkey Kong Land III was widely praised with some calling it the best game in the Donkey Kong Land trilogy. Was the game the power move its Super NES counterpart managed to be?

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Donkey Kong Land 2

Donkey Kong Land 2

Donkey Kong Country 2 was released in November of 1995. Much like its predecessor, it was a critical and commercial success. It became the sixth bestselling game on its platform, the Super NES. In fact, it was the single bestselling game on that console to not be packaged with the system. Meanwhile, developers at Rare had another success on their hands in the form of Donkey Kong Land, a Game Boy counterpart to the original Donkey Kong Country. As Donkey Kong Land sold over three-million copies, a sequel was inevitable. The game was finished and subsequently launched in North America in September of 1996 before seeing a broader release in Japan and Europe the following November. With Donkey Kong Country 2 being a massive improvement over its direct predecessor, how does its Game Boy counterpart fare?

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Donkey Kong Land

Donkey Kong Land

In the year 1994, the Twycross, England-based developer Rare put the finishing touches on Donkey Kong Country. Their game saw its release that autumn, and it quickly became one of the SNES’s bestselling titles. While the company had success developing games for the NES, Donkey Kong County was what put them on the map for many an enthusiast thanks in part to their close collaboration with Nintendo and the eye-catching presentation courtesy of the then-state-of-the-art Silicon Graphics workstations they employed.

However, as Rare co-founders Tim and Chris Stamper helmed the development of Donkey Kong Country, a second team formed to create another game starring the title ape. Nintendo’s Game Boy was released in 1989 and had become the single most successful handheld console to date. Realizing the potential of the handheld device, this second team sought to create a game for that platform. Created with the same Silicon Graphics workstations and Advanced Computer Modeling technique they utilized to develop Donkey Kong Country, this game was completed in the summer of 1995.

Named Donkey Kong Land, the game received fairly positive reviews with many critics praising its graphical presentation. It was eventually awarded the title of “Best Game Boy Game of 1995” by both Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro. Having moved more than three-million units, Donkey Kong Land ensured that Rare had a bestselling game in both the home console and handheld markets. With a high standard to live up to, how does Donkey Kong Land compare to its 16-bit counterpart?

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Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter!

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter

In the same month the Goodbye, Galaxy duology saw its release, so too did the standalone sixth official episode of id Software’s Commander Keen series: Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter. Although the second episode of Goodbye, Galaxy, The Armageddon Machine, teased at a new set of games entitled The Universe is Toast!, this sixth episode would be the series’ finale. Was it able to give id’s first triumph a proper sendoff?

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

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

Programmed in but a single month, the fifth official episode in the Commander Keen series, The Armageddon Machine, was released on the same day as its immediate predecessor as part of the Goodbye, Galaxy duology. Does this installment allow the duology to end on a high note?

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

Although Keen Dreams wasn’t the breakaway success for John Carmack and the rest of id Software the original trilogy of Commander Keen games managed to be, they did wind up crafting a superior engine in the process of developing it. With Keen Dreams having been completed by June of 1991, id began work on a new trilogy of Commander Keen episodes to be named Goodbye, Galaxy. The team intended for the episodes to be published in the same manner as the original trilogy. Players could order the episodes individually or all three with a lump sum totaling less.

The following August, Mr. Carmack and his team had completed a beta version of the series’ fourth official episode: Secret of the Oracle. Fellow programmer John Romero sent it to Mark Rein, a fan that he had met from Canada who offered to playtest the game. Mr. Romero was then surprised when Mr. Rein sent back a large list of bugs he compiled. Coupled with his impressive business acumen, Mr. Romero proposed hiring him as a probationary president in an attempt to expand their business. Within weeks, Mr. Rein made a deal to get id into the commercial market, but there was a catch. The sixth episode was to be made a standalone game, published as a retail title through the company FormGen as opposed to id’s signature shareware model. The fledgling company signed the deal, although Scott Miller, an employee from publisher Apogee was dismayed, believing reducing Goodbye, Galaxy to a duology would hurt sales.

In the same month, the team moved from Shreveport, Louisiana to Designer Tom Hall’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Working out of a three-bedroom apartment, they worked on the Goodbye, Galaxy duology, any remaining Softdisk projects, and the now-standalone sixth Commander Keen installment. One software catalog listed the release date in September of 1991, but the project ended up being delayed. The sixth episode, being a standalone effort, was developed after the fourth, but before the fifth. The fifth itself would be created in less than one month.

All three games would see their release in December of 1991. As Mr. Miller predicted, the sales figures of Goodbye, Galaxy were roughly one-third those of the original trilogy, which had made $20,000 in its first two weeks and $60,000 a month by June of 1991. Mr. Hall himself would also blame the falling sales on the lack of a third episode, which undercut their shareware model. Nonetheless, the games still fared well overall, becoming one of the top shareware sellers of 1992. Like the original trilogy, the two games that formed the Goodbye, Galaxy duology, Secret of the Oracle and The Armageddon Machine, were well-received. As the first installment of this duology, does Secret of the Oracle mark a significant improvement over its four predecessors?

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

Donkey Kong Country 3

With the release of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Rare had another hit on their hands. However, Director Tim Stamper and his team didn’t intend to stop there. As the Nintendo 64, the successor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), loomed overhead, Mr. Stamper set out to make a sequel almost immediately after the release of Donkey Kong Country 2. Armed with the company’s trademark Silicon Graphics and Advanced Computer Modelling programs, they were able to finish the game one year later.

This sequel, entitled Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, saw its release in November of 1996. Although it fared well commercially, the game moved 3.5 million units, which was a step down from the 4.37 million copies Donkey Kong Country 2 sold. It is speculated that the release of the Nintendo 64 and its signature launch title, Super Mario 64, may have been responsible for the lower sales numbers. Even in light of these setbacks, Donkey Kong Country 3 was an undeniable success with critics and fans alike. Emerging at the tail end of the fourth console generation, did Donkey Kong Country 3 provide a fitting swansong for the venerable SNES?

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Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Donkey Kong Country was a tremendous success for the British developer Rare upon its 1994 release, capturing much media attention due to its advanced graphics and solid gameplay. While many developers would use the commercial success of a game for the grounds of making a sequel, Rare co-founder Tim Stamper sought to do so shortly after the release of their breakout hit. The employees behind the creation of Donkey Kong Country were satisfied with the final product, but had plenty of ideas remaining for another installment. Mr. Stamper found himself in the director’s chair once again with colleague Brendan Gunn returning as the lead designer. Though well-received, veteran gamers considered Donkey Kong Country too easy, so this sequel was to be significantly more challenging.

Utilizing the Silicon Graphics and Advanced Computer Modelling technology they used to take prerendered images, model them as three-dimensional objects, and transform them into two-dimensional sprites, they began their work. In a move that shocked fans, Diddy Kong, the original game’s deuteragonist, was to be the sequel’s protagonist. Artist and producer Steve Mayles stated that the team’s youth gave him the courage to disregard the risk they would have doubtlessly taken by pushing the title character out of the spotlight.

Development of this game, entitled Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, proceeded smoothly, and saw its release roughly one year after the debut of the original. Like its predecessor, Donkey Kong Country 2 was highly acclaimed, with critics praising both the gameplay and the graphics. It cannot be denied that Rare supplanting the title character with one of their own creation was quite the daring gambit. To everyone’s surprise, it paid off, for Donkey Kong Country eventually became the sixth-best selling game on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Was it truly able to deliver an experience worthy of being a follow-up to the acclaimed original?

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