As one of the N64’s lengthiest plays, Donkey Kong 64 was an imposing-yet-rewarding undertaking.
It thrived in its day with full-scale worlds comprised of mini-quests both arduous and harebrained, birthing plenty of memories for players to take from the experience: Diddy’s “cool side”, with his jetpack-flying and electric guitar-playing ways; hunting for blueprints from bulky bullies who loved announcing their presence ("SPLAT!"); venturing into the chaos of Frantic Factory.
Proving harder to forget are those moments of pure aggravation, repeated failure or sheer fright - for all its whimsy, Donkey Kong 64 represents an uncompleted journey for many. Here are five such moments that still linger in our mind to this day.
The second fight against Dogadon
Some might trade this vengeful creature for the homicidal Mad Jack and his weird duck-like cackles (he’d fit right in with the mutated crew in Toy Story), but the relentlessly fierce overpowers the visually frightening.
Dogadon’s initial fireball-spewing phases are tamer than what you face in the rematch on Fungi Forest. By this point, it’s had time to heal from the first encounter, which is bad news for the easily-intimidated Chunky (who, hilariously, begs for his life) but good news for the player, as it makes for one of Donkey Kong 64's best boss fights.
Providing you didn't miss your cues, it wasn't particularly troublesome, but what really made it intense - in addition to the forceful, menacing music - was when Dogadon forced the platform to start sinking. That failsafe, along with the sparring moments, brought a different energy than the first fight in Angry Aztec. Seeing your hero engulfed by real lava - not the fake stuff the Kongs sometimes sit on - was equally unpleasant as watching the boss seemingly burn to death. Quite vivid for a “kid-friendly” title.
Being forced to play the Donkey Kong arcade game
A playable relic from Donkey Kong's history, housed inside a Donkey Kong game from the now? What fun! But in Donkey Kong 64, this wasn't a nostalgic trip worth re-taking; the original Donkey Kong was not treated as a side-game, but instead as a mandatory part of the experience. Only one life was provided (initially) for clearing four levels - including 75m, the most unforgiving of them all. Then, with DK's Golden Banana acquired, you had to repeat the process over again to retrieve a special coin needed to complete the game.
Each time you failed, frustration brewed with every lever pull and pulled-back camera animation needlessly extending the process. It was one of those moments you asked your experienced friend for help with. Wrestling with stiff jump mechanics across multiple floors, with only one life to do it all, is a downer in a game world that’s otherwise invitingly offbeat. Frankly, it was easier going for 5,000 points on Jetpac.
The dark “Game Over” screen
What a damning turn of events simply for ending your progress! Following a score of deep laughs from K. Rool, a laser device emerged from his fortress, ready to unleash a powerful charge at DK Island. The screen fades before the damage is carried out, but if fired, not only would DK and his pals have been wiped out, but also the wildlife and even the minions K. Rool employed to keep everyone preoccupied. An entire habitat would have been obliterated as a result of a mad villain's power.
It was a dark sequence for a game with fairytale wonderlands and themes of restoration, and it’s because of this that I always opted to turn off the system manually, rather than quit from the Pause Menu!
Being threatened by a force more fearsome than K. Rool
Temple ruins are breeding grounds for booby traps and angered guardians, so when you first investigate the inner chambers of Angry Aztec, vicious surprises are expected. But raised defences will quickly shatter once you're told to vamoose by a terror known only by its disturbingly territorial voice and choice of weapon - a crosshair that moves wildly across the screen with sounds of a blinking radar. "GET OUUUUUT!"
...And no, negotiators will not be humoured.
In Crystal Caves, it's as if he's the superintendent of the whole cabin complex, eager to punish you for trespassing. And punish you, he will - if you don't leave pronto. Stick around, and you'll be hit mercilessly with a deadly, unavoidable sniper blast. Unlike in Angry Aztec where the windows of safety last a reasonable duration, this dreaded foe becomes snippier in the cabins of Crystal Caves, sometimes giving you only two seconds to exit before he strikes! It's easily the most unsettling aspect of the entire game; it left kids with hampered sleep until their older years, where they still remember the faceless threat's raging warnings for eviction.
Repeatedly losing Tiny's slide race challenge (a.k.a. "Evil Beetle's Attack")
If your understanding of cheap races ends with the Cool, Cool Mountain penguin challenge in Super Mario 64, a reality check is in order.
Donkey Kong 64 had its share of bothersome bonus games, but the winding slide race is at the height of frustration derived from such challenges. You first encounter the racing beetle in Angry Aztec as Tiny, and later again in Crystal Caves as Lanky with a comparably easier on-foot course. Tiny was not only disadvantaged by an unfair head-start; her size was also a liability, making it difficult to get around the spinning beetle without sustaining damage - crazy frustrating when you need to cross the finish line first and do so with 50 coins.
It's hard to say what's worse: the beetle’s nasty race antics, or his unsportsmanlike victory speeches, which are accompanied with distasteful snickering. In reality, the only victory he accomplished was for being one of the first game characters I despised when I was younger.