Donkey Kong 64 is Better Than Mario 64-An Unpopular Opinion

So first off I wanted to start this post by saying that this is the 1 month anniversary of The Platinumist! So now that the self-congratulatory celebration is over let’s get down to brass tacks, or should I say coins versus bananas. THIS ARGUMENT IS BANANAS, B-A-N-A-N-A-S! Or rather, Mario 64 versus Donkey Kong 64, now I know what you’re thinking, I’m insane. Mario 64 has multiple worlds, multiple objectives to complete in those worlds and it has been remade on the DS and was still popular. It’s one of the most important games on the N64 and it’s still considered one of the best games of all time. To those naysayer’s I simply say this, did you even play the superior Donkey Kong 64?

(Even a cooler cartridge than Mario 64)

DK64- What It Does Better

Story-

Now Donkey Kong 64 was made in 1999 whereas Mario 64 was made in 1996, so graphically speaking DK64 looks better. However there are a lot of other things that make DK64 a superior game. First let’s talk about the story. DK64 has a real story in it. Previous entries always had stories, but it was no more complicated than Donkey Kong getting his banana hoard back from King K. Rool. The Donkey Kong Country series was great, but story wise, it’s a little lacking. The great thing about DK64 is that the story finally became something. When you stop to think about it, DK64 was the first time we got to discover anything about Donkey Kong.

It creates an amazingly great first impression. Oh and that DK Rap, I can still jam to that today. Regardless if we compare the two stories, DK64 and Mario 64, we really do see a big difference. Mario 64 was the classic story of rescuing the princess after she invites you to eat cake (we all know what that means). DK 64 follows similar suit as previous entries by rescuing all the bananas because King K. Rool is a big fat jerk. However, DK64 changes up the mixture by bringing in some new gameplay incentives.

(King K.Rool may have had some sleepless nights)

Meet the Kong Family. So yes K.Rool steals your B-A-N-A-N-A-S and you are then told to get your B-A-N-A-N-A hoard back.  The trick here though is that K.Rool stole your family and it is up to you as the Kong who’s done nothing wrong to get them back. DK64 involved dialogue and story elements constantly being teased to you as you progress further in the game. DK64’s story may not seem revolutionary today, but it is considerably better than the story we were given in Mario 64. Mario 64 had the same story told in a very similar way, the gameplay elements are what made it different. Bowser was just an ever-present voice telling you that he had peach, you never actually had any other story elements driving you.

Take this alongside the fact that DK64 had really well-developed characters, Candy, Old man Cranky and even Funky Kong and it really looks like Rare out Nintendo’d Nintendo. Rares DK and other cast of characters are fare more interesting than any of the characters from Mario 64. This brings DK64’s story to a whole entirely new level. It makes me happy to sit down and know that when I play this title there are story elements and it’s more than just rescue the princess. On a story level DK64 is a much better game.

(Still a better love story than Twilight)

Gameplay-

Now I love traditional Mario platforming, in fact it is some of the best platforming out there. If you were to say that Mario 64’s platforming is the best, I think you have another thing coming. You see Mario 64 has good platforming if the camera is far away where you can see everything, or you are running straight towards obstacles. Otherwise the platforming gets a little messy. It’s not that Mario 64 has bad platforming, rather it has a terrible camera. Which for that time period, was pretty normal. As games developed further, platforming got better, or developers got smarter about what type of platforming to do. That’s where DK64 comes in.

Now we could say that a lot of this good platforming was from Banjo-Kazooie, but DK64 has an extremely wide variety of platforming in it, so it’s not fair to give the credit to the old cluck and growl. First the amount of character in DK64 allows for a greater variety in ways of exploration. No longer is it just tied down to jumping. Now you could glide, float, destroy obstacles, have a jetpacks or even swing to your next destination. This means that there was a greater variety of platforming that could be done. In games like Mario 64 there was a smaller amount of platforming that could be done, due to the lack of variety within Mario himself, which meant that the change had to come from the environment.

(I would rather ride the corpses of my enemies than jump through sand one more time!)

In Mario 64 environmental obstacles were the major obstacle. You had quick sand and ice to change-up the way that running and jumping worked, but then environmental hazards like strong winds and lava were introduced. These types of environmental hazards force you to play the game differently. Like stopping early on ice, veering further to the side to make up for the power of the wind. These aren’t bad obstacles, but they aren’t nearly as varied or as fun as what DK64 did. One of the first obstacles you come across is solved by climbing up a tree and then swinging from vine to vine to get to a switch. This type of new obstacle instantly becomes more fun than just jumping to not sink into the sand.

The platforming evolves as time goes on, but that’s not all that DK64 has to show off. There are timed puzzles, which I mean yes Mario 64 has too, but DK64 has so many more tools at its disposal. Every character has their own guns, special instruments and to top it all off their own special abilities. These abilities make the entire experience even better. Diddie Kong can headbutt charge enemies, Tiny Kong can become little and explore in places you would normally ignore. Then we have characters like Lanky Kong who is goofy (and awesome) and can do handstands, and finally we have Chunky Kong who can destroy rocks with his bare-fists! I mean from a pure gameplay perspective DK64 is a much superior beast.

(If it shoot’s ya, it’s gonna HURT! DK!!)

This isn’t even including the fact that the collectathon aspect is built into the very core of the game. There are 5 different colored B-A-N-A-N-A-S for every different Kong. Then there are blue-prints specific to each Kong. Then we even have specific areas for certain characters and even the Animals from the Kong Country games. I mean DK64 is freaking amazing guys….

Boss Battles-

Now boss battles in Mario 64 are a mixed bag. When they are done right, they are fun, however for the most part they are pretty boring experiences. The bad thing about most of them is that they are extremely similar. The bob-omb king in Mario 64 is just picking him up and throwing him off the ledge. The Thwomp is just waiting for him to fall so you can pound his face into the dirt. Bowser, every single iteration is the same fight, it never changes. Wiggler, well just jump on him, duh… I like some of these battles, but comparing them to DK64’s boss battles is just a little bit insulting.

Now DK64 may only have 6 bosses total, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. Every boss is fun, inventive and well designed. From a Jack in the box who is a killer cyborg, to an armadillo who was trained…TO KILL!!! Every boss is just an overall fun experience. It’s never as simple as just going up to them and hitting a weak spot. Tiny Kongs boss fight is all about floating from platform to platform and slamming a switch that will hurt the boss. These fights get faster and faster in execution until you eventually beat the boss. All of these bosses have strategies that different and engaging.

(Huge o’ Gooberfish, Huge O’ Teeth!!!)

Mario 64’s boss fights are much more free-form and just they happen to have a weakness. DK64 created boss experiences. Sure you may fight them several times and that might annoy you, but I reveled in the chance to fight a boss again after my skills had improved. They were true challenges; Bowser in Mario 64 is the same boss time and time again, and isn’t hard. DK64 created the superior boss battle and created a template for future boss fights in gaming and it’s influences can still be felt today.

Level Design-

Now one great thing about Mario 64 is how it introduces it levels, through paintings and DK64 has a similar design. In DK64 you aren’t jumping through pictures but rather jumping through portals into other worlds, which I mean makes sense for that setting. So DK64 only has 8 worlds, whereas Mario 64 has 15, but I feel that not only is the overworld from DK64 better than Mario 64’s but the worlds are better. So let’s begin with the actual variety of levels.

Now in Mario 64 most levels are pretty unique. Assets are reused in many of them, but that’s okay, i’m not expecting perfection here. What is noticeable though is the lack of actual changes to the worlds themselves. Many of the levels feel like things from worlds you had played previously. Such as the two ice based levels looking extremely similar, just one is way less vertical than the other. That is okay, but every time you jump into a new area you aren’t being blown away time and time again. The worlds start to seem like they are the same. There are levels that break down that idea of sameness, like the clock or even the rainbow ship (ugghhh), but again, these are few and far between.

(Amazing level, annoying platforming though)

The biggest problems with the levels themselves is just the overall size of them. Mario 64’s levels are gigantic. There are a few bite sized levels, like the clock, but some are much too massive for their own good. Cool, Cool, Mountain is a great example of this. Its level size is too big for the design of this game. There are too many paths to take and falling off the level is a more common mistake than it should be. Then there are levels that feel just a bit too restrictive. Like Dire, Dire Docks. The level is too restrictive in how you can get around, meaning that the act of exploring becomes more of a chore than a joyful experience. Mix this with some levels that just take too long to get around, such as the Hazy Maze Cave, and you get a recipe for some pretty annoying levels.

That is why I think that DK6 has the superior level design. First we have the hub world island, which is way easier to navigate and explore compared to Peach’s castle. This is due partly to the design of the warp pads. These allow you to jump ahead to certain parts of the island just by standing on a platform and hitting a button. This in turn makes getting around the game world much faster. This is also present in every level. Whereas Mario 64 had big levels that if you died you had to trek back to your previous point, DK64 lets you warp to certain milestones or checkpoints. Then DK64 hits you were it really matters. The levels themselves.

(Pretty much how that level ends every time)

DK64’s levels are varied and wonderful. Jungle Japes is a great introduction level that opesn up more and more as you unlock abilities and more Kongs. You have Industrial Factories, Ancient Aztec ruins and even a freaking castle to explore. DK64’s level are just an absolute blast to explore and to experience. Not to mention that because of the entire collectathon experience you are constantly encouraged to go to an area with other new characters. You may find one secret with Donkey Kong but then find out that if you bring Chunky there you can unlock a new blueprint.  It is just constantly pushing you forward to explore and find new things. This is excellent level design and it completely outmatches what Mario 64 brought to the table.

(Only in Donkey Kong)

Presentation

Now there is a 3 year gap between the two games, so of course that is going to affect overall graphical fidelity. It’s hard to say what Mario 64 would have looked like in 3 years. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been quite as blocky and could have definitely benefited from the Red RAM expansion, however even without the fancy graphics DK64’s presentation is still better. First Mario 64 had some issues with how it’s world was supposed to look. It was common to have a giant holes in the game, but instead of something believable being at the bottom it was just sky. It’s not that this is bad design, but it doesn’t help sell the world.

DK64 understood that it’s level design needed to fit. Black holes work just as well and that’s something I liked about that side of the presentation. Mario 64’s worlds also felt like they could exist anywhere, meaning that they didn’t feel exclusive to Mario. Some level with a pirate ship, a level with bugs and changing water levels? These aren’t revolutionary or even exclusive to Mario, in fact they could be in just about any game. DK64 made very specific levels that felt unique. Jungle Japes feels like it exclusively belongs in a Donkey Kong game.

(It feels like a Donkey Kong game and looks like it)

Take levels like the factory too. Even though factories aren’t specifically a Donkey Kong thing, the make it feel like it. This is because of a number of reasons, but the number one thing that actually hits home here is the music. Mario 64’s music is good, but it’s nowhere near the level of Rare’s Donkey Kong music. Mario 64 has a great soundtrack to be sure, but it’s full of music that could almost belong in any Mario game. There are the classics from the Mario universe and some of the music that plays is pretty dang good. I dare you to say that any one song from Mario 64 is better than the DKRap! That song is freaking LIT! Oh and honestly the entire soundtrack to DK64 is amazing. Seriously, listen to it.

Mini-Games

Now Mario 64 doesn’t have anything quite like this, but it is one of the many reasons I really love DK64. The Mini-games in DK64 are just a fun and amazing part of the world. The mini-games are just fun. From the mine-karts which are a throwback to Donkey Kong Countr, to mini-games about shooting random enemies with watermelons and even Arena battles. I love DK64’s ability to use humor to the max. It’s not a super serious game and that’s the way that Donkey Kong should be. This is how all DK games should be.

(You get to be a crocodile eating beavers! THATS AWESOME!)

In Conclusion

Look, I obviously love DK64. It is one of my favorite games from my childhood. It has so many fond memories because it was accessible, colorful and just an overall blast to play. Did I play Mario 64 before this, yeah I did, and I remember it being the coolest thing since armpit farts. As I get older though I realized that my nostalgia for some of these games was overpowering what was good versus what is old. I started replaying Mario 64 about a year ago and I was really hard pressed to remember why I loved it so much. The controls were clunky, the camera was irritating, platforming was a pain and exploring the castle just wasn’t fun.

Then I start playing DK64 again and it dawned on me just how much that Mario 64 is remembered, but DK64 is forgotten. It was a golden gem that so many of us tossed to the side. Are some of the collectibles annoying? Sure, but it had some solid controls. I mean they are considerably better than Mario 64’s. The characters are better realized and developed and it has a soundtrack that the second it starts makes you smile. If you want to know why I started this site and why I do these unpopular opinions, it is simply this. We are being controlled.

I mean it pretty literally too, because instead of viewing games for what they truly are as time goes on, we view them for what others say they meant. Mario 64 is still considered on of the top 100 games of all time. In fact in IGN’s last top 100 games of all time Mario 64 is considered number 11, 11?!? Why? Is Mario 64 an important game? Absolutely, but I can list at least 20 games off the top of my head that are better than Mario 64. Oh and if you were wondering, DK64 isn’t even in the top 100 games of all time, but oh yeah the DK from 1994 is. So why did I start this, well quite simply I’m tired of being told what the best games are. I’m tired of being told that FF7 is the best RPG of all time. Here’s an unpopular opinion for you, the big sites, they are wrong.

I’m here to change that. That is why the Platinumist exists. On this 1 month anniversary I want people to remember that just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s good. Mario 64 is not a better game than DK64. Period.