Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania (Multi) "Meet the Gang" Trailer

This morning a new trailer rolled onto the scene for Sega's Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania! This time around we get a look at the playable monkeys that will have a ball--both figuratively and literally--within this super celebration of the series! Say, is that a certain, familiar, blue hedgehog being teased at the end of the trailer? Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania launches on all major platforms on October 5th.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Tuesday 10s - Donkey Kong Games

Happy Tuesday, everyone. While this day doesn't always feature the arrival of The Tuesday 10s, you're all in for a treat this week, as that's exactly what SPC has in store for you! For this installment of The Tuesday 10s, it's on like Donkey Kong--and quite literally, at that! A few weeks ago was the 40th anniversary of Nintendo's main monkey, Nintendo's awesome ape, Nintendo's super simian: Donkey Kong. This Tuesday 10s focuses on the best of the banana bunch in the Donkey Kong series, from main games to spin-offs! It's a banana slamma' of games, so let's get to it.

Donkey Kong County (SNES)

After two decades of girders, ladders, throwing barrels, and playing the role of the villain, Donkey Kong eventually turned hero, and he wasn't alone on his adventure. In Donkey Kong Country, Nintendo's grade-A gorilla was joined by Diddy Kong. Whereas Donkey Kong was slower but stronger--able to defeat heavier foes with ease--Diddy Kong was nimbler, more agile, and light on his feet. This was also the game that made Rareware especially cozy with Nintendo, and started their fruitful partnership that continued until the GameCube era. Regardless, DKC was a technical marvel of a game, a gorgeous graphical showcase for the SNES, and a fantastic platformer in its own right.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

If someone put a coconut gun to my head (and if it shot me, it was gonna hurt), however, and forced me to choose my favorite of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, my vote would no doubt have to go to the second game. Not to be confused (or is it Kong-fused?) as Diddy Kong's Quest, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (note the pun and the apostrophe placement) brought so many excellent additions to the formula--my favorite of which being the awesome and rockin' Dixie Kong. Her ability to twirl her hair to cross over wide gaps was always a favorite gameplay feature of mine. In addition to Dixie, new and enjoyable animal buddies joined the fray, such as Rattly the Rattlesnake and Squitter the Spider. Then, there were the more entertaining and challenging bonus rooms, that were timed challenges this time around, as well as hidden DK Coins that were truly tricky to obtain, much less even find! Couple all this with brilliant ambient levels and my favorite 16-bit era soundtrack, and you have one super Super Nintendo platformer.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

By no means does Diddy's Kong Quest being my favorite of the DKC trilogy make Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble a far lesser game. In fact, it, too, brought plenty of awesome ideas and concepts forward to the series, such as Kiddy Kong (who was essentially a Donkey Kong-type character gameplay-wise) and a fascinating, fully explorable, non-linear world map. There were also fun NPCs to interact with, loads of secrets and replay value to be found, some of the best bosses in the DKC series bar-none, and multiple wonderfully themed levels. While the soundtrack may have not reached the same highs as past games in the series, DKC 3's music still resonated quite well with me. Overall, Donkey Kong Country 3 may have been old news when it arrived on store shelves, due to launching after the then-new hotness, the Nintendo 64, released, but it still packed quite a platforming punch for plenty of players back then and still to this day.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii, 3DS)

A massive surprise was announced during Nintendo's E3 conference in 2010. That was surprise was Donkey Kong Country's long-awaited return with none other than, well, Donkey Kong Country Returns. While Rare, of course, was now under the umbrella of Xbox's first party studios, it was up to another studio to take up the task of developing a follow-up to Rare's much revered work. Turns out that Retro Studios was more than ready and worthy of taking up that task, creating one brilliant 2.5D platformer. 

That aforementioned extra half of a dimension brought new twists to levels. DK and Diddy could be blasted from the the foreground to the background and then back again. Angles of levels could change in transitions, and it all made for nothing too game-changing, but visually, it was mind-blowing and much welcomed. While the Wii version did suffer from forced motion controls to roll and interact with certain objects, the 3DS version--developed by Monster Games--would remedy this, though without the inclusion of co-op. However, it did add eight new, exclusive levels into the fold. Whichever version a player picked up, they would find themselves with a well done and well executed follow-up worthy of the Donkey Kong Country name.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (NSW, Wii U)

This might be blasphemy to some fans out there, but while Donkey Kong Country Returns was a follow-up worthy of the Donkey Kong Country name, Retro Studios' sequel, subtitled Tropical Freeze, somehow surpassed the original trilogy of games. Now, that's only slightly, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze certainly hit a home run with Retro's sophomore effort with the DKC series. Levels were masterfully crafted--perfect for both casual run-throughs as well as speed-running--something incredibly difficult to nail as a designer. The visuals brought so many incredible effects, views, and vistas to enjoy, and the return of composer David Wise delivered some of the most fantastic tunes ever belted out in the DKC series. Thus, it was quite a shame to see the original Wii U version so overlooked, but fortunately, the Nintendo Switch port (with added Funky Kong mode), meant that Tropical Freeze got a second and much deserved chance in the sun.

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN, Wii)

Between Rare's dabbling with games featuring Donkey Kong and the return of Donkey Kong Country with Retro Studios, Nintendo did a lot of experimenting with its great gorilla. Various gameplay styles and attempts were released, and one of the grandest, most impressive of these was Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat on the GameCube. This 2.5D platformer was played entirely with a special bongo controller. Each bongo on the controller moved DK in a different direction--either left or right. Hitting both caused DK to jump, while clapping or--to those who had housemates like myself and didn't want to be overly loud--tapping the rim of the controller caused DK to grab nearby bananas. 

Jungle Beat was less about simply clearing levels, but more about setting high banana scores through obtaining combos and never touching the ground essentially. Levels were built for this, making multiple attempts and replays incredibly rewarding and fun. A port in the New Play Control! line of Wii software would launch, substituting the pounding of one's hands on the bongo controller with basically "drumming" air with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk respectively. It made for less painful experience (both for the player and both for one's housemates' ears), but I won't deny that there's something more entertaining about banging on those bongos like the GameCube original had.

DK: King of Swing (GBA)

Speaking of experiments, Nintendo took another unique approach with Donkey Kong by putting him into a Clu Clu Land-inspired game where the goal is to climb pegs to advance through levels. This colorful and quasi Donkey Kong Country game was none other than DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance. In King of Swing, the L and R buttons served as the buttons to control DK's hands. He could grab not only pegs to move around levels, but also grab projectiles like rocks that could be thrown at enemies to defeat them. Holding L and R together powered DK and releasing them launched him forward in a charge-like attack, great for defeating non-spiked foes and getting serious height and distance. 

I call this a quasi Donkey Kong Country game because it does feature several elements from Rare's games. There are bonus barrels to find containing timed challenges, there are the Kremings and King K. Rool to contend with (or is that "kontend with" in Kremling spelling?), and several other features from the original trilogy. A sequel would release on the Nintendo DS, called DK: Jungle Climber, which is just as wonderful and worthwhile a game. It added Diddy Kong as a playable character to team up with DK, and used both screens for much more verticality in levels. Either game is worth checking out, for sure.

Donkey Kong (GB)

We couldn't get through this list without one proper representation of the tried and true original style gameplay from the Donkey Kong series. Of course, the ape was the antagonist for these games, and it was no different in the excellent Donkey Kong from 1994 on the Game Boy. Starting off, the adventure is innocent enough, remarkably reminiscent of the arcade game. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you'd think this was just a scaled down greyscale port of said arcade game with its first four levels. However, soon enough you realize that Donkey Kong on Game Boy is so much more after the handful of levels, such as puzzle-platforming elements, items to collect, enemies to rout, and keys to nab to unlock the exits to levels. Donkey Kong '94, as it's lovingly also known as, was an expanded and extraordinary take on the original Donkey Kong formula. We wouldn't see it again until...

Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA)

That's right. Essentially a sequel to Donkey Kong on the Game Boy, Mario vs. Donkey Kong took the formula for a brighter, more colorful adventure. The goals of levels were pretty much unchanged: reach the key for the level, and then carry it safely to the locked door to exit the stage. Or, as it was in the case of boss levels, the goal was to avoid Donkey Kong's numerous tricks and traps as you reach the top to hopefully rescue the damsel in distress. Unfortunately, Mario vs. Donkey Kong would be the last traditional Donkey Kong game made, as the series would move in a more puzzle-oriented, toy aspect, without the manual movement seen in DK '94 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong. The series remains stuck in that formula, which to fans of traditional arcade-style Donkey Kong games, is something worth lamenting over. 

Diddy Kong Racing (N64, DS)

We end with a game that doesn't even feature Donkey Kong at all, but is considered part of the Donkey Kong franchise: Diddy Kong Racing. Obviously starring Donkey Kong's buddy Diddy, this kart racer basically invented the Adventure Mode that a rival racer like Crash Team Racing would implement. Offering amazingly designed tracks--most of which could be played in kart, hovercraft, or in an airplane--fun challenges like silver coin collection while aiming for first place, boss races, inventive multiplayer arena modes, unlockable characters, time trials, and more, Diddy Kong Racing remains one of my favorite kart racers ever made. A Nintendo DS port would later launch, even developed by Rare post-Microsoft acquisition, but it was more a mess than main monkey material due to shoehorned touch and mic controls to begin each race and other lackluster additions. Still, the Nintendo 64 original remains a strong favorite.

NEO: The World Ends with You (NSW, PS4) Launch Trailer

Releasing today on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 with a PC release on Epic Games Store later this summer, NEO: The World Ends With You's newest and latest trailer is live and ready for its launch. It's a game a decade in the making, and it's finally here. Check out the launch trailer below, and then let the SPC community know if you plan on picking up NEO.