Donkey Kong 64 (1999) was the last Nintendo 64 game I ever played. In fact, it was the last Donkey Kong game I played. It was also the only game that accompanied my Nintendo 64 when I decided to give it away.
In 2002, I made the leap to grad school, which took us to a place that was far, far away from our then-current residence. At the time, our gaming arsenal consisted of a Super Nintendo, a Nintendo 64, a Gamecube, a Playstation 1, and a Playstation 2. As this was both a tempestuous and exciting move, it didn’t come without a few sacrifices. The SNES and N64 were “my” consoles, which meant that I had to make the keep-or-toss decision. As I generally tend to be rather detached from “things,” (rather than people or memories), I wasn’t very sad in choosing to let go of them. The SNES went first to a dear friend. At that point I was really just holding onto it for sentimental reasons, but the reality was that I hadn’t played it in years and didn’t have any games for it. The N64, a gift, should have been a different story. Between Mario, Banjo, and Conker, I spent some of my best and most productive gaming time with that console. I should have become a bit weepy upon handing it over to another friend as my mind flooded with all the great memories stored within its little plastic walls. But I gave it away as easily as if I had given away a bag of old clothes to the Goodwill. And Donkey Kong 64? I wasn’t all that sad to see it go either.
And it’s not like DK64 was a bad game. On the contrary, it was an incredibly enjoyable game with a wonderful soundtrack just like its predecessors. Rare did such a wonderful job bringing DK and the Kongs into all three dimensions. DK64 was a fantastic 3D adventure game along the lines of Super Mario 64. It brought back the menacing King K. Rool and his army of alligator-like Kremlins. And there were bananas and coins and power-ups and vines from which to swing! The environments were bright and fun and so very explorable! I mean, I can’t think of a bad thing to say about the game, but we…it…we just didn’t quite click. Not in any way substantial. Because that time was all about moving. And grad school. And, unfortunately, poisoning my own mindset.
I got DK64 right at the beginning of 2002. Our move was about nine months off then, and nothing about it had been completely set in stone. I had only just been accepted into school, so I was still in a heady stage of elation, announcing the news that grad school was actually, finally happening. And I played DK64 on and off for about a month, It was fun yes, but I was…distracted? That’s not quite the right word for it. Anxious. Yes. Anxious at the prospect of starting another life in a new place with a new set of rules. I knew that things were going to change for me in grad school. And I knew that was going to have to change some of my less healthy habits if I was going to succeed. And for whatever horrible reason, my brain counted gaming among those habits.
In a hindsight-equals-clarity moment, I also just realized that things were really rough at work then. It wasn’t about me leaving, but rather that after all the fun years I had had, that last year was dreadful…dreadful in minor ways, but still dreadful compared to how much I loved the job when I first started. Also, that last year, I took a second job, which was a really smart choice and one that I wish I had made sooner. It wasn’t the best job, but it gave me something else to focus on besides how my first job was going to hell in a handbasket. So I was generally unhappy and thought that the fresh start in a new place with school and a career goal was going to be perfect.
In those months before the move, when I probably should have been making the best of things, my unhappiness worsened. I stopped playing games almost entirely…almost. Despite the fact that I felt and acted like a wreck, I couldn’t leave Donkey Kong 64 unfinished. I started selling back games, but I couldn’t sell that one, not until it was done. Like I said, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the game; I just had to stop being so damn despondent and get my ass in gear with it! I played it here and there over the late spring and early summer, and I did eventually beat it. But it wasn’t woohoo! sort of victory, it was simply done. At the end of the game *minor spoilers* all the Kongs faced off with King K. Rool in a boxing match. *minor spoilers end* It took me several tries to get through the battle, which was fitting because I had kinda felt like I had put myself in an unbeatable boxing match with life up to that point. (With this music in the background, of course.)
Video from You Tube user Nick Sevarg
I’d love to say that realizing that made some sort of lasting impression, but I still gave away the N64 and this game. And I went back to prepping for school and the move. It wasn’t until 2003 that I got back into gaming, infrequent gaming what with school and all, but gaming nonetheless.
Wow, it really has been over ten years since I played a Donkey Kong game. That’s just kinda crazy. Well it’s a damn good thing that I have a Wii U now because Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze looks pretty fun. Oh, I have my doubts about its old-schoolery platformer mechanics, but I wouldn’t mind taking another trip to Donkey Kong Island. After all, it’s been quite awhile.