Will you still love me when I’m Donkey Kong 64?

Donkey Kong 64 Boxart
Donkey Kong 64 Boxart

Title: Donkey Kong 64
Format: N64
Release date: 6th December 1999.
Obtained: On release.
Place of purchase: GAME (online).
Price: Approx. £60.
Completed?: Yes.

Three main things stick in my mind about Donkey Kong 64: 1) the damnably awful ‘rap’ song that started every time you plug the cartridge in; b) spending an absolutely age playing the in-built version of the original Donkey Kong arcade game just so I could get one of the game’s collectable golden bananas; and iii) the fact that my copy came with a free inflatable banana that I kept in my room for a long time before it deflated into oblivion.

DK64 was developed by Rare and was pretty similar to Banjo-Kazooie. Replace golden jigsaw pieces with golden bananas, and swap musical notes for, erm, differently coloured bananas, and you’ve pretty much got the same game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, and indeed I remember DK64 quite fondly. Sure, it was incredibly frustrating in places and the continual collection of lots of different items became a bit tedious after a while, but it was pretty fun.

Swapping around between the characters provided a fair bit of scope for variety, as they were all sufficiently different as to give some interesting challenges each. There were plenty of good ideas around, as well, albeit sometimes you did feel that they were just a bit stretched out and indeed, the game overstayed its welcome a bit.

Graphics-wise DK64 was pretty decent for an N64 title, more impressive given the scale of the levels. Having said that, the title was the first to require the use of the optional RAM expansion pack. Thankfully the initial release of the game came bundled with one, which saved me the bother of having to source one from elsewhere.

That rap, though, that rap was really, really bloody awful. Whoever thought it might be a good idea to have some polygonal apes doing a cheese-infested rap number that would have embarrassed the makers of Saturday morning cartoons deserves a slap around the face.

You ain’t nothing but a Heimdall 2

Title: Heimdall 2.
Format: Amiga 1200.
Release date: 1994.
Obtained: Sometime around 1994/5.
Place of purchase: Britannia Games Club (at least I think it was them).
Price: No idea.
Completed?: No.

Heimdall 2 Boxart
Heimdall 2 Boxart

Watching Thor on TV the other day made me think of Heimdall 2, mainly because Heimdall appears in the film and even my rather sluggish neural pathways can make that connection. In truth, I really don’t remember an awful lot about the game, probably because I’m fairly certain I only ever played it about six times. Whether there was a bug in it or just a puzzle that as a naive (and rather lazy) 13-year-old I couldn’t get past, I can’t remember; but something obviously stopped me from playing it and I never went back.

The game is an isometric adventure rather in the vein of Head Over Heels, with the player controlling Heimdall and a Valkyrie warrior ‘chick’ named Ursha. Together you must solve puzzles and defeat bad guys to stop the evil (or at least slightly misunderstood) Loki from doing something that presumably he shouldn’t be doing. The game has a good understanding of Norse mythology, and as such has a fair amount of atmosphere, but never really struck me as being particularly enthralling.

I had intended that as I was writing these little remembrances of games past that I would have a quick replay of them, but in the case of this one I can neither be bothered to dig out my Amiga or an emulator to play it on. Really a minor footnote in my tragically long gaming history.

Heimdall rescuing a guy in a cupboard.
Heimdall rescuing a guy in a cupboard. Not the most heroic act ever recorded in the annals of history, but I guess somebody needs to do it. These people can't stay in cupboards forever, after all.

(You can’t beat a bit of) Bully.

Bully: Scholarship Edition
X360 boxart

Title: Bully: Scholarship Edition.
Format: XBox 360.
Release date: March 2008 .
Obtained: Sometime in 2009.
Place of purchase: GAME (Walsall).
Price: £25 (I think).
Completed?: Yes (12th May 2012).

Seems fitting to start off this potentially very long series of musings on every game I’ve ever played by talking about the one I’m mainly playing now: Bully by Rockstar Games. Specifically I mean the Scholarship Edition of the game on the 360, not the PS2 original. I actually did once own the PS2 version (renamed Canis Canem Edit here in the UK for reasons best left to the censors and the gods), but it arrived pretty much at the end of the console’s mainstream life when I was just getting a 360, so I never really played it. In fact, it became one of the very few games that I’ve ever traded in.

An even more obscure and utterly, utterly worthless bit of information is that B:SE was the only game I ever bought from GAME in Walsall I remember ‘nipping’ there on the way back to the office after meeting a customer one time. The customer in question I won’t name for the simple reason that I thought he was a bit of a prat.

Bully for the most follows the template of Rockstar’s open-world games laid down in GTA III and not really changed all that much since: you wander around at your own volition, progressing through the game by completing main- and side-storyline missions. Where it really stands out is it’s setting: a school. Admittedly it’s an Americanised boarding school complete with cliques of ‘jocks’ and ‘greasers’ that those of us brought up in the glories of the British educational system will know only from Saved By The Bell, but it’s a stunningly well-realised set-up. There are lessons to attend, buildings to explore and a whole town to play in. Plus you can beat up kids, stick fire crackers in toilets, vandalise school property and a whole litany of things that I never did at school because I was a good boy and, more pertinently, scared of getting caught.

Bully - In-game footage.
Jimmy Hopkins beating up a random kid for no real reason.

Never having really played the PS2 version, I’m not entirely certain what new content the Scholarship Edition adds, other than what the back of the box tells me. The graphics have been spruced up a bit, but their last-gen origins are evident throughout, and it looks a bit of an eye-sore in places once you’ve witnessed the visual majesty of GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption. Lack of checkpoints in the missions harkens back to a time when games were more challenging (or frustrating, depending on your point-of-view). Having said that, the majority of the missions I’ve played through thus far (and I’m around 50% in as I write) haven’t been too troublesome, with only a couple causing me to re-try. Actually, what’s caused me the most problems hasn’t been the difficulty of the game but a combination of the frequently-stupid camera and target-lock-on, which seem both designed to irritate and cause headaches at the most inconvenient of times.

When it first came out I remember people comparing it to the Microprose classic Skool Daze. To be honest, setting aside, there’s not really a great deal of similarity between them, probably a result more of the twenty or so years in between the two titles. Still, the game’s a good one and I’m glad that – after a couple of false starts – I’ve finally gone back to it to try and finish it once and for all. There’s plenty of fun to be had, with an entertaining storyline and lots of mini-games, albeit of admittedly varying quality, to try your hand at.

What has actually impressed me most about the game – and I really hope this is something that Rockstar build into the upcoming GTAV – is the passage of time and the fact that the story takes place at different seasons. You start off at the beginning of the school year and progress through Autumn, Winter (complete with Christmas decorations) and – presumably – Spring and Summer too. There’s one particularly memorable moment where you start off one mission at the end of the second chapter and the snow suddenly starts to fall; it’s a small thing, but one that’s still unusual enough in sandbox games, and has a bit of the same impact that the arrival in Mexico sequence had in RDR.

Christmas in Bullworth
Christmas in Bullworth. Pity the snowman.

UPDATE: After three aborted attempts over three years, I managed to complete this yesterday. I’m pleased to say that the remainder of the game keeps up the quality that I spoke about above. The storyline never really gets going all that much, but it’s entertaining and the high standard of the dialogue keeps it moving along. In ever want to do the bloody annoying stealth section in Finding Johnny Vincent ever again, though.

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