The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: November 2010

Axl Rose is suing Activision

Axl Rose is claiming that Activision “lied and deceived” to get Welcome To The Jungle featured on Guitar Hero III. Apparently Rose was promised that if he let the song appear on the game, they wouldn’t allow either Slash or his follow-up group Velvet Revolver in the game, both of which were featured heavily within the finished product.

Now, if true, Axl does have a legitimate case here, Activision would have breached a possible contract with Rose, but does Axl really have to be a big baby about it? Welcome To The Jungle is one thing, but Axl has no right to say that Velvet Revolver or Slash couldn’t appear within the game as he doesn’t own the rights to both Velvet Revolvers music, nor Slash’s image.

‘[Activision] began spinning a web of lies and deception to conceal its true intentions to not only feature Slash and [Velvet Revolver] prominently in GH III but also promote the game by emphasizing and reinforcing an association between Slash and Guns N’ Roses and the band’s song ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’

Axl, it’s fair to emphasize an association between Slash and GnR, he was in the band and is probably more iconic to it in their heyday than you were and he co-wrote the song with you, you can bitch and moan, but you can never deny an association.  To be honest, it seems a strange thing to specify on an agreement “Can we use your song on our video game?” “sure, but keep my ex-guitarist away from it,” who thinks like that?

Of course, Axl Rose is more well-known for his douchebaggery than his actual music now, still chugging on the Axl Rose band and taking 13 years to make a wholly average album, coupled with cancelled tours, hilariously bad festival performances and more line-up changes than Spinal Tap’s had drummers. Here’s an ultimatum, Axl. If you’re not making music, don’t drum up publicity by being a spoiled brat, you haven’t had a succesful tour or album since the 90’s and acting like this isn’t going to change that. Also, stop being so butthurt about Slash, it’s been over 10 years and you need to stop being a child about it and move on.


Donkey Kong 64

Donkey Kong is one of, if not the oldest of Nintendo’s franchises, the original’s been referenced almost as much as Star Wars and has even been the subject of a documentary in the form of “The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters”. After making 3 games on the NES that pretty much invented platforming (and Stanley The Big Man, but for some reason that didn’t stick) Nintendo weren’t sure what to do with the franchise on the SNES, after all the central protagonist of the first game (and villain of the second, but he doesn’t like to talk about it) Mario was already a figure of god like proportions with his own series at this point. So they decided to hand over the reins to Rareware, one of their trusted second party developers and Donkey Kong Country was born.

The Donkey Kong Country series was a triumph, often cited with the best graphics of the era, fantastic gameplay and is constantly placed in “Best game ever” (and a 4th has just been released in the US and is out next week in the UK) so all eyes turned to a 3D game to continue the series and finally, at Christmas in 1999, they got it. Kind of.

Fed up with being thwarted by the Kongs, Giant evil crocodile king, K.Rool decides to take his mobile island boat factory hideout thing that conveniently looks like him to Kong Island, a giant island in the shape of Donkey Kong’s head…Rare love doing this, don’t they? Anyway, he intends to blow it up to kingdom come. They also steal Donkey Kong’s horde of golden bananas for what must be the billionth time and capture DK’s friends (DK needs to up his security, clearly) upon hearing this, Donkey Kong decides to get his priorities wrong and get his bananas back first. It’s a platformer aimed at all ages, I wouldn’t expect a Memento style plot here.

Seriously Rare, stop it. It’s just stupid.

It’s fair to say that Donkey Kong 64 isn’t really a sequel to the Country games, whilst the antagonists are still Kremlings and the game shares its alliterative stage names, such as Fungi Forest and Gloomy Galleon, that’s about it. There’s a lot less barrels, which is odd for a Donkey Kong game in itself and more focus on exploration (granted, because it’s 3D) and, wait for it, collecting.

To say there’s a lot of collecting would probably be the understatement of the century. I never really noticed it as a kid, I just kind of went along with it, but now it feels kind of over the top. The main aim is to collect Golden Bananas, which allow you entry into new levels. There’s 25 of those in each level and 201 in total which, believe it or not is double Mario 64 and 10 more than Banjo Kazooie and its sequel combined). Also, within each level, there are 100 regular bananas per character, collect 75 of those and you get a banana medal, plus you need to feed them to a hungry pig to fight the levels boss, who’ll give you a key that unlocks the next level entrance. Also, you have to collect 1 battle crown per level, catch Banana fairies, collect a blueprint and pick up banana coins that allow you to purchase items that aid you on your quest, such as new moves, musical instruments and make-shift guns. It’s basically hell’s shopping list.

The plus side to all of this is that if you’re looking for a game to literally chew away at for a good portion of your life, this is it, I’m convinced only a small minority of people have 100% on the game and they’re probably all locked away somewhere because they’ve spent years worrying about banana fairies. The problem I found with it is that I don’t want to spend a gigantic amount of time with it. Collecting stuff is tiring and slightly repetitive and a vast majority end up making you take part in a hard as nails mini game, all with the same music and an annoying voice-over whenever you start saying something like “Welcome to Bonus Steak”. For some reason, the game is full of small sound bites that get annoying very quickly. You’ll quickly tire of Chunky’s triangle, which funnily enough sounds like a very disturbing euphemism, the “Oooh Banana” jingle that appears EVERY TIME you pick up a Golden Banana to just general Lanky Kong, it’s good that Grant Kirkhope’s music score is so brilliant (Fungi Forest in particular is quite beautiful) or else I’d have played this game with the mute button permanently on, that said though, the game kind of warns you that you’re going to be annoyed by sound effects by kicking off proceedings (just after you’ve turned the damn game on) with the D.K. Rap. Yep. Whilst the image of Cranky manning a DJ deck and Chunky with an afro is actually hilarious, within a few seconds, any sane person would be hammering the start button with the same force that you use to punch out whoever thought the rhymes “His coconut gun can fire in spurts/if he shoots ya’/it’s gonna hurt” or the even worse “He has no style/he has no grace/this Kong has a funny face” were good enough for inclusion.

I’m sure they play this for victims in torture camps. Click the image for video

Donkey Kong Country was known for its eccentric cast of characters and DK64 carries on that tradition to the point that there are 5 playable characters, each with unique abilities. Donkey Kong can go invincible, Diddy Kong can fly, Tiny Kong can shrink, Lanky Kong can inflate and Chunky Kong can grow to gigantic size, I like how it adds slightly different gameplay and is a nice way to mix things up, it’s a bit sad to see the title character only get 1/5 of the limelight, plus of course, there’s always one character you don’t like and inevitably, you’ll have to play as them. Won’t you Lanky? This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the length of time you spend with them. The game uses the N64 expansion pack and it shows. The levels are so big, you need warp pads to get around them, which can get a pain, but it’s at least nice of Rare to have thrown that in and at least more often than not, the stages look fantastic, but you’ll still have to sprawl back and forth through it collecting stuff that will zap your energy and your patience, especially towards the later levels.

Whereas I mentioned last week that Banjo-Kazooie’s difficulty spike came in too late, DK64 does the opposite. Mad Jack, the boss of the third level will almost leave a controller shaped hole in your TV and then you have Gloomy Galleon following on from there AND TEN FUTHERMORE the levels get even bigger and the Golden Bananas more spread out. Oh and remember all those other little collectibles?

And if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s also a fun little multiplayer mode entitled “Monkey Smash” which I wasn’t originally going to mention, but a quick gaming session with my flatmates changed that. It’s basically the single player characters, with the same controls and moves pitted against each other and whilst it’s fun and enjoyable, it relies a lot on button mashing and hoping you get an attack in first. The levels aren’t great and it’s not going to get more play than Mario Kart or Goldeneye, but for a quick 5 minutes, you could do worse.

But the thing is, aside from repetitive mini-games, the actual banana collecting tasks are brilliant fun and I still really enjoyed a good portion of the game, the 5 character set-up does work and I do like most of the levels are quite well designed and have some nice touches to them, even though it’s a very stock setting style of level design. There’s also a plot essential playable version of the original Donkey Kong and Jetpac to beat, which are just a blast to play (although are probably the main reason, Rare now being owned by Microsoft aside, that it’s not on the virtual console) yet infuriatingly difficult, and you have to complete them twice. And of course, being Rareware, there’s a ton of snarky British humour that I loved (of course, being British probably helps), all of it coming from one ape who may or may not be the original Donkey Kong. Cranky Kong is just hilarious, if you’re lucky enough in this day and age to find a boxed copy with the instruction manual, you’re treated to Cranky telling you the game’s rubbish and is a rip-off of Mario and Zelda. Which it is, if you follow the logic that every game after 1996 is a rip off of Super Mario 64 because it has 3D graphics.

So that’s Donkey Kong 64, is it a good game? Yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy most of it. Is worth your money (and time to track down)? I’d say so. I think if you’ve played Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie or just have a lot of free time, it’s a good purchase and whilst it’s fair to claim it as a giant collect-a-thon with about a zillion plot coupons, which alongside mass backtracking, occasional difficulty problems and just generally being too big for its own boots are its main flaws, it’s a beautiful looking and charming experience that really pushed the N64’s 3D platforming and the Donkey Kong franchise to its absolute breaking point. So if you like monkey’s, platforming, British humour and beating up crocodiles. You’ll go ape for Donkey Kong 64.

I’m sorry.


Banjo Kazooie

Banjo Kazooie
Platform: Nintendo 64

Name me the greatest platformer on the Nintendo 64. I know exactly what your answer is going to be, “It’s Super Mario 64 obviously” Which is interesting, but I’m afraid incorrect. The case of Mario 64 is a curious one and whilst I want to dedicate more time to it, I’ll discuss it in a future review. The best N64 platformer in my eyes as a kid was always Banjo-Kazooie. I got it with my Nintendo 64 and have completed it about 5 times, but never achieved 100% (I always came up a few notes short on Click Clock Wood) Of course, now that over 10 years have passed since its original release, a port and threequel (The sequel Banjo Tooie was released in 2001) have appeared on the Xbox 360. Let’s re-look at this fondly remembered game and ask, does it stand the test of time, or is it just a pixelated mess only saved by nostalgia?

Well, I can happily say that the game at least still manages to look fantastic 12 years later, the graphics are still bright and colourful like an upbeat Disney cartoon and whilst the main characters are a little blocky, it’s not distracting and hardly noticeable.

For those not aware of the Banjo series, Banjo-Kazooie is the tale of friendship between a bear and a bird. Banjo is a yellow shorts wearing brown bear and lives with his best friend Kazooie (who spends the game inside Banjo’s backpack for some reason) who is a bird (in both the sense that she’s an avian creature and a girl, although some people don’t pick up on the latter) They are called into action when Banjo’s sister, Tooty is kidnapped by the narcissistic compulsive rhyming Wicked Witch Of The West rip-off, Gruntilda Winkybunion. Why is Grunty kidnapping little bear cubs? Closet Paedophile? No, Grunty wants to steal her beauty to make herself attractive using some machine she’s copied from Dr Frankenstein’s book of “How to laugh in the face of god using science,” she’s even got her own Igor in the form of Klungo. Anyway, to rescue Tooty, Banjo and Kazooie must climb to the top of Grunty’s lair (which is carved into the side of the mountain in the shape of her face) and defeat her.

You may be thinking that sounds simple, right? WRONG. Grunty’s Lair is covered in doors that only allow you to go higher by collecting musical notes, you have to go into the 9 worlds scattered around the lair to collect them. To open these, you need 10 Golden jigsaw pieces within said levels to fit puzzles, also scattered around the lair.  Confused? Don’t ever play Donkey Kong 64.

There are 100 Jigsaw pieces and 900 notes scattered throughout the game, which may seem like a horrible ordeal, it’s mostly reasonably manageable, the levels aren’t particularly huge (most revolve around a central area, so it’s easy to get round) and once you get the hang of it, you can ace levels 100% in about 30 minutes, however it’s because of this that the game suffers a horrendous difficulty spike after Level 7. Rusty Bucket Bay and Click Clock Wood prove to be a challenge to even the most adept gamer, Rusty Bucket Bay has you lose your “air-o-meter” (a health bar that says how long you can stay underwater) twice as fast and even when you’re on the surface. And Click Clock Wood is as ambitious as it is frustrating with its seasonal theme.

Whilst we’re on the subject of levels, here are 9 well designed, endlessly fun stages that offer unique challenges and a great soundtrack and although the levels are stock settings, for example, you have your Green Hill Zone opening level Mumbo’s Mountain, The Beach stage Treasure Trove Cove, Halloween level Mad Monster Mansion, snow level Freezeezy Peak and Egyptian Desert Gobi’s Valley, it offers some more interesting ideas. The Rusty Bucket Bay is a large ship dockyard, something, which whilst a staple of action and FPS, was never really seen in platformers (Mario has since done it in Bianco Harbour in Super Mario Sunshine and that’s the only other example I can think of) and Clankers Cavern is revolved around mostly a mechanical shark in a giant sewer. Click Clock Wood, as stated previously is the largest and most ambitious stage, revolving around the same tree at different seasons. It’s a fantastically designed stage, but the realisation that you’re repeating it 4 times is a pain and the final one does feel a rehash of Freezeezy Peak, which considering it’s the last area outside of Grunty’s Lair that you’ll see, it’s a tad disappointing.

But that aside, Banjo Kazooie is a fantastic game, don’t let the box-art fall you, whilst it has an all age rating on it, it’s just as fun for a grown gamer to play as a child. It has some great quirky British humour and characters, solid, perfected level design and it will leave you smiling for a long time afterwards. Also, for a game with almost no bosses, the fight against Grunty stands out as one of the most epic, challenging and under-rated boss fights ever.  I think Banjo Kazooie stands out more than a lot of modern games. I’m not blinded by nostalgia here, Banjo Kazooie is a masterpiece and it deserves more than to play second fiddle to Super Mario 64. SM64 created the 3D platformer, Banjo Kazooie took it and perfected the genre. However, it is let down by a sudden, although much needed difficulty spike ¾ through the game and the camera is occasionally a bit iffy, which is mainly due to the controls assigned to the camera allowing only left, right and zoom, but this was in SM64, Zelda and most games of the generation and wouldn’t be fixed till the joyous invention of dual analogue. But really, how can anyone say no to a game with Witches, Bears, Birds and a mission involving being flushed down a toilet?

Final rating: 9.5/10

Banjo Kazooie and its sequel are available for download on the Xbox Live Arcade.

Now I’ve looked at the finest 3D platformer of the N64 era, Next time on Nostalgia 64, let’s look at the one that nearly destroyed it, Banjo Kazooie’s spiritual sequel (before the real sequel came along), Donkey Kong 64.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle review

Saying the Wii has no hardcore games is like saying Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has no confectionery, complete rubbish. Anyone who says that must have been blindfolded, walked into gamestation and randomly picked up Carnival Games time and time again. Whilst I can spew off for hours about metaphors over how bollocks that statement is, there’s some element of truth there, so in effect making this whole paragraph a waste of time.

Games aimed at more mature gamers seem to go un-noticed in game shops or hardly appear in them at all, lost under a sea of mini game compilations and movie tie-ins, it’s because of this that No More Heroes was a surprise success, earning a sequel to be put in production fairly quick after release. If you’re not familiar with No More Heroes, you play as Travis Touchdown, an otaku psycho who weilds lightsabre beam katana and accidently ends up competing in a brutal deadly competition where he has to become the number 1 asassin in town…by killing the other 9. The game was fantastic, funny, well made and a nice parody of movies and games in general and although it had some minor issues, it quickly became a favourite of mine. So now I’ve finished the sequel, lets get reviewin’

First things first, in concept, No More Heroes 2 is the same as the original. Travis has to get to number 1 in the Asassins league. His reasons are different now, in that the number 1 asassin, the head of Pizza Hutt Batt has killed his best friend. What’s nice though is how things are shaken up a bit with the formula. There’s no more sandbox gameplay, which is a relief considering Santa Destroy was dull as dishwater and you no longer have to pay to do missions, which means no more grinding on mini-games.

Whilst this should be a good thing, it’s not, because the developers have gone back in time and replaced the side-job minigames with 8 bit NES style versions, which are the most fun parts of the game and now the only use for them to is get money for weapons, health/attack upgrades (via a visit to a fat Freddie Mercury’s gym) and cosmetic changes like T-shirts.

Now that Travis is stuck at rank 50, you’d think there’d be 49 boss fights. WRONG! Through some neat plot devices, that number gets chowed down (each boss which has more than one person counts as 2 ranks, which gets ridiculous when fighting the high school jock and his 24 cheerleaders) to about 12. But the twelve or so bosses we get, whilst most rely on similar tactics, are creative, hard as nails and fun to fight. Each making the already loopy world of No More Heroes even more looped.  Travis isn’t alone either, Sylvia is more on his side this time, despite being as manipulative as ever, Shinobu returns with a metal hand and Travis’ long lost brother Henry shows up, the latter two playable for certain parts of the game.

This sort of thing is probably really common in Santa Destroy, to be honest…

Whilst it is fun to play as both Shinobu and Henry, they’re both possibly the weakest aspects of the game and feel a distraction to Travis’ story. Also, the game decides to mix up their controls a bit, whereas Travis can grab any enemy by pressing A, Shinobu performs a jump and henry does a dash attack. At moments where you’ve learned to instinctively grab an enemy, jumping by accident is annoyingly common. Also Henry’s section doesn’t last long enough by getting a single boss fight which is complete filler, which is a shame because No More Heroes 2 makes up and does better the original in nearly everyway, but it’s small things like that which bring the whole package down. But it’s still a fantastic game if you get over those small problems, it’s basically the video game equivalent of Kill Bill with toilet humour (literally), if you get it, you’ll love it.  I recommend it highly, if you can find a copy, obviously.

*Also, I’m not sure if you have to play the first one to appreciate it, I think it would definitely help, but chances of finding a copy are rare (However, I believe a port is being released on either Xbox/PS3 next year)

** Also also, didn’t have anywhere to put it in the actual review, but there are some really fun, but pointless side-bits such as the Bizarre Jelly 5 (an anime show within the game) game, which is a lot of fun and probably has the best bit of music in the game,  and then there’s the getting your cat to lose weight side-quest. Seriously.