Monday, August 5, 2013

Return To Donkey Kong Island

One of my sister's more endearing indulgences is that my nephew have at least one working device for every gaming system that ever existed, and a selection of games to go with them. True, they seldom have the most cutting edge examples in gaming, usually catching things as they are just passing away and therefore relatively inexpensive (they just got a PS3). But that does little to diminish the enjoyment of the games themselves (if they are truly enjoyable) and relieves one of the anxiety hopping onto the next big (expensive) thing.

About two weeks ago I had the whim to borrow one of their old Super Nintendo systems, hook it up to my huge but clunky HD TV, and pop in one of the old Donkey Kong Country games, just to see how it looked. Little did I know what I was getting into again. For the first time in fifteen years or so I was looking at old games that my brothers and I had stopped playing in a different century.

One of the first things I found out was that it is true what they say about muscle memory. I found my fingers twitching again in response to hard-learned tricks, recalling effortlessly where secret bonuses and levels were located, sending my characters hopping in anticipation to dangers they hadn't encountered in over a decade. And what's more, my playing other games in the years between (and I am not a huge or dedicated gamer) had made levels I had found difficult before easily overcome. Some places that had stumped us for weeks the first time we played them now took only two or three efforts to pass.

Another thing I discovered was how quickly innovation passes into nostalgia. This is perhaps best exemplified by the very start of the first Donkey Kong Country, when Kranky Kong appears with his Victrola, only to be blown aside by Donkey Kong and his boom-box. Trendy! Fashionable! Hip! Now, how quaint, how reminiscent. Remember those? The first DKC was ground-breaking for its "3D" imaging though it still scrolled left-and-right. Now characters can wander freely back and forth though vast landscapes; very freeing, but at least with the old style you knew which general direction you should be heading.

And these old games still hold their obsessive power. My nephew, who wasn't even born when DKC3 came out, quickly developed an addiction and hasn't let up his goal to play through all three games, find every DK coin and bonus, and pester me every spare moment with questions and observations about the characters. He's even come up with his own nicknames for several: Hot-Tub Man, Mr. Dietz, the Kiddie With Swords, the Uncle John Wasp, Mr. Mauser, Coconut People, and Captain Hookman.

I was also reminded what a sentimental fool I was when my nephew accidentally erased one of the old games saved from so many years ago. I felt a small painful twinge in my soul, "like the breaking of a mouse's heart." It was only partially assuaged by the final completion of the Lost World in DK2, which we never did accomplish in the old days.

And so we hauled out my old ephemera from the archives. I bestowed my gaming guide on my nephew. I dug out my Donkey Kong action figures for his admiration and appraisal. We searched the internet for notes and trivia to help us navigate the secrets (much simpler these days!). And now we have just about come to the end of it.

So my old memory becomes his old memory. In a little while I'll unplug the game system and be free of the tangle of wires festooning my book shelves. I've enjoyed my return to Donkey Kong Island, but I've had just about enough of it for now. My only problem will be getting my nephew to agree to let it alone for a while.


Babel said...

Uncle John Wasp, eh? Why that little...

Nathan said...

It wouldn't really work if Donkey Kong had an iPod in that beginning sequence, would it?