I Have No Style, I Have No Grace


Tiny Kong meant a lot to me as a ten-year-old girl in 1999.

I’ve been revisiting my childhood recently by trying to beat a game I never beat when I was a kid. Donkey Kong 64 went unfinished in my household because at the time I was only 10 years old and the scope of the game was just massive. There was so much stuff to collect and gather, and eventually my kid brother and I moved on to other games. I’ve decided that enough is enough and I’m going to beat it now with the 101% completion the game offers.

As of this post, I’m about to take on the boss in the third level, Frantic Factory (my favorite level as a kid – apparently I’ve always had a thing for creepy things aimed at children). I particularly enjoy this boss fight because I get to use Tiny here, and she’s always been my favorite to play as. As a ten-year-old in 1999, it was pretty uncommon still for me to find female characters I could play as who weren’t just boobs attached to a body, so having a female character who was probably around my age (and had pigtails and wore overalls and a beanie, a very fashionable look in the late 1990s) was such a huge influence on me. There had indeed been female characters in games before, but Tiny was the first one who I played as who was around my age or so and who despite her small size could beat the living hell out of pretty much anything thrown at her. Since I’ve always been small myself (I maxed out at 5’2″ around age 13), having a character like that reminded me that I, too, could beat the living hell out of pretty much anything thrown at me, which was a good thing to internalize considering that I was about to start middle school in the fall of 2000.

(I beat the hell out of middle school.)

Since starting my replay of this game, I’ve noticed that there are certain parts that are extremely difficult for a kid to play through. The port of the original Donkey Kong arcade game from 1981, for one, gives you only one life instead of the customary three, and it forces you to play through four screens perfectly before giving you the well-deserved Golden Banana. And then you have to do it again on a higher difficulty to get the Nintendo Coin, an item you need to be able to access the final boss battle and beat the game. This arcade machine (located, again, within Frantic Factory) has apparently stopped a large enough amount of people from clearing the game to be notable. I’m actually about to take yet another crack at it after I finish this post. I love playing 1980s arcade games and even I’m having trouble with this.

And yet this didn’t frustrate me as much as racing the beetle did. In Angry Aztec (and apparently again in Crystal Caves, much to my annoyance since it means I have to do it again), you have to get Tiny down a slide faster than a large beetle and collect 50 coins along the way. Easier said than done since touching the beetle at any point makes you lose three coins and, well, you can fly off the stage at several points. It’s a lot like Rainbow Road except it makes you really homicidal. You just don’t want to do it after a while. I spent an hour and ten minutes straight trying to beat it, and by the time I finally pulled it off I had a blister on my thumb. I continued my playthrough the next day with a Band-Aid over it because, well, I’m apparently a masochist when it comes to gaming.

In fact, the more I think about all of this, the more it becomes apparent that there’s a reason I haven’t picked this game back up in roughly 17 years. It gets strangely hard strangely fast. I suppose that’s to be expected since the game was made by Rareware, the company responsible for the notoriously difficult Battletoads, but come on, kids were playing this one, too! It wouldn’t hurt you to let them, you know, beat the game, right? Or is that too much to ask here?

At any rate, I suppose I ought to get back to work with that arcade machine. I’ve got the first two levels down pat now. It’s just a matter of clearing that third one, the one with the springs and the elevators. Time to be that retrogamer I keep telling people I am.


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