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Collectibles and why Donkey Kong Country is the best of the best
by Andrew Whipple III

Collectibles have been a mainstay in the video gaming world for some time now. With such high-profile titles like Grand Theft Auto IV and Assassin's Creed utilising them, it has practically become a necessity to include some type of collectible if you want a game to achieve greatness. However, contemporary collectibles and bonuses are all mostly failures, and quite frankly that’s because to this day there still hasn't been a title that's done collectibles better than the Donkey Kong Country series.

It may be a bold claim, but Rare’s masterpiece is definitely the pinnacle of collectible mastery. I’m getting ahead of myself here; let’s set this scenario up. Collectibles. Games. They’re practically synonymous. They can be anything from tags of fallen comrades that you find on your romp through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, random shards of power hidden throughout a city, or balls of light that are set in hard to reach environments. Whatever it is that you’re collecting, it all adds up to something greater, something that could unlock a better ending, an achievement, or maybe just something as simple as bragging rights.

The name of the game is to keep the interest of the player piqued. These little devilish programs tether your attention to a solitary game, keeping a gamer engrossed in a title for extended periods of time. Their addictive nature can provide until, perhaps, the sequel hits stores or the developer managed to squeeze some DLC out. Grand Theft Auto IV is a perfect example of this type of play. Releasing two critically acclaimed and rather large episodes via DLC, the lure of more achievements and just being involved in Liberty City was enough for millions to take the dive. Unfortunately, the collectible side of things wasn’t nearly as polished or fun. Want an achievement? Well, get ready to wander about Liberty City to locate and kill over 250 flying rats. There’s no easy way to find them, unless you look online, and the only thing you get out of the deal is a shoddy number that adds up to a meaningless score. Where’s the fun in that?

Furthering my examples of heinous collection design, Assassin’s Creed comes to mind. It follows the same ridiculous attempt at garnering the attention of gamers by employing an impoverished flag collection system. Being the game’s expansive collectible, these flags are hidden very, very thoroughly throughout multiple cities. So much so, that there’s absolutely no way to tell where they might be stashed. If you were to investigate the whereabouts of all of these digital atrocities, you’d spend embarrassing amounts of time checking every nook and cranny and for what? The explicit sound of an achievement clambouring onto your television screen? No thanks.

The examples of triple-A games butchering collectibles are astoundingly high and continue on with the likes of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Gears of War and many more. With all this amazing technology and immersive storytelling at our fingertips, you’d think we’d be able to one up a series that debuted on the SNES.

The main reason why Donkey Kong Country succeeds is accessibility. Anyone can jump in and immediately be familiar with how the game functions. Believe it or not, this accessibility actually accentuates the way the bonuses and collectibles work. You see, if you’ve played a Donkey Kong Country game in the past, you’ll know that bananas are the most common form of collectible. Grab 100 and you’ll be awarded with an extra life, but they also double as a tool in another important way. Say that you notice a lone banana looming curiously over a gaping chasm. You might ask yourself what it’s doing there and how you might grab it. In actuality that banana is marking a bonus barrel, the other form of collectible in every DKC game.

The banana marker is important because it helps people locate clandestine bonuses they need to achieve 100% completion. Without having to resort to annoying internet guides, it’s an extremely efficient and effective way to keep players involved. Unfortunately, the first DKC didn’t really award people for grabbing that elusive 100% mark, but where it failed, DKC 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest undoubtedly surpassed. It did such a superb job that, in actuality, DKC2 is the catalyst for this article.

It was fun to locate the bonus barrels in the first game, but DKC2 put more of an emphasis on making you want to find all the bonuses. This time around, if you were able to complete a bonus room you were awarded with a Krem Koin. These 'koins' could then be turned in at Klubba’s Kiosk to unlock special stages in a secret level called The Lost World. Not only that, each and every level in DKC2 contained one, hard to find DK coin. If you were able to obtain all Krem Koins and successfully find every DK coin, you’d be treated to a special boss fight and an alternate ending to the game.

Maybe it doesn’t seem like much, but let me assure you that it’s a big deal. What other game makes finding collectibles a rewarding and equally fun experience? DKC2 took the addictive nature of the collectible item and wove it into the balance of the overall game. You didn’t have to collect everything to feel like you’d accomplished something, but for the people who went the extra mile, there was something extra special waiting for them. We need more of that type of programming in our games today. We need a seamless, wholly integrated system that makes seeking out collectibles fun and actually doable again; no more of this game guide garbage.

I think what Rare did with the DKC series is unparalleled. It definitely can be mimicked, but with how trophies and achievements work nowadays, it’s unlikely. There have been games that reward people for their collecting efforts, such as Halo 3 with its unlockable armor pieces and Mass Effect with its stat boosts for unlocking certain achievements. Though mostly cosmetic, both these games at least hand you something worthwhile for completing a milestone, and that’s commendable. I just wish more developers would look to the system set in place by the Rare of yore.

Once again, collectibles are responsible for running a substantial amount of the gaming addiction. Practically every game sports some type of collectible, but none can come close to the unrelenting perfection set in place by the DKC series. There’s no reason why games can’t augment what DKC has done, but if one thing’s for sure it’s that the gaming industry would be a much better place if they did.

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- Andrew Whipple III

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