October is here and the smell of leaves and spookiness is in the air. What does spookiness smell like? Pumpkins, obviously. What’s not so obvious though are all the various sources of those spooky vibes. I mean, of course horror themes shows and games are going to deliver some scares, but sometimes otherwise innocent media can suddenly deliver a spooky gut punch without any warning. Late 90’s era Rareware was particularly good at this, which is why we’re dedicated a whole month to their scary shenanigans. There are plenty of moments to choose from, but my first pick is the one that they got me with for the very first time: the temple guard in DK64.
I remember my first couple of hours with Donkey Kong 64 being characterized by bright colors and monkey-themed hijinks. I had been so very excited for DK64 before its release, so when I eventually got it for Christmas one year, I tore into it with the reckless abandon that only a grade school kid can muster. At the time, I looked at the Jungle Japes level as if it were a big playground to enjoy, and I made the most of it with both Donkey and Diddy Kong. Those who’ve played the game know that it’s the pleasant kind of environment one would expect from a Rare game, and the next level, Angry Aztec, was mostly the same with one glaring exception: the Fruit Temple.
“Fruit Temple” isn’t the location’s real name of course, it’s just what I’ve always called it; I’m not even certain it actually has an official name. Anyway, this is the structure in the far corner of the large open area of the level. It’s distinguishing feature are the six switch doors on its facade, one for each kong. Exploring this place has a very different feel from the rest of the level in that it’s defined by a looming sense of dread rather than pleasant adventure. It’s music is slow, dark and heavy, taking its time to weigh upon the player rather than flow over them lie the rest of the game’s music does. Every sector of the structure is dimly lit, and there’s a feeling of danger lurking around each corner. However, the real kicker only comes in once one collects a golden banana.
Once a portion of the temple is cleared and its banana taken, the kong’s welcome instantly wears out. That dread that’s been building throughout one’s time in the temple crystallizes and confronts the player in the form of some sort of temple guard. I was not expecting this my first time through, so when a voice screamed “GET OUT!” at me from the TV I practically jumped out of my seat! Minor panic set in once the timer and the guardian’s targeting reticle appeared on the screen, and I high-tailed it out of there as fast as my monkey feet could carry me. I don’t think I entered that temple again until at least a year later when I tried to do a 100% run of the game, and it was only a few weeks ago that I finally decided to see what would happen if time runs out. Spoiler: it’s not as bad as you think.
There are other spooky moments to be found in Donkey Kong 64, but nothing quite like that. That angry guard shows up again in Crystal Cave, but somehow the effect just isn’t the same. Still, bravo Rare; you got me. I’d like to say it was the first and last time, but alas that’s not the case. Tune in next week to see what else Rare managed to get me with. It’s Rare Scares month, so there’s plenty of spoopiness to reminisce about. We’re only just getting started!
Did DK64 manage to get you at all? What was the creepiest moment for you?