N64 Review #18- Banjo-Kazooie
Do you smell that? Smells like a fresh review! Now that all of my Nintendo 64 reviews have been united in one place, I can carry on with the journey. As it would turn out, not a moment too soon, either. If you have been on a deserted island for the last month or otherwise totally shielded from the internet, then two things are true. First, I envy you. Second, you have yet to hear about Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie that currently sits at 1000% of its original fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Also, in this fantasy scenario, it’s your first day back in civilization and you chose 1 More Castle? You, sir or madam, have exquisite taste. Anyhow, after being kicked in the nostalgia and going against my long standing personal policy of ignoring Kickstarter by backing this project, I got a hankerin’ to play what inspired it. So I did.
Now, in the interest of integrity, I offer this disclaimer. For this playthrough, I played the Xbox Live Arcade version on the Xbox 360. Same game, much prettier. You may not care for that. That’s cool but I was honest.
Rare and the Nintendo 64 is probably my favorite developer/console combo of all time. Just about everything they touched turned to gold. Banjo-Kazooie was no different. A fantastic platformer with memorable characters, a crazy environment, creative level design, and laugh out loud dialogue, it is still a fan favorite to this day. It is also the first game people mention when they bemoan having to collect stuff in games. “Collect-a-thon? SO BORING. No one wants to collect stuff. That isn’t fun.” Isn’t it though? Let me ask you a question. You haters of “collect-a-thon” games, if I were to come to your house right now, would I find any Amiibo? Thought so. I’ll just leave this mic on the ground here where I dropped it.
For those of us that don’t hate nice things, the game opens on Tooty, Banjo’s (the bear) younger sister. She’s just as cute as a button. Now, she’s all excited about an adventure she and her brother are going to go on just as soon as his lazy ass gets out of bed. He’s hibernating, I guess. *Announcer voice* MEANWHILE, AT THE LEGION OF DOOM… There is a witch named Gruntilda and she is super pissed off that Tooty is prettier than she is. I mean… she’s a witch so I am not sure what she was expecting but whatever. She swoops in and kidnaps Tooty with the plan of stealing Tooty’s beauty (which would go on to be the name of Tooty’s hair salon years later).
The commotion of this finally wakes up Banjo, causing he and Kazooie (the bird) to rush out of the house just in time to see Tooty heading off to get her looks taken away. I’ve woken up late for stuff before, too. I can’t really fault him there I guess. Outside is Bottles the mole. He explains what happened and then begins training the player on how to play the game. Kazooie and Bottles don’t get along and a lot of their interactions are hilarious. She is a strong, independent bird who don’t need no mole and she is not shy about voicing that.
Once you complete the basic training you finally get to hop into the game itself. Throughout each level, you collect Jiggies, which are jigsaw puzzle pieces. You must collect these in order to unlock new levels. Actually getting into the levels plays out a lot like Super Mario 64, with a “portal” if you will from the main overworld into the level itself. The difference being that the entry points are a bit more tangible here than in Super Mario 64, such as having a cabin or a mountain or a sewer you enter instead of jumping into a magic painting. It gives the same effect, though.
The levels themselves offer you a lot of options as to how you play. Yes, there are many things you CAN collect. You do not need to collect them all, however, in order to progress. There are many ways to collect that level’s Jiggies. Each level has a few unique objectives to accomplish such as freeing a metal, trash compacting shark from living underwater in the sewers or pelting a gorilla with oranges. You can find all five Jinjos in every level for a Jiggie. What’s a Jinjo? Hahaha, you said it, friend.
You can find all of the music notes hidden in each level for a Jiggie, which coincidentally you WILL also need those music notes to open some doors in Gruntilda’s lair. You can also go see Mumbo Jumbo who, for a nominal fee, will turn you into a unique creature that will allow to reach a Jiggie in the level otherwise inaccessible to Banjo and Kazooie. I guess what I’m saying is that there are a lot of ways to *puts on sunglasses* get Jiggie with it. YYYEEEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHH!
It isn’t quite as simple as I just described. Throughout each level, you will need to find Bottles who will continue to teach you new moves. You will also come across Brentilda, Grunty’s sister who will tell you secrets about Gruntilda. What she doesn’t tell you, though, is that you need to write these things she says down or the end of this game becomes literally impossible. This is a huge issue for me with this game.
First of all, this was a time in gaming where we were getting away from crap like the password system. No one was thinking about writing stuff down anymore. We had memory cards. Secondly, the game doesn’t tell you that you would need this stuff later so as the player, you just think it’s a fun little thing they added in and you ignore it because as with most N64 games and for some reason Animal Crossing still to this day, speech is done via text with semi-annoying grunts to signify words being spoken. Then you get to the end of the game, find out you needed that info, and you can’t go back for it. That’s good design right there.
While we’re on the subject of things that pissed me off about this game, the camera. It is possibly the worst in-game camera I have ever had to deal with. It is never at a good angle, it never shows you everything you need to see, and most of the time, it betrays you and costs you you sweet, precious health. The camera is a dick. Here’s another one that didn’t piss me off, really, but it got kind of annoying as time wore on. You know Rare, right? You know how in their platformers, they like to personify everything by giving it googly eyes? I like this practice, but there are a lot of parts in this game where that practice makes it difficult to tell what is an enemy and what is a helpful NPC. When combined with the atrocious camera, this really becomes an issue in some areas.
Really, though, at the end of the day Banjo-Kazooie is everything I used to love about gaming. This sort of game is what made a hobby into a passion for me. Banjo-Kazooie is a game made by a group of people who wanted to make a game that they themselves would love to play and would be proud to have their friends and family play. They put so much heart, so much love, so much attention to detail into it that you can’t help but feel it because it truly jumps off of the screen at you. We could all use more games like this.
I know I’m not alone in that thought. All I have to do is go to that Kickstarter page for Yooka-Laylee and see the enormous mountain of cash people have given the old Rare team on good faith in the hope that maybe just once more, we’ll get a game that makes us feel that way again. I see that and it gives me hope. Hope that maybe there will be a day where I don’t have to cry bullshit at everything a developer promises. Hope that every time a video game goes on sale, I don’t have to ask what the catch is. Hope that other developers will see what is happening here and realize that we are tired of their crap and make positive changes. Even if none of that turns out to be true, I’ll still always have Banjo-Kazooie to take me back to a better time in gaming. If you haven’t ever played it, go forth. Play. Enjoy.