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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Retro Review: Banjo Kazooie N64

Today's retro review is a very special guest review by the surprisingly porous, retro game enthusiast, Dex. (good friend of regular contributor Richard/RM)


Ah, Banjo-Kazooie. It isn’t possible for me to play this game and not feel waves of nostalgia for 1998 and being a mere 8 years old. A time where everything was simpler. Everything, except for the games. It seems the further back in time you go the more complex games seem to become. Are there games that are complex and difficult today? Sure, but they don’t seem to be in as much abundance as they are when you deal with consoles like the SNES or Genesis.

And even though our old games will often kick our asses if we aren’t fully prepared for them, we still look back on them with fondness. Maybe it’s because it reminds us of that simpler time? Maybe it’s those old school blocky graphics that remind us how things used to be. Who knows?

All I know is: I love Banjo-Kazooie


The basic idea behind Banjo-Kazooie is simple, you run around and collect stuff. The more stuff you collect the further you progress into the game. This mixed with 3D platforming ensures a fun, head scratching, and often maddening journey through Banjo & Kazooie’s world. The story of the game is that you are on a mission to rescue your sister, Tooty, from the evil witch, Gruntilda, who kidnaps her because she is so much prettier than her and is going use a machine to transfer all of Tooty’s good looks to her ugly disproportionate body. I didn’t say it was going to make sense, but if you don’t question a bear who houses a bird in a backpack he wears that helps him to fly you’ll go along with the story.

The graphics are bright and colorful, and very blocky by today’s standards. Unfortunately this is a reoccurring thing in all N64 games, they just have this blocky edge to them that is endearing for me but if you were to show it to some ignorant little 14 year old who plays nothing but Call Of Duty he would likely tell me that “These graphics suck” and ask me “why would anyone want to play this game” to which I would reply “punch to the face Timmy, punch to the face.”

The Sound design and Music in this game are, as expected with Rareware N64 games, excellent. There isn’t a sound effect that seems out of place or unwanted, and the music is catchy and memorable. It was so catchy and memorable in fact that it made up 90% of the music on that new Banjo-Kazooie game on the Xbox 360. How do I feel about that? We’ll come to that later.

The controls are, admittedly, a little complex, and will often send our heroes plummeting to their imminent death.

Pushing the control stick will make Banjo run/walk. The C buttons move the camera, B attacks, A Jumps, Z crouches. The shoulder buttons? Nothing. Seriously, why are those even there?

Sound simple so far? Let me introduce you to the basic move set.

Z and A backflips, which will be used many a time to get to a place where a standard jump just doesn’t cut it.

Pressing A shortly after jumping will cause Kazooie to flap her wings a bit and give you some more air time.

Z and B does the “Beak Barge” which is a sliding attack.

Jumping and then pressing B directly afterward performs the “Rat-A-Tat” which is an airborne pecking move.

Pressing Z and then left C will make Kazooie do all the leg work and enable you to get up slippery surfaces Banjo just can’t.

Pressing Z and right C makes you invincible using Kazooie’s wings as a shield (it just does, okay?).

Pressing Z and up C will make Kazooie to fire eggs in front of you.

Pressing Z and down C causes her to drop and egg behind you, complete with it’s own fart sound effect.

I love this game.

- Gameplay-

In the beginning of the review I said that you collect “Stuff”. What I did not highlight is exactly how much “stuff” you will be collecting. The short answer? A shit-ton.

The long answer? Do I really have to? Okay. It works like this. The main “thing” you collect is called a Jiggy (aka Jigsaw Piece). You use the Jiggies to fill in puzzles you find in Gruntilda’s lair (the main hub of the game) that open up different worlds so you can collect more Jiggies. You’ll also have to collect Musical notes to break the Note doors that are scattered around the lair that guard more Jigsaw Puzzles and more worlds.

Those are the two “Main” things you have to collect. Other things include Eggs, Feathers (of the Red and Gold variety), Jinjo’s (of which there are 10 in each level. Collecting them all bags you another Jiggy), Silver Skulls (that you give to the resident shaman “Mumbo” who will turn you into some kind of animal that will help you collect a specific Jiggy), Honeycomb Pieces (the equivalent of Zelda’s hearts, or coins in Mario 64), and Empty Honeycombs (like pieces of heart in Zelda, except six honeycombs make up a whole).

As you can see, there is rather a lot to gather up in this game, and that’s not including the extra lives (which are statues of Banjo in a heroic pose MADE OF GOLD), and by the end of it you’ll wonder exactly where Banjo keeps it all.

It is easy to be horribly misled by this game in many ways. The first is seeing the vastness of things that must be collected and thinking “surely I don’t have to collect EVEYTHING on EVERY level?” Do you see that picture up there? That is the SECOND note door. Let me repeat that for you. The SECOND. To put it into even more perspective, there are 100 notes in every level. By the time I had taken this picture I had opened 3 levels, collected 30 Jiggies, and 185 Musical Notes.

The other thing that will happen to most people who begin to play this game (and na├»ve little 8 year old me) is to see the amount of Jiggies in each level, is not equal to the amount needed to complete the Jigsaw puzzles. Your brain draws the conclusion that the collection of all 10 Jiggies in all 9 worlds (and the 10 in the lair that are revealed by finding the Witch Switches. Do the math) is not necessary and that you will simply collect the most obvious and easiest to reach Jiggies and progress through the game without any trouble…..

The above outlines how wrong you are, and just how cruel and unfair this game can be. And once you think you’re ready to take on Grunty, you would do well to remember the above picture. Do you really think the cruelty ends because you are at the end of the game? If you said yes, you are sadly mistaken. And so was I.

- Rage-Worthy-

Overall this game is an enjoyable and fun experience. And once your journey is over you will reminisce about the time you had with this game. Yes, overall this game will leave you smiling, for the most part.

The above picture is the epitome of unfairness. It is Mr. Viles, Grumblie eating contest. As you can clearly see from the score, I won. What you don’t see is that this is my second attempt. Mr. Vile’s Grumblie eating contest comprises of 3 rounds. The first round simply has you eating more red Grumblies than him.

The second round has you doing the same thing but avoiding the yellow ones as they are “not ripe yet”. The third and final round is the same premise but you must eat only what is shown as it alternates between Red and Yellow varieties.

What Mr. Vile does not tell you is that, even if you make it to the 3rd round, if you lose you will have to start the whole thing over. From round one. The other thing Mr. Vile does is that when you lose, and on the first try it is more than likely; he comes over to you and bites you, causing to lose some health.

As a child I had never experienced rage until this moment in my life.

I hate Mr. Vile with every fiber of my being. You are literally on the edge of your seat, your palms sweating, heart racing, you must beat Mr. Vile because he annoys you, you want to win so you can get that Jiggy (and in my case it was the LAST JIGGY IN THE LEVEL) and then you either lose by ONE point or you draw with him, which apparently constitutes as a loss in this world.

If you’re quick you can GTFO before he comes over and OM NOM NOMS on your ass but on the first try it ain’t gonna happen. You are robbed of your dignity and of a piece of health. Cruel and unfair.

In fact the whole level where Mr. Vile is located is just as frustrating comprising of timed dashes for Jiggies and a memory mini-game that ALSO causes you to lose health when you get it wrong.

There ARE levels that are more difficult than this one (this being level FOUR out of NINE). Rusty Bucket Bay is probably the most unfair level in the whole game, and Click Clock Wood is probably the most complicated level of the bunch.

But the ONE thing that players will always remember is the final fight with Gruntilda. There is a word that sums this up perfectly, Cluster-Fuck.

The end boss is the most cruel and unfair of all. You have worked your ass off collecting notes, Jiggies, eggs, and everything in-between, not to mention you just had to go through the whole “Gruntys Furnace Fun” ordeal, which is a quiz with questions about the game, and when you FINALLY have the confrontation with Grunty the game kicks your ass harder than it has the whole game. That’s probably why it is the most cruel and unfair thing of all. It’s the VERY LAST thing that stands between you and a completed game. And it is BALLS hard and not at all cool.

Why is it so hard? She flies at you so fast you barely have time to dodge out of the way, she throws fireballs that are also difficult to dodge, you have to try and hit her with eggs that are already awkward enough to aim whilst she throws those fireballs, there’s a high probability you will fall off of the tower the battle takes place on, flying in this game is not an easy thing to do so when it asks you to perform the “Beak Bomb” attack you learn later on (press B whilst airborne) things get messy, the flying is already awkward, and the beak bomb attack causes you to shoot forward very fast and then drop a little and if you don’t press A in time at the end of the attack, say goodbye.

Yes, it is a difficult boss fight, but when you finally beat Grunty it just makes the victory all the sweeter.

- Conclusion -

Here’s the upshot of this review: this game is not for the faint of heart. What appears to be a cute and unassuming game is actually what I would consider a cruel and unusual form of torture designed by kleptomaniacs. That may be so but the fact of the matter is that once you start to play, the overall charm of the game captivates you, it presents you with a silly story and a silly premise. The game does not take itself seriously and it knows it and wants you to be in on the fun.

Once you start playing, you feel compelled to keep going until the very end. Yes it gets annoying, yes it gets tiresome, but once you’ve cooled off for a bit, you’ll always want to come back for more.

Banjo-Kazooie went on to be a series of 4 games. 2 on the N64, 1 on the GBA (and a racing game), and 1 on the Xbox 360. How do I feel about the 360 game?

Much the same way as I do about this one, It’s silly, 4th wall breaking humor that’s a lot of fun, and even though the key platforming aspect was removed (in favor of vehicle building) I still find something in it that I can enjoy. And who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line (after they’re done with all this “Kinect” silliness) Rare will make that 3rd true Banjo game fans are dying for.

All I know is: I love this game. But the sequel? There aren’t enough words in the dictionary that describe how much I love the sequel. But I’ll give it a shot in my next review.


Thanks for the guest review Dex!

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Retro Review: Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX


The Legend of Zelda was a ground breaking game, offering a depth of adventure never before seen by gamers. As the years progressed several, equally as compelling sequels would spawn from the original classic. Those that would grace the heldheld genre proved to be some of the most unique spin-offs a video game series had seen. And as the first Legend of Zelda to be featured on Nintendo's own Gameboy system, Link's Awakening took the essentials that made The Legend of Zelda great with new, quaint features and gameplay that while not entirely traditional, were certainly not forgettable.
Link's Awakening DX Title Screen

The story begins with our hero Link sailing across the sea for reasons not ever revealed, just presumably for another quest. A vicious storm brews and while Link struggles to keep control of his ship, a bolt of lightning strikes the mast, and Link blacks out. He washes up on the beach of a mysterious, unidentified island. He his found by Marin, a sweet young girl with a fondness for animals and an affinity for singing. She brings him to the house she and her brother, Tarin, share. Here, Link tosses and turns until his eyes snap open to see a worried Marin at his bedside. Relieved at Link's revival, Marin tells him that he has washed up on Koholint Island. Not only that, but monsters have appeared and are acting very violently ever since Link washed ashore.

Link's Awakening waking up on Koholint Island

Link hops out of bed, and regains his inscribed shield from Tarin. He leaves their home, and ventures out into Mabe Village, a small, peaceful place with fluttering butterflies, frolicking animals, and playing children. Link travels down the lane, to the beach where he came ashore. Nearing the splintered wood of the wreckage site, Link finds the resting site of his trusty sword. As he approaches, he is accosted by a mysterious owl, who stops him and tells him that he will be unable to leave this island until he can wake the Wind Fish. Giving link instruction to start in the Mysterious Woods, the owl takes off back into the sky, as Link emphatically retrieves his sword.

Link's Awakening wake the Wind Fish

The adventure begins.


The heart of Link's Awakening remains true to the great, classic Zelda games. Ninety percent of the game is played in a top-down view, while Link (or whatever name you've decided on) swipes his sword out at enemies, blocks spears and stones with his shield, and places bombs, shoots arrows, sprinkles magic powder, and uses a variety of other tools and abilities to see the end of his quest. The gameplay could best be described as a perfect crease between the original classic, and the SNES masterpiece, A Link to the Past, boasting some of the more advanced features of ALTTP while maintaining a lot of the simplicity and control of the NES original.

The same can fairly be said about the graphics and sound. The look of the DX version of the game is very beautiful for the Gameboy age, which can be greatly attributed to the lovely coloring. However, even the original, colorless version of the game was an impressive introduction to what Nintendo's Gameboy could do. The art of the game is quite nice, not something that will blow you away such as the first time you saw A Link to the Past, but the detail and cartooning is certainly a few steps up from the first game. Flowers bounce happily up and down much like those found in ALTTP, and also like that game, you can slice through bushes and tall grass, followed by the animation of leaves being strewn about.

Link's Awakening Big Fish

Link's Awakening also features multi-level surfaces, such as standing on a ledge while your enemies cover the ground below, something that the original Zelda game did not have, making it a pretty impressive feature for an 8-bit hand-held system. Water is also animated in Link's Awakening, although it's not the best job you will see. Water at the shore line is a pretty good effort but everywhere else, it is a very basic graphic.

"Cut-scenes" can also be seen in the game, such as in the intro, during a photo sequence, the end, and in other areas. They boast higher detail and higher quality art that could maybe even stand up to simpler SNES games. However, the animation in these sequences is not complex by any means. Also, in some instances, the focus of the game will change from the normal view to a close up of a specific object or image. Once again, these sequences have very high art quality but are not animated. These changes in view and detail are one of the many features that sets this game apart from its NES and SNES cousins.

Link's Awakening Opening Cut Scene

The game has little for flaws in the sound department when you consider that most gameboy games of the time generally featured little more than a series of thuds and beeps. Link's Awakening, however, feature a slew of distinct sounds and music. Link's sword makes a clear "swipe" noise, while touching your items to a wall makes a little "clink" noise. Tapping your blade against a thin, destroyable wall adds a quaint echo to that noise. Not every sound indeed sounds like what it is, treading water is a very basic "whoob" noise, setting something on fire makes a generic hand-held type noise, but the mere variety that this early Gameboy game offered in sound is what truly sets it apart from what would otherwise be par.

Link's Awakening Marin Singing

Musically, we're talking about something very impressive for what it was. Once again, the quality of it can be identified somewhere between the NES and SNES age. At its core, the music is a series of beeps and buzzes with very, very basic electronic percussion. But put into the hands of the musical genius known as Koji Kondo, these bare elements can be turned into the great, complex, and memorable compositions that you will find in Link's Awakening. The main theme you will hear during gameplay is an altered version of the classic Legend of Zelda theme, half of which is the theme we all know and love, and the other half being a new and interesting twist while not losing the sense of adventure the original score instilled in us. Music changes when you enter different areas, such as the village or the forest. The village's music is simple, sweet, and conveys the peaceful living that takes place in the area. The forest's music gives a feel of mysterious while also a bit sneaky, which seems par for the moblins that live within it. Dungeon music stands out the most, as each dungeon features its own unique, eerie music, something that not even A Link to the Past could say for itself. While a couple of the dungeons' music could be described as the cave-area music slightly altered, there is still a difference between each dungeon, giving these areas a sense of individualism, and helping each stop be a specialized experience.  The Ballad of the Wind Fish, the theme song to the game's story, is arguably the most beautiful piece of music ever composed on an 8-bit Gameboy Game, boasting a tone of both sadness and hope, so impressively well put together that its reoccurring nature never becomes one of annoyance.


There are no unwanted changes here for the most part, and the mechanics of the gameplay are unchanged from the classic Legend of Zelda formats we know and love. You wander the map, swiping your sword at enemies and collecting rupees and other helpful supplies to aid you on your quest, while bombing through secret walls and talking to the occasional villager and other characters. The gameplay never changes much, but if you're familiar with Zelda then you know what you're getting into. You can at least be comforted knowing that the scenery does change quite a bit over the span of the game. There are some small, irking things that can start to wear just a bit on your nerves, a large example of this being the messages that appear every time you touch a rock or similar item before you can actually lift it. This goes for multiple obstacles in the game. Many of these messages cease to appear after you tackle the obstacles but it's not always an immediate thing.

Link's Awakening Link Lifting Rock

There isn't any shortage of items in this game, though with the constantly changing obstacles and situations to overcome, the lack of buttons make frequent visits to your item screen both necessary and a little annoying. You'll find yourself cursing link for being unable to both wear a bracelet and carry a feather. Interestingly, this is the first and only early Zelda game that allows you to change the controls for your sword and other items. You can control your sword with either A or B, same with other controls. This is nice if you find yourself to be more of an A masher rather than a B, and vice-versa.  In fact, you don't have to have your sword equipped at all.A con here would be that your shield isn't automatic and must be equipped to be used. You also have to push the button for Link to actually hold it in front of him. Due to the unending need to lift stones and jump gaps which require equipping other items, the shield will likely get very little use during your game.

Link's Awakening item Screen


While most of your special items will be discovered in dungeons, a few of these as well as basic items are available in the one and only supply shop in the entire game. Being the owner of the only shop available allows its purveyor to charge whatever we feels fit for an item, without fear of competition. It may not always seem fair, but there may be a way around it... .

Link's Awakening Shop

Naturally every "chapter" of the game ends with a dungeon. The lack of on-screen scrolling is a throwback to the old days in these areas but the much more elaborate layout of the dungeons and multiple floors is yet another mirror of A Link to the Past. Each visit to a dungeon reaches its conclusion with a final battle with the "Nightmare" monster, and then retrieving the Siren Instrument hidden beyond the door of the Nightmare's lair. Some complaints about the dungeons would first touch on collecting the compass, which annoyingly tells you all about its special features every time to get it, regardless of how many times you acquire it. Additionally, dungeons are very confusing in this game for a variety of reasons, mostly stemming from a lack of direction provided for you. There are multiple instances where your only hope of completing a dungeon is to bomb through a wall that has no visible cracks or weaknesses. Without a walkthrough, some players may find themselves stuck in an area for months or maybe longer before they discover the solution. Hints as to what you must do are often provided by finding the owl's beak (stone tablet-piece in the original release) and reuniting it with the rest of the owl/tablet, which will then give you a helping message. However, these messages range from patronizingly clear to mind-bendingly cryptic. This game is not recommended for those who don't consider themselves inquisitive.

Link's Awakening Dungeon

Sword play and dungeons are just one part of this very interesting and elaborate Nintendo title. There are several extra little fun things to partake in, such as...

fishing for prize money...

Link's Awakening Fishing

river rafting...
Link's Awakening River Rafting

and even a claw machine...

Link's Awakening Trendy Game

One of many things that make a good game would be features like these to hinder productivity.

Other quirky additions to this game that make it an oddity of the Legend
 of Zelda series would be things such as Phone Booths, hollowed out trees with an old-style telephone inside which you can use to call Old Man Ulrira to get help on what to do next in your adventure.

Link's Awakening Phone Booth

Next would be the Camera Shop, a little hut where you'll find an anthropomorphic rodent whom is an avid photographer and has chosen you as his new favorite subject. Throughout the game, you may find him waiting for you at strange and often hidden photo opportunities. All the photos he snaps of you will be stored in your Photo Album, available for viewing at his shop. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that you'll actually have the necessary accessories to print these photos but nonetheless, it's fun to try to find all of the often humorous photo ops throughout the game.

Link's Awakening Thief Photo

Unfortunately, there aren't much for side quests, as most of what seems like one actually turns out to be required for the game's completion. Some of these things can be done at different times but all and all, it eventually leads you to your main goal, which makes them less special. There are a few extra things to do/collect and the DX version of the game has one endeavor that could be considered a side quest but that would be the one and only example. More quests that lead to optional bonuses would make this game that much closer to perfect, but that's not to say it's not an exceptional title.

Interactions with Non-Playable Characters in Link's Awakening can be quite enjoyable if not a little repetitive at times. The things people say tend to be the same at any one time, but as the game progresses, so do their phrases and even actions. All of the characters in the game have distinctive personalities which boil down to their interest, lifestyle, and even style of speaking. At one point during gameplay, you are briefly joined on your quest by the game's main character (aside from yourself), Marin. During this time your interactions with her can be very deep but mostly just humorous and fun. Due to the new feature of item-trading in this game, some people you've already met will suddenly want the special item you're holding onto (do not worry, these items are useless to you for the most part). Giving them this item not only grants you a new one to trade, but can sometimes trigger a very amusing sequence with that character.

Link's Awakening House O' Bananas

While we've already spent a lot of this review comparing Link's Awakening to the original Legend of Zelda and A Link to the Past, it is worth mentioning, if not more with the following images, that this game in many ways could be called a Gameboy Color version of ALTTP (a better description before The Four Swords was released on the Gameboy Advance). Many of the same enemies, items, mechanics, and other aspects are straight out of the SNES classic. This isn't a negative thing, and is even a bit fun to see, again.

Now one thing that's immediately noticeable within Link's Awakening would be Nintendo's addition of perhaps...guest characters from past games? Rather than go into explicit detail, why don't you just take a look at the following images and ask yourself: does any of this look familiar to you?

Link's Awakening features very fun, classic-style gameplay that can keep you amused for hours. Along with this are graphics that are very pleasant to view, and sounds that are what all other hand-helds of the time should be measured against. Likable characters can offer a feeling of in-game companionship and compassion for their lives and fates. The story is one of mystery, discovery, and triumph over evil. As it unfolds, the tale manages to be exciting, funny, and even genuinely saddening. Once you've finished the entirety of this title you'll want to reset your Gameboy and start it all over again. And if only for that reason, this is why Link's Awakening is a truly genius part of the Legend of Zelda phenomenon.

Link's Awakening Link & Marin

It is just too bad that you have to eventually finish it.


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