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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 naïve 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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1 comment:

  1. Cool review here--descriptive, detailed and very entertaining! It's also one of my favourite N64 games! I hope to see more reviews soon. :3



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