Game Description: Banjo and Kazooie, that bear and bird platforming pair from their beloved, eponymous game, are back in Banjo-Tooie. Their second adventure will take them through eight new worlds, full of hulking bosses, minigames, and the series' trademark goofy gameplay. There are plenty of new moves to learn, but this time Banjo and Kazooie can work some missions independently, utilizing special skills. Banjo-Tooie features a multiplayer element to some of the minigames, in some cases supporting four players!
I like platformers—a lot. Looking back over my collection of games, the platform genre is well represented on every system I've ever owned. From Mega Man to Castlevania, Contra to Klonoa, and of course the ever-present Mario, I've jumped every type of platform (floating or otherwise) known to mankind. I can usually find something to like in most platformers, and with UK-based developer Rare's reputation for quality software it seems like I'd be in heaven, right? With Rare's first 3D attempt at the genre on the Nintendo 64, that was exactly the case. Banjo-Kazooie was released to huge fanfare as Rare successfully produced a game that not only did everything the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 did, but did it better. Heaven achieved.
After having spent many joyful hours negotiating the levels in Banjo-Kazooie, it was with great anticipation that I awaited Rare's next effort, Donkey Kong 64. However, having reached what I thought to be the pinnacle of 3D platform design, something must have gone horribly awry at the Rare offices. Perhaps it was a false sense of invulnerability, perhaps someone had lost a bet? Perhaps it was some diabolical power guiding the programmers' hands in a direction no hands were meant to go. Whatever the case, in my opinion, playing Donkey Kong 64 was like a rapid descent into madness. Uncountable items to tediously collect, a motley cast of unappealing buffoons, and a method for making a player traverse the same levels five times over left a taste in my mouth more vile than even the furriest piece of leftover anchovy pizza.
After being subjected to the horror I refer to as Donkey Kong 64, I had pretty much written Rare off as having taken a flying leap off the cliffs of good game design, and any hopes I had of Banjo-Tooie living up to the standard of its predecessor had gone plummeting over the edge with them. Needless to say, after playing Banjo-Tooie, all the fears and misgivings I had with regards to the franchise's possible future have been laid to rest, and my Donkey Kong-induced trauma has finally healed. Rare has more than made up for the error of their ways by going far, far above and beyond what I had expected by producing a sequel that is exactly what a sequel should be—an improved game which retains everything good from the first title with enough new ideas and situations to make playing it more than just a repeat performance with a different ending.
If I haven't already come right out and said it, Banjo-Tooie is a 3D adventure/platform game featuring Banjo the Honeybear and Kazooie the Breegull. Kazooie rides along in Banjo's backpack providing air support and speed while Banjo provides brute strength and climbing mobility throughout the game. The duo share action and adventure while saving their home and rescuing friends from a trio of evil witches. The game takes place on an island split up into 10 absolutely huge worlds which are all interconnected in a more holistic and unified fashion than most games. Progress is made by exploring every nook and cranny of the levels for various items along the way.
One of the things I like best about the game is the characters. Banjo and Kazooie make a great team, and complement each other perfectly. The design of the pair is appealing and the dialogue is generally snappy as well, while not straying too far into the dry, English-style patter that distastefully colors some of the other Rare titles. They frequently reference themselves as being characters in a game, and also to their sequel status. The sass and irreverence are well-used here and set a cheery, light-hearted tone without having that dumbed-down "written for kids" feeling.
Besides the appeal of the bear and bird, the real meat and potatoes of Banjo-Kazooie is how the various moves are implemented. There's a lot of opportunity to add in special moves and abilities which make sense in the context of having two characters in one, and this is utilized to the fullest. Not only do Banjo and Kazooie have a huge arsenal of moves available to them as a unit, new to the sequel are Split Pads, which enable you to take control of either of them separately. After separating, each has an additional set of character-specific moves. By the end of the game you will have an unbelievable list of nearly 40 moves and techniques available. The thing that really makes this worthwhile is that believe it or not, every single one of the moves will be necessary to fully complete the game. The play mechanics here and the amount of level exploration are truly staggering, putting every other 3D platformer to shame. Combine all the moves from both Super Mario 64 and Tomb Raider, multiply by three and add a control setup that is mastered in seconds, and you start to get an idea of what Banjo-Tooie feels like to play. There simply has never been a game that let you do so much with your character.
Not only did Rare create the most able-bodied stars of any platformer to date, they went 10 steps further by adding a wealth of minigames scattered throughout the worlds in addition to a fully-realized first-person shooter engine as well. At certain points you will be doing Banjo's impression of GoldenEye 007 by tackling various objectives and shooting enemies by using Kazooie as your rifle and bayonet. By doing this, Rare has added short bits of surprising freshness to ensure that you don't grow too complacent in your expectations. It certainly eliminates any feeling of predictability or "been there, done that."
As I mentioned earlier, the worlds available to you in which to use these moves are monstrous, with incredibly well-designed and varied architecture. From an Aztec-themed world to a fully free-swimming underwater area, variety is the key here. There are a lot of different things to accomplish in each world while there remains a solid, constant logic to the objectives. The player is kept busy, but it doesn't feel like you always have something to do. It feels like you always have 10 things to do—but in a good way. Walking into a stage for the first time, you'll see several different paths to take and a multitude of things to explore. Although it can feel a bit overwhelming to have so much available to you at once, Rare walks the fine line and provides multiple objectives coupled with a steady progression and stable, regular integration of learned abilities. What this means is that you'll always have a new idea to try or a new area to explore without hitting a wall of frustration caused by unpredictable leaps of game logic or unexpected puzzle design that players don't follow. By the time you reach the difficult areas, you will have already built up the skill and the knowledge to tackle the majority of them with ease.
Difficulty aside, I can't express enough my supreme satisfaction at playing a game which feels as cohesive and organic as Banjo-Tooie. Besides the unified design, let me assure you that the game is no slouch in the visual department, either. The graphics are the best the Nintendo 64 has ever seen, bar none. Huge amounts of detail and small touches give the game a fully-fleshed and polished feel, and each new area you discover is a veritable feast for the eyes. The animation is top-notch with Rare giving the full treatment not only to the main characters, but to every other character in the game. Things look fluid and move naturally, with a good sense of weight and proportion. The color palette spans the rainbow with some levels being composed of primary colors and sunshine, with the later levels being dark, dank and dreary. Dynamic lighting effects abound—I was thrilled to see that the shadows cast by the characters weren't black circles. It's definitely a small touch, but one that really shows the lengths to which the programmers went by dotting every "i" and crossing every "t."
The sounds are a treat as well, with the music keeping the same kind of perky, quirky flavor which suits the upbeat mood well. Also included are a wide range of ear-pleasing sound effects for the characters and stages. It's worth noting that Rare kept the voices from the original game which tended to split the audience into "love it" or "hate it" camps. The voices sound somewhat similar to the adults in a Charlie Brown TV special, with that "mwah-mm-bwah" slurred effect being comprised of different sound bits for each character. Kazooie's voice is made up of chirps and squawks while Cap'n Blubber sounds more like a room full of people with serious intestinal dysfunction. As far as my two cents goes, I'd like to say that I really think the voices are amusing and a nice touch, but be warned if you didn't care for them in the original game.
Despite all the gushing I've done so far, I would be remiss if I claimed that Banjo-Tooie is perfect, which it's not. However, it does come amazingly close.
The first thing I noticed was the framerate. Although it's become something of an overused buzzword in gaming circles lately, it is definitely a valid issue here. Evidently the expansive worlds and improved graphics come at the price of a smooth framerate, and it shows up even in the intro which I find to be a bit ridiculous. It's not game-wrecking by any means, and it's not bad enough to detract seriously from the gameplay, but it's quite noticeable at different points in every level.
While on the topic of visuals, there is also a significant amount of shimmer at times. Shimmer is a heat-mirage kind of visual effect caused by jagged lines being redrawn as objects and the environment move and rotate. Perhaps I've been spoiled by my Dreamcast lately, but I found the combination of shimmer and framerate to be fairly hard on the eyes until I became re-accustomed to it. It must be the result of long periods of time between game sessions on the Nintendo 64, I suppose.
As something of a warning, i also found the difficulty worth mentioning. Towards the end of the game, it ramps significantly, and the time required to finish areas goes way up past anything found in Banjo-Kazooie. Some of Rare's other titles have been infamous for the difficulty of completing them, and Banjo-Tooie is no exception. Oddly, the problem here lies in the overly masterful design of the stages. Rather than throwing in an excess amount of enemies or anything requiring lightning-fast reflexes, the biggest challenge is simply negotiating the terrain and finding your way around the semi-convoluted stages. The levels can be so large and devilishly laid out that you'll need to devote several large neuron clusters to keeping a mental map in your head of areas that can take two hours or more to complete. It never feels outright cheap or unfair, but the pace of the game can slow down significantly when dealing with an objective that takes several deliberate steps to complete. There is definitely some cognitive challenge to be had here, but it might turn gamers off who are looking for something involving manual dexterity more than mental dexterity. Patience and memory are both a must.
Basically, those three issues were all I could see that ever-so-slightly tarnish the shine the game presents. However, the biggest underlying flaw to be found here is simply that it isn't on more powerful hardware, and I can't in good conscience count that against it. Rare has done a truly amazing job considering what they had to work with. I can find no fault with their creativity, and that's a huge compliment coming from me.
I would without a doubt rank the original Banjo-Kazooie as the best 3D platformer on the Nintendo 64—a system designed for playing games of this type, and it's not an easy thing to beat the Italian plumber at his own racket. I would have never have believed it possible to top Banjo-Kazooie, especially after what Rare's been producing lately, but Banjo-Tooie completely outdoes the original game and catapults itself to the top of the entire genre regardless of platform in one deft, masterful stroke. Banjo-Tooie is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word, hitting the mark on nearly every account, and above all containing an amazing amount of variety and sheer fun. With a delicate balance of tasks and challenges, a charming cast of characters, and one of the most solidly constructed game designs ever, Banjo-Tooie is possibly the brightest star that will ever grace the Nintendo 64's rapidly darkening skies. Do not miss it.
I'd like to start off by saying I agree with most of Brad's points about Banjo-Tooie, but where we differ is in the degree to which we enjoyed the overall presentation. Like Brad, I am a big fan of platform games—most notably the 3D variety. And I would say that after Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie was the best 3D action platformer I have ever played. However, as enamored as I was with the Banjo-Kazooie, every platformer they released, from Jet Force Gemini to Donkey Kong 64 ranged from below average to above average with enjoyable gameplay being the saving grace. With its latest release, Rare seems to have worked out most of the kinks, but it's not nearly revolutionary enough for me to proclaim Banjo-Tooie "heaven."
Since Brad brought it up, I have to concur that Donkey Kong 64's major failings were its hodgepodge of generic characters and veiled attempt to extend gameplay by forcing players to replay the same levels no less than five times. However, upon close inspection it can easily be argued that Banjo-Tooie is an extension of those very concepts—only better disguised this time through a more refined execution. Though full of more "personality" that the Donkey Kong's ever-growing clan, I still haven't been able to take Banjo, Kazooie or any of their buddies into my heart the way I did Mario, Sonic and their respective cliques. It's like Rare needed a mascot (or two) so it created a bear and bird and threw them into a game with some other generic mascots. It's also funny to me that after all the praise heaped on Rare for its trademark humor, the most entertaining parts of the game were the brief rhythmic discourses between the witches; the Banjo and Kazooie dialogue was not dumbed down too greatly, but it's nothing to write home about.
Ever since Donkey Kong Country on the Super NES, Rare has taken every opportunity to cram more and more goals and objectives for players to achieve with their sequels. I figure it falls into Rare's line of thinking, "more objectives equals more fun." This is not a bad assumption to make, but there is a limit—a limit that Rare doesn't always seem to heed. Rare got it right with the moves afforded the trio (Banjo, Kazooie and Mumbo Jumbo). This time around, they are far more balanced, and since each character can move around on his, her or its own, there is no area in the game that you won't be able to traverse with ease. Where Rare went too far in my opinion is in the objectives for each level and the game itself. If it's not honey combs, musical notes and puzzle pieces that I had to search for, I also had to keep an eye out for clef notes, feathers (red and gold), eggs and little lost characters called Jigglies. These are all strewn about each level, and often times they can only be found after you have acquired a certain skill later in the game. Of course not all of these collectibles are needed to complete the game, but it can still be a bit much.
Where Brad and I wholeheartedly agree is in Banjo-Tooie's visuals. These worlds cover serious real estate, and it's no more evident than when standing on a cliff or after taking flight and surveying all that is around you. The size of each level is not lost while walking through them. It is easy to believe you have covered every inch of a level only to find a hidden opening that leads into yet another area to explore. What I find even more amazing is the sheer size of some of the interiors and the special effects incorporated into each. In the Aztec level for instance, the floors are fully reflective surfaces, thus everything in sight can be seen on the floors. Nice touches such as these along with the great animation and cleanly rendered environments and characters make this one of the Nintendo 64's best showcases by far. All of this beauty does come at a cost however. The huge expansive levels compounded with the full catalog of special effects tax the Nintendo 64's once potent processors like few games before it.
All-in-all Banjo-Tooie is a culmination of all the things Rare has gotten right in the 3D action platform genre. However, since the game is more of a refinement of all the ideas Rare has tried before, it doesn't reach the level of greatness in my book.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence, Comic Mischief
Parents have nothing to worry about here. While Rare may be testing more risque water in the future, Banjo-Tooie remains completely kid-safe and in-line with the wholesome quality parents tend to expect from the big N. The game is bright and colorful, with no violence except for monsters that disappear in a puff of smoke when pecked by Kazooie and other similarly harmless stuff. Younger children will have trouble with the game's difficulty, but older kids shouldn't have too much trouble. No sexual content whatsoever, and though the writing might be a bit on the smart-alecky side at times, it's harmlessly vanilla compared to what you see on the average cartoon or sitcom.
Gamers in general cannot go wrong with Banjo-Tooie. It's an extremely polished title with an insane amount of technique and depth. The variety in the gameplay will keep you glued level after level, and with the amount of extras like the minigames and four-player support—even FPS deathmatch—this is as close as a game ever comes to being a guaranteed hit. Combine that with more than 30 hours of gameplay, and you've got a game that will make anybody happy.
Nintendo fans are required by law to go out and get this game if they haven't already. Releases are pretty sparse for the Nintendo 64 to begin with, and Banjo-Tooie is a five-star affair. It's a must-have for any Nintendo library, and there is no reason on earth not to own this title if you're even the most casual Nintendo follower.
Banjo-Kazooie fans will be lifted to a higher plane of gaming existence with a title that indeed surpasses the original's accomplishments. It has everything you liked about Banjo-Kazooie, and adds an unbelievable amount more without changing the charm and appeal that made the game so great in the first place. An almost perfect sequel.
Platformer fans will not find a better 3D game on any system, anywhere. If you like platform action and adventure this game is the pinnacle, the summit. Both your thinking and jumping skills will be put to the test, and you'll love every minute of it.
Technophiles will be pleased to learn that Banjo-Tooie supports Dolby Surround Sound as well as a 16:9 wide-screen display (for gamers with a wide-screen television).