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.
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