E3 Hands-On Impressions
After the whole “Xbox Experience” presentation given to us, we were led to the second floor, where there were a number of demos, including Nuts & Bolts and Trouble in Paradise. Despite the temptation of a few other titles, the Rare fan in me wanted to rush straight into Nuts & Bolts, and our group universally agreed to see that first.
For the record, I was one of those that was highly afraid of what having vehicles in the game would mean to Banjo (and most importantly, Kazooie). After the Gregg Mayles interview, I had a change of heart from reading how the team acknowledges their past and feels it was time to move on. It was with that change of heart that made me excited to go to the corner dedicated to Banjo.
As I sat down to play the game, what greeted me was Michael Johnson, the man in charge of the demo, flying Banjo around in a helicopter. One thing is inevitably evident once flying around: the levels are HUGE. After a little more conversation, Johnson offered me the controller to play.
The only level available in the demo was Banjoland, and if you don’t know what that is (in which case, where have you been?), it’s basically Rare’s gift to the Banjo fanbase. Amongst Glitter Gulch Mine which was seen in videos from IGN, we saw elements of Click Clock Wood, Mad Monster Mansion, Witchyworld, Treasure Trove Cove, Freezeezy Peak, the ever popular Rusty Bucket Bay, Mayahem Temple, Gobi’s Valley, Grunty Industries and even Mumbo’s Mountain in some shape or form. Not to mention various portraits and renders taken from the previous games plastered all around Banjoland. It’s safe to say that hardcore Banjo fans like us will recognize where each part was being taken from. As Johnson toured us, I kept pointing out where everything was. It was fun. You can tell that this was made for Banjo fans.
There were four Jiggies to earn in Banjoland, each location noted by a (what else?) Jiggy on the bottom right map below. Finished quests had the Jiggies turn white instead of their normal yellowish color, and vehicles across the level showed up on radar as steering wheels. Considering the radical size of this level alone, the radar set at this point in time is a very helpful tool, and more helpful than you can ever imagine before playing the game.
The four Jiggies I mentioned earlier consisted of four missions available in the demo. According to the representative, while not in the demo, you have the option to choose vehicles of your own, and there were plenty of save slots for your vehicles. We counted at least six, but those were not available to demo due to the fact that we couldn’t build anything. The vehicles that were available, however were pre-made with Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert categories, each sporting different designs. The more experience you have with the vehicles, the better chances of you winning with a more advanced pre-made vehicle.
The first mission was one where you had to score three soccer balls in with the vehicle of your choice. Arguably the most difficult Jiggy in the demo, this one required you to race against the clock with your pre-made vehicle against bumps and the speed of your vehicle. By parking your vehicle (mine was a wide fork with enough room for the soccer button to fit) on a red button when the mission starts, Targitzan, famed Banjo-Tooie boss, appears as the soccer ball dispenser. Driving for all vehicles is done by pressing and holding R, and shooting the spring within the vehicle was done with X. Words really can’t describe the happiness of not using the rumored 360mote to play it. Speed, oddly enough, was NOT the key to winning this match, and I lost rather hilariously.
The second mission we had the opportunity to see was a mission where you had jump through green rings in the air and do stunts after the fact to win. Using a pre-made car, pressing the A button was the high jump button, and the stunts were done using the control pad. Holding up or down on the control pad made you flip vertically, while holding left or right in the air made you do a barrel roll (Star Fox 64 fans will be happy to know that Mumbo calls it "barrel rolling"). The controls and the mission were very fun and very intuitive.
The third mission consisted of going to see Klungo (KLUNGO! Sorry, bad habit) and was basically a race around the level against three other CPU players. In this case, the option to shoot missiles in the pre-selected car was done with X. Like the second mission, it was very fun, easy, and pretty straightforward, given the fact that you were directed by the green rings that encompassed the race around Banjoland.
The final Jiggy mission is one you’ve probably heard of before from previous sources. In it, your mission is to get George the (resurrected, for some reason) Ice Cube to the top of Freezeezy Peak to the (also resurrected) Mildred before he melts. His health is represented by a little heart above his frozen persona. Like the first mission, despite being timed, slow and steady wins the race, as George once again fell to his death in the waters near Freezezy Peak.
After we passed and failed the respective missions, we were given the chance to try the helicopter, the plane, and the boat. They were all incredibly responsive, and easy to repair the multiple times we broke them. By pressing Y to get out of the car and the RB button, Kazooie was able to get the part repaired quickly. We’re talking minor seconds.
The physics in this game are incredibly astounding. If you manage to overturn your vehicles, you can easily get them back up with RB. The prime example of how the physics are is with the already infamous “Rubbish Bin” (according to the Banjo dispenser) with the copies of Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Using the pre-made car, I was able to jump on the rubbish bin... only to make a copy of Ghoulies fall out of it. It was a brilliant touch, and one that stayed there until the demo was over. Truly a testament to how well developed the physics engine is.
I guess the major question would be whether or not Stop 'n' Swop is referenced, and I can honestly say that it is. In fact, I had a sneaking suspicion that the Ice Key supposedly seen in the first trailer was in it, and I turned out to be correct. Grabbing the helicopter (after falling from a huge height with Y; in the demo I couldn’t die and drown, but the guilty pleasure of falling down huge heights and smiling is still there), I flew underneath the cloth of the former Freezeezy Peak snowman to not only find the Ice Key encased behind an ice wall just like Banjo-Kazooie, but with a CD next to it saying “Stop 'n' Swop.” A clever way to reference the upcoming BK XBLA/BK: N&B connection, or Rare being Rare? Either way, it was definitely my most favorite reference within the demo, and I’m sure it will be yours too.
Sadly, not everything is perfect in the demo I played. There was one area of irritation that I could see casual (and even hardcore) players becoming annoyed and impatient with as time passes. Rare said that vehicles play a huge influence in the game and how the worlds are themselves huge. They are not lying about this. After jumping out of the demo car with Y before crashing through the ice cold water near Freezeezy Peak, the car sunk without a trace into the water and left me to try and find another vehicle. Considering Banjo can only walk slowly due to his lack of exercise, it took me upwards of five minutes to find another vehicle in the level. To me, I felt this level of irritation and impatience due to how slow Banjo was and found myself not really having fun looking for another vehicle.
To be fair, there are warps (not activated in the demo) aimed to bring you to selected areas, but there’s nothing fun at all with running at a sluggish speed trying to get to a vehicle. I’d suggest an ability to summon vehicles out of will, or the personally easier ability of having Kazooie Talon Trot. To be honest, I would not have minded at all if Kazooie was able to Talon Trot, and if it was implemented I wouldn’t be disappointed. Not only could you walk faster, but having the vehicles come at whim in the start menu (for example) would serve no purpose if this was the more logical choice. Put simply, I believe Rare could correct this as to keep the fans from not being bothered by the slow chore of walking for so long.
Aside from that? Regardless of your opinion on the game, I believe it’ll change the opinions of those that dislike the concept, but only slightly. It is a game that must be played to have a true opinion, but if Rare could correct that possible irritation, I don’t think any Banjo fan would be disappointed.