Mark Mazzei

wakalaka

10 years ago, a game called Banjo-Kazooie rocked the Nintendo 64. It not only shook the foundations of the 3D platformer established by Mario 64, but completely exceeded the concept in terms of graphics, humor, dialogue, and debatably music. It was one of many Rare games produced in their definite golden age, and one that holds dear memories for those that were able to play it ten years ago.

Those ten years, however, have passed, and we’ve seen tons of changes in the game industry. The stream of new game genres, the advent of online play, the death and rise of new console competitors, and our very own Rare jumping ship to their current owners. It’s with this in mind that Banjo-Kazooie not only brings us back to when it first came out, but has aged gracefully.

For those few that don’t know what the game offered in 1998, here’s a summary: as Banjo and Kazooie, you explored Gruntilda’s Lair and the worlds within to collect Jiggies and Notes, which advanced your progress further up in the Lair. In said worlds, you can learn new moves from Bottles the mole to help with any challenges that the worlds demand, such as flying, spring jumping, shooting eggs from your mouth and... um, arse, and beak bombing the hell out of everything. Mumbo Jumbo is also around in certain worlds to help you transform into everything from a pumpkin to a bee for a reasonable price to help you with your quest. And of course, the elements that made the game shine in the world of platformers were the characters combined with their dialogue. It gave the platformer a sense of humor the likes of which were rarely seen ten years ago. That much hasn’t changed.

BK XBLA introduction scene with the MGS logo

So that begs the question of what has changed. For starters, every Nintendo reference was legally removed and replaced with “Microsoft Game Studios,” except the Game Boy for file 3, oddly enough. Next we have the controls. The C-buttons went the way of the dodo after the N64’s console run ended, which means that the camera controls are predictably the second control stick on the 360’s controller. Oddly enough, the face buttons on the 360 act like some of the C-buttons on the Nintendo 64. To name a few examples, on the N64, you would shoot eggs from Kazooie’s mouth while pressing Z + C-Up. On the XBLA version, you do this by pressing the L or R trigger (which incidentally makes Banjo crouch; it doesn’t matter which one you pick) and the Y button at the same time. To Talon Trot in the N64 version, it was Z and C-Left, letting go of C-Left and holding Z. On the XBLA version, it’s either the L or R trigger, and then pressing the other trigger that you didn’t use to make Banjo crouch. Interestingly enough, the only move that doesn’t require the face buttons but rather the camera stick is the Wonderwing, which is either the L or R trigger and tapping left or right on the camera stick. It may sound confusing on paper (or monitor), but rest assured that it’ll become second nature to N64 die-hards.

There are little differences as well that the die-hards will notice: the supposedly scrapped level of Fungi Forest’s picture in Banjo’s house has been changed, and Conker’s BFD model making a cameo appearance where Berri circa Conker’s Pocket Tales/Twelve Tales Conker 64 as a picture in Rusty Bucket Bay, thereby making the drones in Rusty Bucket Bay even more disturbing when you think about it. It’s rather interesting to have a character’s model from an M-rated game in an E-rated game, but that’s Rare for you: able to get away with almost anything. There’s also the issue of new icons for characters. To name an example, Mumbo Jumbo’s face icon resembles his smoother bone head than the polygonal one in the N64 days. There’s also the seemingly visual issue of the icons being stretched, like for Banjo and Kazooie, but I can’t say that it was so significantly changed that it bothered me.

Most importantly, BK XBLA takes one of the issues I had with the original game that Tooie mended by making every single note able to be collected once and never again. I’m sure that nearly every Banjo fan had a hell of a challenge back in the day getting all the notes in Rusty Bucket Bay without facing the 3 or so various ways to die. By having this in, it not only makes the game a little easier for new adopters, but also more replayable for the veterans of yesteryear. Unfortunately, it also brings a curse alongside this, which I’ll explain a few paragraphs down.

Propellers in Rusty Bucket Bay

The Achievements in this game are possibly the easiest Achievements to get in any Rare game to date. If you’ve played it years ago, there’s a good chance that you got all these Achievements on the Achievement-less Nintendo 64. With ten years at the most of skill that most gamers have gotten since then, these Achievements should be not only easy to get, but fun. For newcomers and veterans alike, it’s a very balanced list able to make everyone happy by getting them.

We now come to Stop 'n' Swop. As Loveday mentioned in the November 2008 Scribes, the text at the end states that we’ll be able to use the Stop 'n' Swop eggs and Ice Key in Nuts & Bolts, and he was true to his word. How Stop 'n' Swop works goes like this: BK XBLA will recognize the data from Nuts & Bolts and have all the SNS locations open automatically, regardless of whether or not you have a recently started file or a file completed to its max. In my opinion, it’s a bit unfair to those that dedicated their time to beating the game and seeing the pictures to just have the areas unlocked straight away as opposed to, say, a bit of dialogue in Nuts & Bolts stating that the areas we’ve longed to have open for 10 years be finally open in a legit manner. When the eggs are collected, Banjo and Kazooie comically remark how they hope this isn’t another tease in terms of us getting nothing.

One thing that’s worthy of note that I feel should be mentioned: even when you collect the eggs and key and “Stop 'n' Swop” them to Nuts & Bolts, the eggs and key are still in the menu instead of the transparency in the beginning. I may be grasping at straws here, but I get the feeling that there may still be a chance that Stop 'n' Swop between Tooie and Kazooie will somehow become a reality when BT XBLA is released. Until then, if you want our opinions on what you get, looks like you’re going to have to stop reading this review and swap it for Nuts & Bolts’.

Mad Monster Mansion's cellar with the light blue egg

Back then, the game was near perfection, and ten years later, this is still the case. Camera controls still plague this port; sometimes it’s hard to zoom in and out where you want the camera to be, and other times you’ll accidentally trigger the Wonderwing move when all you want is the camera to be aligned perfectly. It’s nothing too bad, but it just goes to show how far the games industry has come in terms of that pesky camera problem that affected the pioneering 3D platformers.

The worst part, although unlikely, isn’t even the camera: it’s the note collecting. As mentioned, it’s both a blessing and a curse because, much like Tooie, once you collect a note, it’s over and done with. If you die in Rusty Bucket Bay this time (like I assume a lot of gamers did years ago), you still thankfully have the notes instead of having to collect them all over again for it to register. Initially it was a curse because of one glitch: for those that wanted to get the Jigsaw Maker (beating all of Bottles’ Bonus Puzzles) Achievement before getting all the notes, the “Puzzle Banjo” would collect the notes in the frame, thus making it impossible for you to earn the “Music Maestro” cheat. Fortunately, this bug was fixed soon after the release of the game.

In the end, it’s still Banjo-Kazooie. It still retains the humor, levels, music, and dialogue that it had in 1998, and contrary to what Nuts & Bolts (and Rare) may have you believe, platforming can still be fun ten years after the fact. If you reserved this and got your pre-order card, there’s no doubt that it was worth the price. As for 1200 Microsoft Points, it’s worth it to experience one half of Stop 'n' Swop as well as the Achievements and the overall joy that BK still delivers.

Mark Mazzei's final verdict

"Contrary to what Nuts & Bolts (and Rare) may have you believe, platforming can still be fun ten years after the fact."9 out of 10

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