Thursday, December 17, 2009

25 Days of Christmas - #9: Banjo-Kazooie

During the heyday of the N64, there were two companies constantly releasing games that revolutionized the industry and put other developers to shame. The first, understandably, was parent company Nintendo. The second, however, was Rare, developer of titles such as Diddy Kong Racing, Perfect Dark, and - one of the more controversial games of the time – Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Rare is a company that has managed to release a successful game in almost every genre. Perhaps their most critically acclaimed title, however, was adventure/platformer Banjo-Kazooie.

Banjo-Kazooie put players in control of two unlikely heroes who must stop the evil witch Gruntilda, who has kidnapped Banjo’s sister Tooty. The story sets up to be rather basic, but the characters take this in a comedic light and poke fun at the game and themselves constantly. Nearly every remark Kazooie makes is sarcastic, and she is constantly countered by her more serious partner Banjo. The personalities of these two characters play off each other brilliantly. Gruntilda constantly speaks in rhyme, each statement more cheesy than the next. But the best aspect of the game is that the story is satirical, and the characters aren’t meant to be taken completely serious.

The gameplay is fluid and rather creative. Moving around the world as the pair is as simple as pushing the control stick in any direction. The camera angle changes appropriately for specific situations, but is never an annoyance. Each level has multiple tasks to complete, including collecting music notes, jiggy pieces, and boss fights.

Occasionally Banjo and Kazooie will find themselves at an impasse due to terrain or enemies and require assistance from the shaman Mumbo Jumbo. He will ask the two to complete a task for him within the confines of that particular level. Upon completion of said task, Mumbo will use his magic to aid Banjo and Kazooie in their quest, often temporarily transforming them into another animal such as a termite or a walrus.

In a similar role as Mumbo is Bottles the mole. Bottles is encountered several times during the game and will teach Banjo and Kazooie a new move each time. Despite the help from Bottles, Kazooie seems only interested in making fun of him, calling him names like “goggle boy”, “squinty”, and “root muncher”.

The game is a decent length for the time of its release. There are a few areas that can be frustrating and seem more complex than necessary, but these are few and far between. Each level is designed differently and things don’t feel repetitive. Each level also increases in difficulty at a fairly consistent rate, so players can get their feet wet before plunging into the really challenging parts. The art style is cartoony, but fits the game’s mood perfectly. The game flows incredibly smoothly and load times are nonexistent. Although sequel Banjo-Tooie was more commercially successful than the first game, Banjo-Kazooie is the foundation upon which many platform games from various developers would build in later years. Banjo-Kazooie is easily my favorite game from Rare, as well as one of my favorite N64 titles.

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