Sunday, May 10, 2015
Banjo-Kazooie - Thoughts
With the recent surge of support for Playtonic's Yooka-Laylee kickstarter, I thought it might be interesting to go back and visit the collectathon genre's poster child, Banjo-Kazooie. While it is possible to lump the game in with other titles like Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, Banjo-Kazooie has its own distinctive taste that sets it apart from the other platformers. It's slower, strongly emphasizing exploration over execution, its world endearing and childish rather than being quirky or edgy. At times it can be too slow for its own good, but on the whole there's a good reason it's often thought of as Rare's signature Nintendo 64 title.
After a few minutes of intro exposition you're plopped down into the world, ready to poke your nose into its nooks and crannies. How quickly the gameplay is introduced is a definite plus—I miss the pick-up-and-play nature of a lot of older gen titles, cutting straight to the point without chipping away at your attention with meandering cutscenes. Another great design choice is that all the worlds (barring Freezeezy Peak) can be fully completed as soon as you step foot into them, only requiring a keen eye to spot all the jiggies, jinjos, and music notes. I was able to play the game in small, two-world-per-play chunks thanks to this, and though the latter stages can be quite heady (Click Clock Wood is a marathon of patience when you play it in a single sitting), each one is appropriately sized and paced.
Games like these are often criticized for featuring the stereotypical "water, ice, and desert"-themed levels, but Banjo-Kazooie handles them in its own charming way. Clanker's Cavern is a rusted series of tunnels featuring the eponymous (and terrifying!) Clanker, Freezeezy Peak is a Christmas-oriented wonderland with a gargantuan snowman just begging to be mountaineered, and Gobi's Valley focuses more on pyramids with self-contained puzzles than traversing its sun-baked sands. There's other vibrant worlds that are quite clever as well, like the spooky Mad Monster Mansion and the seasonal Click Clock Wood. The pretty bow that holds this package together is definitely Grant Kirkhope's whimsical tunes, the instruments and progression changing during the expeditions. My nostalgia may play a part in me reverence for this title, but I still feel that anyone that has a soft-spot for childlike curiosity would easily be sucked into these worlds.
Perhaps the biggest knock against the game is that it can be quite slow at times. Even with Kazooie at the helm it can take a while to go from point A to point B, and dying in a stage like Rusty Bucket Bay when going for all the music notes (curse that turbine room!) can only exacerbate the game's leisurely pace. Funnily enough, some of the timing requirements on the latter parts of the game (like the flight pad switch above the Freezeezy Peak entrance) can be extremely cruel in contrast to the mellow tone of the game. Beyond that there's not much to chastise the game for—sure, the note and jiggy requirement for beating the game is pretty demanding, but as the theme of the game is to "collect" stuff, it's a natural fit for completionists. Plus collecting everything is hardly a hassle; no matter where you go there's something to see and someone to talk to, making the world feel very much alive and thriving even without your presence.
Banjo-Kazooie's style of gameplay isn't one I find myself yearning to return to a lot—in fact, most of my N64 catalogue is filled with games I'm not eager to replay—but it was nice returning to this humble title. It's adventurous without being overambitious, the characters goofy without feeling forced. The quiz show and final battle were an excellent way to test the player's knowledge on the game and its mechanics, and there's not much else to say other it has rightfully earned its place in the hearts of many adolescents.
However, my real interest is in whether or not its sequel has remained as timeless...
Images obtained from: wikipedia.org, vizzed.com, ign.com, gameinformer.com