Monday, 4 September 2017

The Past and Times of Yore - Banjo Kazooie, Rare shows it's platforming excellence on the Nintendo 64

Release date: July 17, 1998
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Rareware
Platforms: Nintendo 64
Players: 1

My first experience with Rareware came with Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest which being spectacular games in themselves set the bar quite high for future Rare games I would play. Though I actually never owned a Nintendo 64 myself which has led to my housemate Bro suggesting few to try including Diddy Kong Racing, Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Conkers Bad Fur Day to name of a few, all of which I haven’t quite finished yet. It’s always a hard choice whether to play these games on the original console with the original graphics and controller the way they were intended, or on PC via emulator with much sharper albeit flawed graphics with a Logitech Playstation style controller. The latter now being my preferred choice as it allows you to save anytime, anywhere, which as you can probably guess, makes difficult sections much, much easier. But anyway no matter where you played or what with you had high expectations as Rare was held in very high esteem.

Kazooie and Banjo
I have now fully completed Banjo Kazooie, and I experienced it both on Nintendo 64 and emulator and I’m glad I have. This was one of the most popular Nintendo 64 games of its time along with all of the Rare classics including Diddy Kong Racing, GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and Conker's Bad Fur Day. A sequel titled Banjo-Tooie was created immediately after the first game and is also critically acclaimed. Previously being a staunch Playstation supporter with its excellent Spyro the Dragon platformer being my favorite I didn’t really have much interest in the N64 platformers, especially since I did actually have a go of Super Mario 64 at one point but just couldn’t get into it, I don’t know I just found it a bit dark and soulless and empty (what am I? an emo?) But anyway I decided to try out Banjo-Kazooie and it actually turned out to be quite a good platformer despite my usual distaste of the Nintendo 64 controller.

Banjo's Sister Tooty in Spiral Mountain with Gruntilda's lair in the background. How they can live there with that thing looming over them I wouldn't know.
Banjo-Kazooie tell the story of Banjo a lovable kind-hearted straight-arrow bear and his friend Kazooie a sassy, foulmouthed, wise-cracking red-crested bird of somesort who lives in Banjo’s backpack, why? I will never know. So Banjo has a sister called Tooty and this witch Gruntilda kidnaps her to steal her ‘beauty’ and so you gotta do all this crap to save her and that pretty much sums up the story. Expanding on that a little when you start off in Spiral Mountain where Banjo’s house is located Banjo can’t really do much, most of the moves you can do apart from Banjo’s punching and rolling are done by Kazooie

Banjo's roll move which I used quite a bit
 In order to learn these moves you speak to Bottles the Mole who Kazooie has some problem with and you learn all these different abilities such as the Beak Barge where Kazooie attacks an enemy with her beak and the useful Talon Trot where Kazooie pops her limbs out of the backpack and runs along with Banjo on her back and gives the duo the ability to tackle steep slopes which Banjo cannot jump up. Some abilities require items or level features to use such as the Shock Spring Jump needing the Shock Jump Pads and the Wonderwing ability requiring Golden Feathers to use. Running around Spiral Mountain and learning moves from Bottles was fun as I always like the basic starting areas, controlling Banjo and Kazooie is pretty easy to get used to with a small challenge of remembering the button combinations of each move.

Banjo and Kazooie using a shock jump pad
Having finished learning all of the basic movies available on Spiral Mountain you soon enter Gruntilda’s Lair, a confusing mass of caves and tunnels leading to different areas. Grunty’s Lair is actually the main hub of the game and you access all of the other worlds from this central location. This is also where you receive your first Jiggy, jiggies are Jigsaw puzzle pieces that you can use to complete world puzzle paintings in order to enter them though it seems that it doesn’t matter what size or shape they are any jiggies can be used to finish a jigsaw painting of a certain world. Then once you collect enough Jiggies to finish the painting you need to find the world portal in a different area which is often confusing navigating your way around. You need to collect Jiggies from both Grunty’s Lair and the worlds themselves but this is only one of the collectibles you need, I had a bit of trouble getting my head around all these things you needed to collect so I’ll make a list of them here:

Jiggy’s: Jigsaw puzzle pieces gained from completing challenges in a world, used for completing world portraits and gaining entry to that world.
Musical Notes: which are needed to open up Note Doors to progress through Grunty’s Lair
Jinjos: Imprisoned by Grunty throughout each of the worlds who actually help you in the final battle, collecting all 5 Jinjo’s on a level also gives you a Jiggy
Mumbo Tokens: Given to Mumbo Jumbo in order to be transformed into various creatures related to each world usually required for completing the level and collecting all the items.
Honeycombs: There are two of these on each level and are used to extend Banjo and Kazooie’s health meter.
Witch switches: You find these hidden inside the worlds and you need to hit them in order to uncover the Jiggies inside Gruntilda’s Lair
Extra lives:  Gives you an extra life obviously

A yellow Jinjo in Bubblegoop swamp
So I entered the first main world Mumbo's Mountain and spent awhile playing through the level learning different moves and doing challenges for Jiggies as well as looking for musical notes and other secret including extra lives and Mumbo tokens etc, it was fun doing the Talon Trot and turning myself into a termite in order to infiltrate the termite mound, I’ll admit I had to turn to a gamespot guide in order to %100 the level. The more I explored Grunty’s lair the more intriguing and confusing it became making my way through the caves adorned paintings and statues with Grunty’s likeliness, the world portraits and entrances themselves are in different places so you might get a certain way ahead then have to backtrack and sometimes you need to exit the level as a Crocodile or whatever morph Mumbo has you turn into in order to progress further into the lair or collect extra items or jiggies. As you run around her lair Grunty taunts you with her rhyme-speak but you occasionally run into Brentilda, Grunty’s much nicer sister who is reminiscent of the Fairy Godmother from “The Wizard of Oz”. She tells you various facts about Grunty which you need for one of the final levels and also restores your health.

Mumbo's Mountain level and Grunty's Lair

I began to notice that the world entrances were set in a ‘themed’ area which was a nice touch. For example to warp to Treasure Trove Cove you go through this Pirates of the Caribbean’ themed cave and jump into a treasure chest and the Mad Monster Mansion entrance is appropriately in the middle of a Graveyard. Another nice touch is that the same tunes plays throughout Grunty’s lair but changes slightly depending on when you are i.e. underwater or a level themed area the tune will change slightly to match that area, cool huh? Anyway the rest of the worlds are great to look at with all of your usual themes including a Egyptian level, a snow level and a swamp level though there was one level I particularly liked called Clanker's Cavern which is sort of “sewer pipe” themed level where you run into one of the weirdest and most unsettling of all the creatures I’ve seen in a cutesy platformer. Clanker appears to be this large metal whale with sharp teeth though he doesn’t seem to be mechanical his body looks like a mix of flesh and rusty metal as you can see some flesh showing on the side of his body like he’s cut up or something and you can go inside of him and there’s all these fleshy bits and metal and razors and blergh it’s like what the hell is he doing in this game but it’s fun nonetheless. The level is in this big room filled with water and there are pipes leading everywhere in and out of the water and you get the crap scared out of you by these goddamn monsters which burst out of the pipes.

Clanker himself, it was kinda hard to get a wide shot and the field of view is quite

I enjoyed the levels where you had free reign to fly around like Gobi's Valley and I loved all the activities you did in Mad Monster Mansion as they all seemed really well done. Click Clock Wood was another interesting one as you visit the same large tree 4 times in each season and things are different each time.

The Mad Monster Mansion Organ Room, these were some of my favourite Jiggy activities

Banjo Kazooie is pleasantly challenging, there are easy bits, there are hard bits, man that Jiggy challenge in Bubblegloop Swamp where you compete with Mr. Vile as a crocodile to eat more apples had me sweating, but most of the time the challenges weren’t too hard to complete once you knew what to do, there wasn’t too many times when I wanted to throw my controller hah. Learning the moves and pulling them off correctly was also very satisfying, probably one of the most difficult things to do was swimming underwater, using Banjo you kicked through the water very slowly but could maneuver easily then you could use Kazooie to dart much faster though the camera often faced the wrong way so you were swimming blind sometimes, not to mention that you had limited oxygen so it was always a bit nerve wracking. Controlling Banjo is fine with the N64 controller as long as you have a good one, it’s basically just running and jumping and then remembering which button combinations do what but it works so well.

Swimming is sometimes challenging to maneuver correctly.
One of my few of frustration in this game was dying, your health is listed as Golden Honeycombs that you can gain from defeating enemies, breaking down beehives or simply finding them around the levels, when you lose them all you are transported back to the start of the level retaining the Jiggies you have obtained thank god but you lose all of the musical notes and Jinjo’s you have acquired. This was annoying but bearable, it was actually around the time I go to Rusty Bucket Bay the most challenging level yet and was trying to do the Jiggy in the engine room, this Jiggy is rumored to be the hardest in the game involving jumping and running across moving platforms and an abyss down below. Needless to say I died a lot of times and thinking about what lies ahead I decided to cut my losses and go through the game again on Emulator where I could save whenever I wanted to, and also humorously speed up the gameplay at will.

The engine room of the Rusty Bucket and yes if you fell down you died immediately.
Another thing about playing on emulator is that the 3d graphics look so much better, crisper sharper, much higher resolution, that’s not to say the Nintendo 64 graphics were bad, they just don’t work well with modern TV’s. on emulator the screen is smaller obviously but oh man did it look much better, I could also now use my Logitech Playstation gamepad which you can use absolutely fine with N64 games by the way. Anyway the game’s graphics look great for their time, they are the usual bright and happy Rare style that works so well, the levels look and are almost *ahem* comparable to Spyro from rolling green hills in Spiral Mountain to the rough metal deck and oily water of Rusty Bucket Bay to the magnificent tree in Click Clock Wood it’s all very beautiful. 

Click Clock Wood in the Summer
One of the main things that drew my attention was the sound and music, there is no dialogue in the game the characters all make their distinctive sounds and then their dialogue comes up as text on the screen. It’s hard to explain you’ll just have to watch one of the videos though it kind of works really as cartridges don’t have the best audio reproduction, the other sound effects in the game are fine with all the jumpin’ and the flappin’ and the rollin’ and the slappin’.

Banjo-Kazooie intro video featurin all the talkin' and the squawkin' etc

The music is probably my favourite thing about the game, right from the starting tune with Banjo and the cast jammin’ on their instruments though as I mentioned before the best thing is the way the music changes depending on where you are and what you are doing. When in Grunty’s lair (which has excellent music by the way) the music starts off with a basic tune but when you approach a different area the music changes slightly for example when near the Treasure Trove Cove painting or portal area the music takes a more ‘seafaring’ tone and when in the snowy area of Freezezy Peak it’s suitably more Christmas themed. In fact the music changed even when you were near things for example it changed when you were near the Gorilla in Mumbo’s mountain or when you were near the Sphinx in Gobi’s Valley, it also changed when you dove underwater for a more gentle under-the-sea tone. Another of my favourites was the Gobi’s Valley Egyptian themed music which I could never get sick of, in fact I don’t think I ever got sick of any of the soundtracks even if I was on the level for a while.

The Gobi's Valley Level

 Overall I enjoyed Banjo Kazooie despite the frustration, though that’s just the way games were back then, and I can take heart in the fact that I almost finished it entirely on the Nintendo 64, it was a good experience playing a Nintendo 64 platformer all the way through and I think one day I might actually get all of the way through Mario 64 or even the sequel Banjo-Tooie though I won’t be playing you-know-what anytime soon. I’ve yet to experience the others but the original Banjo-Kazoooie stands as one of the best Rare has to offer.


Banjo Kazooie Original 1997 Trailer


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