Sunday, December 29, 2013

Banjo-Tooie

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Released on November 20, 2000, by Rareware Studios, Banjo-Tooie features a bear named Banjo, and Kazooie, a bird who lives in Banjo's backpack. Together, the duo traverse a wide variety of enormous worlds and collect a multitude of items to again stop the plans of Gruntilda, the evil witch.

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The Personal Story:
Well, here it is. The game that both ended my initial run on the Nintendo 64, and helped it begin anew.
I moved out just before my sophomore year of college, just about the same time I reached the midpoint of Banjo-Tooie. Sure enough, the sudden stress of more difficult classes and working to pay rent put dust on my Nintendo 64. By the time I finally adjusted, November of 2001 had rolled around...and along with it, the Nintendo Gamecube. The Nintendo 64 was placed in storage. Years later, I found myself in college again.

Gross.
I needed something to remind me of the good old days.
The 64 escaped its dusty prison. The first order of business was finally knocking off Donkey Kong 64's K Rool. Thirty minutes later, it was time to head back to the fifth stage of Banjo-Tooie. 

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Graphics: I picked the correct point to re-enter the system. Banjo-Tooie is still just as pretty today as it was at the start of the century. Sure, if you run right up to a wall, the textures blur a bit. But like all the best-looking Nintendo 64 games, particularly third generation titles, the graphics fit a certain timeless, unique style of art. From that point of view, Banjo-Tooie contains nothing to complain about. If you want to compare Banjo-Tooie to other Nintendo 64 titles, nothing can match it. The texture work, most often a Nintendo 64 game's Achilles heel, is gorgeous. Real-time lighting and shadows, all of the hallmarks of a third generation Nintendo 64 game, are on full display. There is no draw distance, no fog. Stand at one end of one of Tooie's enormous worlds, and you can clearly see the other.  Banjo, Kazooie, and all of their freaky pals are wonderfully animated. This is the Nintendo 64, pushed beyond its limits. I've heard complaints that the graphical limit-pushing came with a cost too great to the game's frame-rate. I disagree. There are moments of slowdown, but I've played this game all the way through. The slowdown never once negatively affected my experience.

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Sound: Grant Kirkhope's score for Banjo-Kazooie is one of my all-time favorites. He matches the quality of that score here. Obviously, a game about an anthropomorphic bear who goes around having adventures with a snappy bird is going to be pretty lighthearted. Kirkhope could have just sleptwalked through some sunny pap, but his Banjo-Tooie score is anything but. Kirkhope's themes exceptionally match the fun, varied tones of the game. Whether Banjo is wandering a spooky hallway, a towering volcano, snowy cliffs, or a jolly seaside town, the music fits as well as it possibly could. You'll be humming these songs for weeks. On top of that, Kirkhope's score is dynamic for each area. Dive underwater, and the music grows deeper and reverb-laden. Near a door to a different world, and the instruments and keys change dramatically--a trick Kirkhope and Rare's sound engineers pull off perfectly. Banjo-Tooie's sound effects are also excellent, featuring hilarious speech-sounds for each character, appropriate environmental sounds for each world, and footstep sounds that change with the terrain.

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Gameplay: Banjo-Tooie is the 3-D platform game, perfected. What Super Mario 64 created the template for, and Banjo-Kazooie refined, Banjo-Tooie perfects. Tests of hand-eye coordination are completely unimpeded by the camera, which was Banjo-Kazooie's greatest flaw. The puzzles and interactivity of the worlds are everything the player could want them to be. People have derisively described platform games from this era as "collect-a-thons." The player does have to collect a large amount of items to progress through Banjo-Tooie, but this is organically achieved as the player explores each world, adding a sense of pure joy and accomplishment when items are found. This is the difference between a great platformer and near perfect game of Banjo-Tooie calibre, and a joyless...(sigh)...collectathon.
I'd be remiss not to mention and briefly describe Tooie's ten major worlds. Banjo-Kazooie already covered the basic "swamp world," "cave world," "snow world," "desert world" formula, so the makers of Banjo-Tooie had to really get creative.
Isle of Hags-The game's hub world name is self-explanatory, but Isle of Hags has enough secrets and cool areas in its own right. It also includes a training portion to get players up to speed, and warp pads to make jumping back and forth between worlds a breeze.
Mayahem Temple-Banjo-Tooie throws you right into the fray. This Mayan Ruins-influenced world might not be as large as some of the latter Banjo-Tooie levels, but it is as large as anything from Banjo-Kazooie.  The depth of Banjo-Tooie is immediately apparent, even this early in the game.
Glitter Gulch Mine-A cool underground level, featuring piles of gems, a winding, underground river, and a crazy prospector. Glitter Gulch Mine also introduces a new element into the Banjo-Kazooie series: boss battles (which are often as funny as they are challenging).
Witchyworld-An awful theme park, but a truly excellent level, featuring tons of circus-esque mini-games. The spaceship-shooter challenge is fun enough to warrant its own game.
Jolly Roger's Lagoon: Two levels in one. The smaller part is a disturbingly jaunty seaside town, filled with a bunch of weirdos, sitting above the larger section: a series of huge underwater caves. This level is remarkably more fun once additional areas are opened. Some of the underwater sections are as visually stunning as your average game from the next generation of video game systems.
Terrydactyland-A level so huge and easy to get lost in, it broke me on my first attempt. This world features an empty feeling, unique to the Banjo-Kazooie series. Terrydactyland features lots of barren terrain that does a great job of evoking the aimed for prehistoric vibe. This amps up the feeling of discovery even more, though. Finding a hidden prehistoric river, full of ancient creatures seen no where else in the game, gave me more satisfaction than any other Banjo-Tooie moment, even though the purpose of that area is purely aesthetic.
Grunty Industries-Banjo-Tooie's most "British" level(Rareware was located in England). Grunty Industries features grumpy factory workers straight out of a Who or Pink Floyd song. Just getting into the factory from a rainy, boggy lobby area takes a lot of brainpower, but the puzzles inside really push the player's problem-solving skills to the limit. This might just be the game's best world.
Hailfire Peaks-Banjo-Kazooie hinted at a "Lava World," but Hailfire Peaks has it both ways, featuring neighboring mountains of fire and ice. This level highlights Banjo-Tooie's truly gigantic scope. Bouncing back and forth between one mountain's volcanic fury, and the other's relaxing, chilly pace, rivals the satisfaction of solving Grunty Industries' puzzles.
Cloud Cuckooland-Whatever great ideas Rareware's developers couldn't fit elsewhere in the two games is thrown together for this truly bizarre level of floating islands, featuring a central cave full of candy cane-wielding, 2-D denizens.
Cauldron Keep-The game's final world, and I won't spoil the surprises.
Finally, I feel I need to remark on the quality of Banjo-Tooie's controls. I can't remember one moment of pressing the wrong button, or blaming Banjo-Tooie's controls for a death or slip up. That is the highest and most rare praise I can give a game's controls.

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Lasting Value: This game takes a long time to beat. While admittedly my time was split into two sessions over twelve years, I put over fifty hours into Banjo-Tooie to earn every Jiggy. The crazy thing is, the experience was so enjoyable, if I have time, I'll do it again. Banjo-Tooie also includes a silly deathmatch-multiplayer mode that is good for a few rounds and a laugh, but it isn't the reason to boot up the cartridge. The single-player quest more than earns however much you pay to play this game.
 


10.0
Graphics
As good as it gets on the N64. Clear, beautiful models. The best texture work on the system. Infinite visibility, great animation. On par with some games from the NEXT generation of consoles.


9.5
Music and Sound
Each world's score fits perfectly and changes dynamically to match the area. You'll be humming the music in your sleep. Characters' goofy speech sounds are still hilarious.


9.8
Gameplay
Bigger, better designed worlds than the original, with more to do and see. Few games are this fun to play. Banjo-Tooie's size can be a bit overwhelming, but the game never becomes tedious.


8.5
Lasting Value
Snaring every Jiggy takes quite a bit of time, not to mention the secret items and powerups. Multiplayer is a nice distraction, but the single player quest doesn't shortchange.  

9.8  FINAL SCORE

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