Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 17: Best Antagonist

Tempting though it was to say myself in any Neverwinter Nights or similar game where I played an evil character, I decided to go for the antagonist which made me glad to be playing the game, who I enjoyed beating, and who I could empathize with, at least a little.

Gruntilda, the ugly witch from Banjo-Kazooie, is distraught to discover that a young girl, your sister Tootie, is prettier than she is. Resolving to do something about this, she kidnaps her and places your sister in a machine to suck all the beauty out of her and give it to Gruntilda. Similar plots exist, but when you get a Game Over and it shows the machine working, you are forced to consider the fact that Gruntilda's new body looks pretty good, and you haven't really had much game time to connect with your sister (who is now hideous)... perhaps Gruntilda winning isn't such a bad thing after all? Where can I buy flowers...

Seriously though, she is remniscent of GlaDOS (who would have won if I had ever played Portal) mixed with a children's nursery rhyme. As you progress through her castle and collect puzzle pieces to open new worlds to explore, she constantly harasses you with disheartening messages. The fact that everything she ever says is in rhyming couplets doesn't quite make her any more terrifying, but it certainly makes you laugh.

She's vicious, but with a well-humoured side. The best example of this is that in order to get to the final battle, you have to cross a giant board which serves as a quiz about the game which she hosts. There are some nasty squares on that board and there's lava all around you, which reminds you that this rhyming, scheming witch has a slightly sadistic side. I doubt, after all, that she just has this lying around... she built it to taunt you. Banjo is renowned for being a little slow, so its only due to the intelligence of the player that you're actually able to cross. On his own, and even with Kazooie, Banjo would likely never make it across.

She's endearing, she's vicious, she's funny, and she rhymes. She also wears a purple scarf... presumably there's a draught in her castle? You've got to love her.

Banjo Kazooie itself, just to go into it briefly, is a standard-construct game from Rare, almost identical to Donkey Kong 64. The magic of Rare, and why they're a serious contender for my favourite gaming developer, is how they have taken two almost identical games (slightly slow brown character with assistance progresses through levels collecting special objects to open next level. The big green villain watches you progress in frustration. Each level you have assistance from friendly characters to overcome the challenges ahead) and made them both a blast to play. Sorry for the long sentence.

As an N64 game the controls were sometimes a little clumsy, but it had a good sense of humour, with Kazooie joining in with Gruntilda sometimes in taunting you. Kazooie, so we're all clear, is a large red bird who lives and operates from the backpack of you, a bear. Cue confusion, but that's the glory of the game. Everything is odd, but it works very smoothly. The levels are varied and fun to play around, the music is great fun and very catchy, and every character is fun to interact with, even if there's not much dialogue. Donkey Kong 64 is the better game in most respects - graphics, controls, playable characters - but Banjo-Kazooie blows those monkeys out of the water when it comes to sense of humour, interesting levels (haunted mansion beats ice cave by miles), and most significantly - villain.

K.Rool is very smiliar to Gruntilda in many ways, but his cutscenes are poorly done, his dialogue is atrocious, and he has no real influence on the game. Gruntilda is wise-cracking, intelligent, and harasses you the whole time. K.Rool detracts from the game, Gruntilda makes the game more enjoyable. Simple.

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