Monday, June 20, 2011

Banjo-Tooie: A Rare Sight

I love Banjo-Kazooie, there’s no denying it.  Gruntilda is one of my favourite villains ofall time, and the pairing of the honest, polite Banjo with the sharp-beaked, sarcastic Kazooie was, in my opinion, done better than most of the other pairings we’ve seen in video games to date.  Ratchet and Klank and Daxter and the guy he’s with just don’t quite do it for me.  The first Banjo-Kazooie game is great.  It’s challenging, at least after the first level, it’s funny, and it’s inventive.  I love it.

However, when I played through Banjo-Tooie back when it came out, I remember being rather disappointed with it.  At least, I didn’t get the same thrill out of it that I did from the first game.  I wrote it off as another sequel that just did O.K. and moved on.  Well, I’ve been playing through it again for the past few days and I feel the need to stand up and apologize to the entire game.  I’m sorry.  I misjudged you all those years ago.  You are a truly great game.  GameSpot actually gave Banjo-Tooie a near perfect score! (See the link on the side of the page) I think I would give it the same score so far.  I think it surpasses the original in almost every way, and that is a tough challenge to beat.

A game which doesn't take itself too seriously...
I won’t bother worrying you with plot spoilers, as the game freely admits many times that it’s all really just an excuse to give you a fantastic adventure to play through.  Banjo-Tooie sets you off across the Isle of Hags to enter various worlds and collect Jigsaw Pieces (or Jiggies, the Gold Stars of the game) by doing important things, like winning a kickball tournament, defeating an ancient Mayan totem god, swatting flies, gathering up lost children, or earning enough doubloons to buy one from the pawn shop.  It’s rarely that simple though, and one of the main things that makes Tooie trump Kazooie is the complexity of the challenges required to obtain the Jiggies in the game.  Mario games nowadays give you a hint and a path for every star.  Not so here.  You have to explore, talk to people, and work out what needs doing and how to do it.  Many of the Jiggies require you to travel between the levels directly through various tunnels, and it is impossible to get every Jiggie in a level the first time playing through it.  Where the first game just gave you difficult things to achieve, this game gives you a number of puzzles to solve, which is far more satisfying to complete and increases the play time significantly.

Tooie also beats Kazooie because in many ways it simply responded to everything we wanted to see in the first game but never happened.  You can control Mumbo Jumbo, who is very excited to be a main character at last, and go around casting impressive spells.  Humba Wumba, the new shape changer of the game, can actually turn you into decent things, and you get some FANTASTIC forms to turn into, such as a submarine, a tyrannosaurus, and a washing machine.  YAY!  Several of these forms call back to the first game, to little things that Mumbo said he could do or accidentally did.

There are a lot of jokes and references to the first game, with a lot of characters returning (logically this time, instead of just unabashedly ripped like Majora’s Mask’s characters were).  There’s a lot of continuity between them, and if you find a lot of the secrets you find places and objects that you always wanted to see in the first game but were mysteriously out of reach, such as the Ice Key.

Did I mention the FPS element and excellent multi-player games?

Essentially it is designed to be a game for people who have completed Banjo-Kazooie and now want something with a bit more meat on its bones.  It’s a darker game than the first, stepping closer to the Rare sense of humour that you see in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, but still just this side of family-friendly gaming.  It’s well balanced, with ingenuous controls (you start with ALL the techniques from the first game, and then expand from there, which is a nice touch), and is all in all a brilliantly designed game from start to finish.  Well done, Rare.  I wish you had stuck with Nintendo.

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