Banjo Kazooie (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Banjo-Kazooie
Nintendo 64
1998
Developer: Rareware
Publisher: Nintendo

When the Nintendo 64 launched, they set the bar of 3D platformers way too high. Super Mario 64 was available from day one and it set everyone’s imagination on fire on the possibilities within a truly 3D landscape. After Mario though, there was a bunch of garbage. Players may have been dreaming up innovation but developers were perplexed on how to move platformers into the 3D dimension. Many were poor copycats of Mario while others were simply gimped copycats of Mario. Then Rare decided to make a game like Mario but bigger and have much more to do. Banjo-Kazooie is one of the biggest adventure games on the Nintendo 64. Sometimes bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and for a lot that Banjo-Kazooie has going for it, it misses the boat on plenty as well.

The story plays out sort of like every Nintendo adventure game: the hero must save someone who was kidnapped by an evil figure. Banjo and Kazooie are the heroes, Tooty (Banjo’s sister) is the damsel in distress) and Grunty the witch is the evildoer. Banjo and Kazooie head to Grunty’s castle to save Tooty and must traverse through different environments to find items that will unlock paths leading deeper into the castle.

Puzzle pieces are collected after completeing a particular task and accumulating enough will open a new level. Musical notes collected in a level will allow for new paths to be opened in the castle. The last major item to collect in each level are Jinjos. Collecting all five Jinjos will give you a puzzle piece.

The Nintendo 64 controller was built with Mario 64 in mind and Banjo-Kazooie is similar to Mario 64, the controls benefit greatly due to controller. The analog stick moves Banjo around. The A button makes Banjo jump and the B button makes Banjo attack. The C buttons control the camera. As you progress through the game, you learn new techniques which require you to press multiple button combinations at the same time. This is way easier than it sounds and controlling Banjo and Kazooie becomes second nature. The moves are fun too (beak stomping enemies never gets old). The controls feel so natural that you forget that you have a controller in your hands until they cramp up due to the poor ergonomic design of the unit.

This leads to our first problem though; the controls aren’t as responsive as they should be. More than often there is a slight delay after inputting a command. This is more noticeable in the later stages of the game due to the precision needed to complete some tasks. The camera doesn’t help matters as it sometimes has a mind of its own. If this game is supposed to mimic a lot from Mario 64’s design, it doesn’t make sense that they went backwards in controls and camera design. These problems don’t make the game unplayable but they do lead to some frustrating moments.

The game shines on the overall design. The levels are huge worlds with plenty to explore and discover. There are plenty of little things that the game does that you wouldn’t normally expect a game to allow. If you see a window, you probably can break it. Granted, you see that more and more in games nowadays but for the time period, it was innovative. It’s little things like that which make Banjo-Kazooie so much fun. It forces you to explore every little nook and cranny of a level. The levels are so large that some take well over half an hour to complete.

While the game is fun for it’s enormous size, it can also lead to some “controller-throwing” moments. The overworld hub is so large that its easy to get lost and not know where to proceed next. Since the overworld only serves as a way to go from level to level, there’s no reason it needs to be so large or tiresome. Also, the game doesn’t give you much of an option when it comes to saving. If you leave a level, it will only save the amount of puzzle pieces you have found. Note and Jinjo totals are reset back to zero. The problem with this is that some levels are so large, this requires at times an investment of an hour of playing the game to accomplish without stopping. Don’t even think about losing a life because your note totals will reset if you lose a life. Losing a life more than once when you’re a few notes short of completion on a stage will definitely make you want to go nuts.

At least the game is pretty. It does well in areas where the Nintendo 64 normally fails. The game is plenty colourful; levels are not limited to millions of varieties of a limited palette of colours. All the colours can be represented in a level without limitation. The textures can look rather good most of the time. There’s the odd texture that may look blurry or disjointed but overall it looks really good. You’re in for a treat if you make your way to the top of a level’s area (if one is available) where you get to see some of the most impressive vistas in the 64-bit era. Standing on the top of a mountain and looking down gives the sense on just how big and grand the levels are.

There are some graphical issues though. Texture blurring has also been mentioned but a much bigger problem is the draw distance. This problem is unique in that while most N64 games has trouble rendering images beyond a certain point in some instances (which is usually corrected by fogging the area so the distortions can’t be seen), Banjo-Kazooie has viewable area within a vast distance but the objects in those area cannot be seen or are in the wrong place. This means that if you are looking down and towards a distant valley, you may not see anything in terms of items or enemies or you might but they could be displayed in the wrong position relative to their actual position. This happens a bit during the game when you’re trying to collect notes in areas where they are not. One level notorious for this is the level “Clanker’s Cavern” where there are notes that appear as if they are underwater when in fact they are actually on a ledge high above the water. Luckily, these draw distance issues don’t handicap the player’s experience by causing dire problems but they are a source of aggravation. It makes an otherwise fantastic feast for the eyes less enjoyable.

Banjo-Kazooie is a lot of fun if you can get past the glitches in the game. It’s too bad that that Rare didn’t spend more time working the bugs out of the game because this game had so much potential. It’s a good game but it stumbles under the weight of its own ambitious goals. It tried to take over from what Mario 64 started but in the end it dropped the ball.

☆☆☆☆

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