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Banjo Kazooie Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Rare
Platform - N64
Type - Platfrom
Score - 9/10

You know, after playing Banjo-Kazooie, I feel like I'm crazy. Why? Because I've been reading reviews and previews of this game for ages, and they all have nothing but good things to say. "Greatest 3D Platformer ever made", "Best Nintendo 64 game ever", and many more wild words of praise are floating around the net, but for the life of me, I'm not sure why.

Banjo-Kazooie is a great game, let's get that out of the way first, it is a great game. However, it has a crap-load of minor flaws which keep it from achieving the coveted status of "Greatest 3D Platformer ever made". Let's take a look at the ups and downs of this title category by category.

The story goes something like this: Banjo, a fun-loving (but somewhat slow) bear, has had his sister (Tooty) kidnapped by an evil witched named Gruntilda. Gruntilda plans to steal Tooty's beauty and transfer it over into her own deformed and demented body, via some crazy "beauty-swapping" machine. Banjo and his trusty sidekick Kazzoe the bird (who lives in Banjo's backpack) must travel through Gruntilda's castle and conquer the various worlds to gain back the freedom of Tooty. Pretty original huh?

To gain entrance into each world in Gruntilda's castle, you need to find the giant picture of the world located on a wall... somewhere in the castle. In total, there are 9 of these pictures, each incomplete, with spaces that need to be filled in with "jiggie" pieces before you can enter them. Kind of like incomplete jigsaw puzzles. Once you complete a picture puzzle, a door to the world opens and you may enter. You also need to collect musical note pieces to open the musical note doors. These doors block the entrance to other areas of the castle, which often contain new worlds and secrets. Each musical note door has a number on it, corresponding to the number of musical notes you need to go through the door, so collect as many notes as you can.

Sound complicated? Well, not really. Kinda like the system of stars in Mario 64 (in this case puzzle pieces), combined with the system of coins (the music pieces), makes collecting stuff in Banjo-Kazooie, well, very familiar. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it.

GRAPHICS:

Banjo-Kazooie is incredible in the graphics department, absolutely incredible. I have to give Rare credit for putting together such a beautiful looking game, from start to finish, with lavish textures, intriguing and detailed enemies, smooth animation, and a bundle of tiny little "special effects" which keep the title interesting.

Simply put, if you've read any other review of Banjo-Kazooie, you've heard a mountain full of praise about this game's graphics and there's really nothing more I can say. Just take a look at some of the screen shots, or perhaps a movie... and you'll know I'm right when I say that this title is the best looking 3D platformer of all time.

SOUND:

You know, each and every title that Rare releases impresses me that much more in the sound department. The music in this game is some of the best I've heard in a long time, perfectly fitting the mood of each level, the design of the game, and taking into account what is happening on the screen.

Yes, that's right, Banjo-Kazooie uses Dynamic Midi Music, which alters slightly depending on what you are doing in the game at that time. For example, if you enter a native village, the bass and drums might increase by a factor of 5 and give the song you were just hearing an "African" sounding feel, like you are on safari or something. When you enter back into a green meadow or peaceful field, the song gains a happy, go-lucky air to it and relatively balances out. Not only does this add to the sense of discovery and exploration, it helps to tie all aspects of this game together. The sound, graphics, and gameplay are all interactive and can change instantly (and at any time), something which gives Banjo-Kazooie a definite "polished" feel.

The sound-effects aren't too shabby either, if I might say so! Rare obviously wanted to add speech to each character in the game, but the limited cartridge space prohibited that feature. The solution? Characters were given their own "talking sound" which is repeated as you read the text located in a box at the bottom of the screen. The "talking sound" reflects the personality of the character speaking, and is effective in getting the point across that these characters and alive and talking to you... you aren't just reading text. For example, Banjo's talking sound is a noise that sounds like "Duh", repeated over and over (at different speeds and tempos, depending on the words used), and tells us that Banjo might be a little bit slow, even for a bear. Great work, a highly inventive way of getting around speech and cartridge limitation problems.

Normal sound effects, such as the flap of wings, the roar of the ocean, and the usual compliment of "Boings!" and "Booms!" are abundantly found in this game, so there's no need to worry. In the overall sound department, Banjo-Kazooie wins the award for best sounding 3D Platformer of all time.

GAMEPLAY:

Ahh haa! I bet you're all wondering what category all my negative comments are going to be coming in. Well my friends, look no further, Gameplay is the category which lowers Banjo-Kazooie off of its pedestal and down into the 2nd place position.

Control:

Simply put, I found the game to be quite frustrating in the control department, whether you were above or below water. While wondering about on land, you do happen to have a wide variety of moves at your disposal, but none of them really seemed that "solid". Sure, the big beak attack (the one where you burst forward with the beak ahead of you) is a good move, but it's hard to aim and hard to execute... especially on a jumping enemy. The rat-a-tat-tat 3 punch combo is (to put it mildly) useless against a moving enemy, and the jumping beak peck didn't connect with the enemy I wanted to kill half of the time I used it! All in all, it felt like I was wondering around with a big arsenal of weapons... yet no trigger to execute them effectively and reliably.

Another frustrating aspect was the touchy control and over-responsive movement that Banjo (or Kazooie for that matter) displayed. Remember what happens in Mario 64 when you run hard in one direction and then push the control stick quickly into the opposite direction? Yeah, that's right, Mario plants his feet firmly in the ground, and then transfers his weight back over to the other direction to take off a full speed. It's not only a good transitional animation, it's a helpful tool when you need to make quick stops and turns. In Banjo-Kazooie, that little tid-bit is mysteriously missing. Try running full-speed in one direction and then yanking the analog stick over in the opposite way... does Banjo stop and pivot? Not really... there's some quick jerky animation thing and then he's off and running in the other direction. That's the kind of control problem that Banjo-Kazooie has, an over-responsive feel which makes touchy jumps and narrow platforms hard to navigate.

Below water, problems are just as bad. You are given two swimming options: use Banjo's feet a kicking paddles to slowly accelerate forward, or flap Kazooie's wings and get a mighty burst of speed. In theory, these are good ways of maneuvering in the water, (just like in Mario 64 where you had the feet kick and the hand push) but the execution is far from perfect. Simply put, the feet kicking is way too slow, and the wing flap is way too fast. If you want to collect underwater music notes, the wing flap is a good move to get you close to your target, but from there... you have to resort to the stupid feet kick, otherwise you're going to go flying past your intended target because you weren't lined up exactly right before flapping the mighty wings. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe the feeling you get when you miss something in the water by inches... because you can't control where the wing flap takes you (at least, you can't control it well enough).

Level Design:

Level Design in Banjo-Kazooie is a mixed bag. Some worlds are great, (for example, Treasure Trove Cove), yet other worlds leave you screaming in frustration and anger (such as Clanker's Cavern and Gobi's Valley). I guess it's up to your personal preference, but half the levels I played... I didn't really like.

One of the best things about the levels, was the use of "mini-games" and interesting features to keep players interested when the good old attention span might be wandering. Each level usually has a giant enemy or huge statue to distinguish it from the rest and create a vivid mental picture for further use. A humongous snowman, giant sphinx, massive orange throwing gorilla, large alligator, and deadly shark are all characters that come to mind. It helps break the monotony that can come with a huge amount of exploration (and believe me... there's a huge amount in this game).

Some levels even require you to change shape so that you can access previously hidden parts of the came. Merely visit Mombo, the game's sorcerer, and he'll change you into whatever animal is appropriate for that level, for some "Mombo Tokens" that you can collect throughout the game. The animals that you can change into are truly original and sometimes make you laugh quite hard (even when you change into an animal you still retain Banjo's tight yellow shorts and brown backpack!).

Perhaps my biggest peeve with this game (and listen good Rare!), was the Overworld design. Who in the hell decided to spread those levels out all over the place! I mean, I had a hard time finding the puzzle spots to unlock levels that I didn't even know where the entrance to was! Everything's hidden behind music number doors and various other puzzles/traps, causing you to get confused, lost, and frustrated... usually in that order. Here's a hint, if I have trouble finding certain levels in this game, then the audience that all those corny jokes and goofy characters were designed for are going to have a hard time finding them as well!

The Camera:

Whoo! I hear a few of your groaning already, "Here comes Rob to complain about the camera!" Well, then I might have a pleasant surprise for you! No, wait, nevermind - I am going to complain about the camera after all, no pleasant surprise! :)

On a positive note, you do have full control over the floating camera which follows Banjo and Kazooie, just like in Mario 64. The up "C" button lets you zoom in for a first-person point-of-view (to look around in), and the left, right, and down "C" buttons do exactly what you'd expect them to do.

I found that the most effective way to play Banjo-Kazooie, is to hold the "R" button with your right finger, so that the camera "locks in" behind Banjo for an almost "Tomb Raider"-esq type view. Unfortunately, while this tactic might work in wide-open spaces, some rooms have pre-set camera positions that you can't control, and leave you in awkward spots against jumps or enemies. Still, I suppose it's a step up from Mario 64 - but it's not a full step - there's still some work that could be done to improve floating cameras in 3D games. Just don't ask me how...

REPLAY VALUE:

To tell you the honest truth, I don't know how this game is going to hold up in the test of time, because I haven't played it enough to tell you. I do know that it's one of those titles that really begins to get on my nerves after an extended play period. Don't understand? Well here's the way I view Banjo-Kazooie:

I wake up in the morning and think: "Hey, I wanna play Banjo-Kazooie! I wanna roam the open fields and destroy monsters, while flying high in the sky and exploring vast worlds!"

I start playing the game and think: "Damn! I hate that... Damn! That's so stupid, why did that happen? Ugh... Where's that room? Where do I go?! Where's that stupid mole hill?!!"

I guess you get the point. I usually put the game down after a couple of hours and then don't feel like playing it for a good 4 or 5 hours after that. Eventually though, I pick up the controller and switch on the N64 again... but I usually leave with bad memories.

I do hear that there's a few extra tasks and hidden things to collect once you've beaten the game, so perhaps that increases the replay value. I wouldn't know... I haven't got that far yet. ;)

OVERALL:

Possibly the most disturbing aspect of Banjo-Kazooie, is the fact that Rare seems to have completely missed their target audience in creating this title. Don't let the cute enemies, corny jokes, and cartoonish worlds fool you folks, this game is tougher than heck sometimes... hell, I got frustrated just trying to find the worlds! A couple of times I put a great deal of effort into unlocking a door or getting to a certain part of the game, and all I got was a corny joke from one of the characters! Now I ask you, if a relatively veteran gamer such as myself found it mildly challenging... then the people that would appreciate the discovery of a corny joke probably found it harder than hell. I mean, look at the box cover design! It's got a fuzzy bear and a bird on the front... now what age is this title supposed to attract? Can that age really handle the rigors of this game?

I know, I know, I've spent the entire review complaining about all the bad things in Banjo-Kazooie; you might even think I hate the game or something! Well, that's not the case. The way I see it, is that there's a 1001 reviews of this game that focus merely on the positive points, and I'd like to give you the rounded picture. I know that this review isn't going to be the only one you read, so merely balance it with all the other opinions that you happen to come across, and maybe you'll feel a little more educated then before you started. Remember, even the best games have their bad points.

So to sum this game up in a few sentences... Banjo-Kazooie is a solid title, with enduring qualities and positive features, but also with frustrating aspects. I think what disappointed me most about this game, was the fact that it wasn't half as good as people made it out to be. It might look great, sound great, and sometimes feel great... but I still prefer Mario 64 in the long run. That's just another example, you have to be headsmart while videogame shopping, don't always buy into the hype!