Monday, September 20, 2010

Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

     Banjo-Kazooie is a platformer developed by the Twycross, England-based Rareware. Following the fail-safe pattern of developing masterpieces on the SNES, Rare developed a string of masterpieces on the Nintendo 64 throughout the late 90's, often being cited as one of the few developers who brought the little system any revenue. If you're curious, this game is one of those masterpieces.
     Originally conceived as a game for the SNES, Banjo-Kazooie began life under the project name Dream. Dream, from what Rare's following has pieced together, was initially a completely different game, with Banjo-Kazooie's leading honey bear, Banjo, a mere supporting character. One thing lead to another, and while it appears most of the story of Dream was scrapped, it ultimately became one of the most glorious pieces of platforming gamers have ever experienced.
     The story of Banjo-Kazooie is that of a standard fairy-tale; a witch captures the damsel-in-distress, thus the hero must rise to the damsel's aid and ultimately saves the day. Banjo, with the aid of his breegul-buddy Kazooie strapped to his back, must traverse through nine beautifully rendered worlds collecting various objects that will aid him in his quest to save his sister Tooty from the clutches of the evil witch Gruntilda. Grunty has captured Tooty because... she's the fairest of all. In a throwback to Snow White, Grunty's jealousy hatches into a plot to take Tooty's beauty with the aid of her right-hand grunt Klungo. By collecting musical notes to open locked doors, and jigsaw puzzle pieces to open new worlds, or "jiggies", Banjo and Kazooie must make their way to the top of Grunty's tower to save his sister from impending ugliness... It isn't exactly the greatest back-story, but doesn't take away from the quality of the game in any way. Because Banjo-Kazooie is intended to be a light-hearted adventure, it actually fits quite fine. In every other way, the writing is great. The exchange in dialogue between characters is often very humorous and sarcastic, and it was one of the most text-heavy platformers- I mean that in a good way, of course.
     Upon blowing into the cartridge, and turning the power on, I was greeted with a song-and-dance introduction composed by the wonderfully talented Grant Kirkhope. Oh God, the music! Kirkhope has done most of the musical segments for Rare's back catalog, throughout the 64-bit era up until his unfortunate departure from Rare in 2008. The music is nothing short of fantastic, even if towards the end of the game most of the later songs end up having bits of the same music from earlier pieces. Regardless, it perfectly captures the overall feel of the setting of Banjo-Kazooie. Actually, I downloaded the soundtrack some time ago and willingly listen to it on a regular basis; it's that good! One thing I really loved about the music was the seamless transitions between pieces. Kirkhoppe actually composed several completely different versions of every area's theme. These songs changed frequently; for example, if Banjo were to go underwater or into a structure, the area's theme would change to fit the setting. It was such a cool addition that I don't think many games had done up to that point.
     Rare has always been known to go above and beyond the graphical expectations of consoles, and Banjo-Kazooie is no exception. The colors are so vibrant, and every character and enemy has their own distinguished look and feel. Enemies are rarely recycled, with most pertaining to the theme of their respective levels. The attention to detail that the developers paid really shines in every area, and there's never any sign of repetition in that regard.
      Unfortunately, Banjo-Kazooie adheres to Rare's decision to turn every platformer into a collect-o'-thon. There isn't as much back-tracking when compared to, say, Donkey Kong 64, but collecting the 900 musical notes scattered across the worlds and the tens of Jiggies required to reach Gruntilda could come off as tedious to some, but it didn't bother me too much. The difficulty is never insane, and it offers a bit of a challenge to 100% the game, a feat I heartily enjoyed completing.
      Rare really outdid themselves with Banjo-Kazooie. I'm pretty sure that most everyone who was a '64-kid in the '90's has beaten this one ten times over by now, but if for whatever ill-fated reason you haven't played it, the game has since been re-released in HD on the XBOX Live Arcade for a mere fifteen dollars. You could even pick up the cartridge for cheaper than that if you're a Nintendo-purist. Regardless of how you play it, you owe it to yourself not to miss out on this gem.

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