Format: Nintendo 64
Rare's almost successful attempt to challenge Nintendo's incredible 3D platformer Mario 64.
After Mario 64 was released as on of the N64's launch games, the world dropped their collective jaws - it was hailed by many as the best game ever, and as a pinnacle of 3D game design. While the Playstation played host to a handful of dodgy "3D" platformers such as Crash Bandicoot, no one dared challenge Nintendo's mastery of the genre on the Nintendo 64. But if anyone would be able to top Nintendo at their own game, it would be Rare. Although the team has recently been bought by Microsoft, at the time they were probably the best second party developers in the world.
When Rare decided to make a platform game, they decided right away that it would be headed up by not one, but two characters - Banjo and Kazooie. This announcement caused widespread confusion - how would this work? Would it be a two player co-operative game? Would single players alternate between the characters when needed? Would you use two controllers to play it?
As it turned out though, the game's two characters act more like one. The game is set in a 3D world in a similar style to Super Mario 64, and the two characters wander around collecting items. Banjo the honey bear is who the player controls most of the time, but although he can perform basic moves, to solve most problems Kazooie the breegul must be used. Kazooie lives in Banjo's backpack, so she only comes out when needed. Individual moves have to be learned from Bottles the mole at predetermined points, so that some parts of the levels are inaccesible without the right move.
The levels are all accessed from the central "hub" area of Gruntilda's Lair - the evil witch who has kidnapped Banjo's sister, Tooty, to steal her beauty. To save her, Banjo must get through the lair up to the top. His problem is that throughout the lair are "note doors" which can only be passed with the right amount of Musical notes. These are found in the nine huge worlds accessible from Gruntilda's (or the more affectionate Grunty's) lair. But of course, there is another catch - to get into each world you need the right amount of jigsaws (or "Jiggys") to complete a picture. Each level has 10 Jigsaws (plus an 11th outside in the lair nearby) and 100 musical notes to collect, and while as with Mario 64 it is not essential to collect them all, you need to have most of them to progress.
The game's graphics, while surpassed now, were at the time some of the best on the N64. The expansive levels were also very impressive, with much more detail and things to do than their counterparts in Mario 64, although admittently there are only 9 courses compared to 15 in SM64. The impressive array of characters featured in the game, with many jiggys being a reward for collecting some item or doing some errand for a NPC.
There are endless items to pick up, ranging from eggs, red feathers, gold feathers, honeycombs, honeycomb pieces and more, all of which had a useful purpose, which is usually to power one of the duo's special abilities. Other features of the game were visiting the voodoo shaman Mumbo Jumbo so that he could turn you into a different form for example an ant to climb steep slopes or a pumpkin (seriously!) to fit in small gaps, and there are often a few jiggys per level which required a transformation to get to. Getting flushed down a talking toilet while in the form of a pumpkin was quite literally, minutes of fun.
- Spiral Mountain
- This is the training area for the game which contained Banjo's house, and a whole load of molehills which contained Bottles, ready to teach you a move. Once you had learnt enough moves Bottles would repair a bridge which allowed you access to Grunty's Lair.
- Gruntilda's Lair
- This obscenely large hub style area is far more difficult to learn your way around than Mario 64's Castle, but there are added features to help you around such as warp cauldrons which when both of a specific colour are activated, they can be jumped into to allow speedy transport around the lair. All the puzzles (which must be filled to allow access to each level) are hidden somewhere around the lair, as well as, if you look hard enough, Cheato, who will provide you with cheat codes to increase your item carrying capacity. Levels accessed from the lair are:
- Mumbo's Mountain
- The first proper level of the game is, as you might expect very easy, and if players have a reasonable level of skill can be finished completely in under half an hour. The general scene is, as with the first level of every game ever, a grassy, hilly area with some lovely water. Ahh. And a village. Ahh. Moves such as egg firing are learnt here, and Mumbo is available to transform you into an ant. Puzzles include finding a monkey an orange to eat and feeding a rotating totem pole eggs.
- Treasure Trove Cove
- This level is set in a huge desert island somewhat reminiscent of the caribbean or some other tropical hideaway. Moves such as flying and using the shock jump spring pads can be learnt here. Features include a sociopathic hermit crab to battle and a marooned ship, on which the idea is to retrieve Captain Blubber's gold. He's a hippo who cries. Yes. Players must watch out for the Shark (name escapes me at the moment) who is liable to turn up as soon as they step into the water, heralded by a somewhat familiar theme tune. Cheat codes earned from Cheato must be entered into the floor of the sandcastle here (a huge area tiled with letters) to take effect.
- Clanker's Cavern
- This is one of the first really awesome of the Banjo levels and a masterpiece of surreal design. Clanker is a huge metal fish/shark who is chained to the bottom of the eponymous cavern full of water. He is forced by Grunty to "eat the sewage" or something, and says that all he wants is a breath of fresh air. Banjo and Kazooie have to swim right to the bottom of the cavern and unlock the huge chain keeping Clanker underwater, and are then rewarded with a jiggy. Most of the rest of the objectives involve either going around inside Clanker or jumping around the platforms which line the walls high up above the water.
- Bubblegloop Swamp
- This dingy swamp is full of water which, being only knee deep, looks harmless, but is actually inhabited by very hungry piranhas who would like nothing more than to eat you. Luckily, it is possible to grab some wellington boots which provide a limited a period of protection from the swamp. Mumbo can turn you into a tiny crocodile here, who is totally immune to the piranhas. Puzzles include participating in Tiptup's choir and playing a game with Mr. Vile which involves eating little red things that pop up from holes in the floor. This is one of the harder levels to collect 100 notes on, because there are lots of areas which can cause very fast loss of life.
- Freezeezy Peak
- This level is a snowy paradise, with a huge snowman towering over the whole level (shades of Course 10 in SM64 here) who had to be climbed for most of the jigsaws (one was cleverly hidden in his pipe. The most annoying part of this level was definitely the snowmen who populated the level, who would roll up snow and then throw it at B&K with annoying accuracy. Once you learned to Beak Bomb while flying however, the predators become the prey... Mumbo is available to change you into a walrus here so you can participate in a race around the level against Boggy the Bear. Other puzzles involve finding presents for Boggy's kids and lighting up a Christmas Tree with "Twinklies".
- Gobi's Valley
- The obligatory "desert" level features pyramids to raid and sphinxes with noses which need unblocking. With eggs. Plenty of secrets are here, including the last move of the whole game - picking up trainers allows you to run at super speeds, which is ideal for catching a mumified hand which is normally too fast for the pair. There is also a whole lot of quicksand which must be avoided.
- Mad Monster Mansion
- The typical level set in and around a haunted house, but the ingenuity displayed still surprises occasionally - having to play a huge organ by jumping on the keys is brilliant. Hedge mazes and a reasonably large main mansion are also included, complete with Loggo the toilet. Mumbo can turn you into a pumpkin here, and to get to the last two levels of the game it is necessary to explore the lair for a while in the form of a pumpkin. A Ouija board is also part of one of the puzzles - you have to stand on the glass to move it around. For some reason, every time you enter a building in this level that seems quite small on the outside, it turns out to be huge like the Tardis on the inside.
- Rusty Bucket Bay
- A huge level set around a dock with a oil tanker floating in it. The ship has multiple rooms to explore including the engine room, and a whole load of crates which attack you. The Shark from Treasure Trove Cove returns for this level, and because all the water around the ship is covered with oil, the pair's air supply decreases twice as fast when under the surface, and decreases at a normal rate even when you swim on the surface. This means that falling into the water at any time could conceivably be the end of you. This level definitely contains the hardest jiggy to get in the whole game, as it involves going into the engine room to stop the propellors, and then getting out and diving down behind the ship before they start again, in a very tight time limit. Unfortunately, although it offers a decent challenge, it is not as fun a level to mess around in as some of the others.
- Click Clock Wood
- The last real level of the game provided plenty of wonderful temporal anomalies, becuase of the wonderful concept. The level was set around a huge tree with beehives, lakes etc. and the level could be accessed as any of the four seasons. So the lake could be swam in in Summer, but by Winter it had frozen over. Puzzles often involved doing something in all the different time zones - for example, feeding caterpillars to an eagle in Spring and Summer to make him grow big enough to fly away, and collecting enough acorns for Nabnut the squirrel to survive through Winter. Unfortunately, the snowmen from Freezeezy Peak returned for Winter, but as before they could be hunted. The final Mumbo transformation of the game (a bee) can be accessed in Spring. This was one of the game's best levels, requiring plenty of lateral thinking, as well as the heaps of skill needed to successfully get to the top of the tree.
- The End....
- Once you have collected enough jiggys and notes you can access the final challenge, which is an absolutely brilliant bit of game design. Essentially done as a huge boardgame, with multiple routes to the prize of Tooty. Each square had a challenge - either a question about the game - for example, a picture was shown, and the players had to guess what level it was from. Questions about Gruntilda were also included, and these were just stupid, but luckily you could find Brentilda, Grunty's kind sister, all over the lair. Talking to her and writing down what she said allows you to easily complete the questions.
Once you get to the end of the boardgame you are shown a relatively short end sequence, which as ever, does not really mark the end. Tooty demands that you go and finish off Grunty by heading right to the top of the lair for the boss battle - which was, naturally, very difficult. Once you had done that you had finished the game, but you only get the true ending if you complete it with all notes and jigsaws.
The music composed for the game is brilliant, which would come as no surprise to any owners of Goldeneye 007 of Diddy Kong Racing. The tune for whatever area you are in is repeated endlessly, but changed according to what area you were in. For example, the generic theme for Treasure Trove Cove was at first played with a sort of steel band sound, but as you approached the marooned pirate ship the tune stayed the same, but changed seamlessly to sound like a sea shanty with an accordion in the background. Clever, indeed. Sound Effects were also not neglected, with each pick up having a distinctive sound, and when you talked to characters (no digitised speech was included, there was only a sort of "mumbling") each character had his or her own "mumble" to tell them apart by. Some of the questions on the boardgame are centred on sounds (which pickup makes the following sound, etc.)
Gameplay was very fluid, with the control system making excellent use of the N64 controller. One possible problem was that at some points, specifically when the player was underwater, the camera would become very troublesome, and I have drowned a number of times in this game due to a camera which didn't let me see where I was going. Other than these few moments though, the game was at the time second only to SM64 interms of camerawork.
The game would take any reasonably skilled player a while to complete, and a while longer to find everything. Secrets such as the mysterious Ice Key and others would keep players playing for hours. A bunch of codes came out a few years after the game which purported to allow access to all the game's hidden secrets including the ice key and a number of coloured eggs. What exactly they were for is probably only revealed in the sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which as of yet I haven't played.
The game was available for the usual outrageous £50 mark in the United Kingdom (not sure about prices elsewhere, anyone?) but is now probably less than half that price in a bargain bin or second hand. The box featured the protagonists holding a piece of jigsaw a huge image of Gruntilda behind them looking menacing. If you see the game and have an N64 it's well worth picking up, but otherwise I'm sure the rom is out there somewhere, but finding a decent N64 emulator which runs it at a decent speed will be a little harder. Even so, it's one of the best platformers on the system, so if you like SM64, you'll love this.
Servo5678 informs me that as well as Banjo-Tooie, there is another sequel in development: Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge for the GBA, but as yet it has not been released.
Termite says: I read your node on Banjo-Kazooie, and I though I'd add that I doubt the Banjo-Kazooie GBA title will be released, since Rare was recently bought out by Microsoft., which is a very good point - Microsoft won't allow any GBA games to be made.
Termite also says: I think the Banjo license is still with Rare though, so they're might be a Banjo XBox title too.
Servo5678 has yet more info: "Microsoft has a desire to make GBA games (seeing as how they have no portable game machine themselves (yet)) and at last report after the Rare buyout Grunty's Revenge was still being developed for a 2003 release."
Thanks to amib who stopped me making even more of a fool out of myself.