Japan's been having a hard time of late. Financial crises, massive foreign debts, bankers topping themselves, the works. As if all that were not enough, now there's a new casualty. Mario's been made redundant.
Yes, I'm afraid it's true. The portly plumber has munched his last magic mushroom. P45 in hand, he's off down the Job Centre to sign for his Giro and, if he's lucky, get himself a part in The Fuller Monty. No more chaste flirting with the Princess, no more rowdy nights on the town with Luigi and Yoshi. Just daytime TV, boil-in-the-bag and endless scouring of the 'Sits Vac' bit of the local free rag.
Who has done this? Which heartless swines have kicked Nintendo's mascot out on his ear? Here's a hint - they're British, they wrote the best game on the N64 and they're called Rare. Damn, that last one was a bit of a giveaway...
When Banjo-Kazooie first appeared in public at the 1997 E3 show, reactions were positive but also tinged with cynicism - didn't it look an awful lot like Mario 64 with better visuals? Rare obviously disagreed; when your editor rang up Rare a couple of months prior to the 1998 E3 show to ask about Banjo, he was immediately greeted with the reply, "Oh yeah, you're the one who said that Вanjo-Kazooie was just a Mario clone." Memories like elephants, damn them.
One thing you're not going to see in this review is any wholesale word-eating. The inescapable fact is that Banjo-Kazooie (along with dozens of other games) owes an enormous debt to Mario 64 for its creation of a new game style, and any game that takes a similar approach - a 3-D world with platforms and puzzles - is going to be compared to the N6Vs debut title. What sets Banjo-Kazooie apart from the Crocs, Gexes and Bomberman Heroes of this world is that Banjo-Kazooie takes everything that made the Shigeru Miyamoto game work so well in the first place -and then does them all better.
There's a certain irony in that - after all, it wasn't all that long ago that Japanese companies had the reputation for taking an existing product, fixing the bugs and improving on the original so much that the new product became the definitive item. Now, it's happened the other way around. After playing Banjo-Kazooie, going back to Mario is like trading down from a Bentley to a Fiesta Popular Plus. They both do the same job, it's just that one of them is so much more refined.
Bust a Move
At the start of the game. Banjo and Kazooie are fairly hopeless candidates for rescue work, only able to manage a small jump between them. But with the help of bottles the mole, they quickly turn into a laser-spitting 500 foot death mecha! Not really. But they can manage this little lot...
- Claw Swipe: "He's coming straight for us!" When stationary or moving slowly, BANJO can lash out with his ham-sized fists.
- Fearsome Forward Roll: If Banjo's got a bit more speed, he performs this staple of pe classes everywhere. It's gotta hurt kazooie, though...
- Climb: Trees, pipes, masts, i whatever - if it's tall and thin, Banjo can climb up it. Fnarr fnarr.
- Rat-a-Tat Rap: Nothing to do with green discs in several kazooie's first attack - she pops out of her backpack and pecks things.
- Mighty Flipflap Jump: Handy for climbing onto tall ledges, this is a wing-assisted backwards somersault.
- Beak Barge Attack: A combination of Banjo's bulk and Kazooie's beak, it's most useful for smashing doors open.
- Egg Attack (Forward): Kazooie can spit a rapid-fire barrage of eggs from her mouth. Not sure about the biology here...
- Egg Attack (Back): Much more realistic! With an amusing farting noise, Kazooie spurts eggs from her ass like yolked mines.
- Beak Buster: Banjo-Kazooie's Version. Of the traditional platform bottom bounce, kazooie slamming face-first into the ground.
- Wonderwing: "And after aaaaall... you're my wonder...wing?" Use the golden feathers to make yourself inveencible.
- Talon Trot: One of the most useful moves - Kazooie hoists Banjo on her back and uses her sharp claws to climb steep slopes.
- Shock Jump Spring: Kazooie can make massive leaps into the air if she jumps from on of the green discs in several of the worlds.
- Fly: Being a bird, you'd expect Kazooie to fly, but she's got to learn how! Once she does, she's a natural ace.
- Dive Bomb: Hassled by annoying showmen? No problemo - while in the air, Kazooie can perform a devastating diving attack.
- Waders: To get safely through scalding sand, poisoned water or piranha-infested pools, Kazooie can don this protective footwear.
- Running shoes: When a burst of extra speed is needed, Kazooie can whip on a pair of nikes.
Banjo-Kazooie has a plot, of sorts - it's hardly Tom Clancey, but it's still more than Mario's 'rescue the Princess' postage stamp job. Evil witch Gruntilda has kidnapped young Tooty the bear, intending to do a remake of The Fly by stealing Tooty's beauty (en routey) and lumping the unlucky ursine with all her general mankiness in return. When you lose the game, you actually get to see this transformation take place - y'know, green skin and fangs aside, the new-look Gruntilda ain't at all bad for someone who isn't even real.
Naturally in true heroic style, Banjo the rednecked bear, is definitely not going to take the snatching of his sister lying down (there's doubtlessly a dodgy joke about the 'closeness' of redneck families in there somewhere, but we'll save that for another day), so he courageously leaps to the rescue. Along for the ride is Kazooie, a sarcastic bird of some description (a 'breegull', whatever the hell that is) who normally lives in Banjo's rucksack but can pop out whenever she's needed.
Kazooie move away from 'Mario with better graphics' to 'Mario beater'. The first time you play the game, you have no choice but to explore a small grassy area patrolled by Bottles the mole, who gives you the basic moves you need. When you first enter the game proper, Banjo has a couple of attacks and a high jump, but little else. However, the further you go, the more moves the pair acquire. Each time you find a molehill, Bottles pops up to teach Banjo or Kazooie a new move - which, as luck would have it, is needed to progress further within that world. The first time around, it took over nine hours of play before Banjo and Kazooie were fully kitted out with all their moves. Oddly enough, by the time the twosome are fully tooled up, it's Kazooie who proves the more capable of the duo. Maybe the game should have been called Kazooie-Banjo. On second thoughts, perhaps not. That's a stupid name.
Worlds In Motion
Like Mario before it - that comparison is going to keep coming up, so get used to it and stop complaining - Banjo-Kazooie is divided up into themed 'worlds', a kind of Disneyland without the queues and the small and sticky piles of sawdust. Entrance to these worlds is won by finding the 100 jigsaw puzzle pieces hidden throughout the game and using them to complete the various pictures hanging on the walls of Gruntilda's lair. Mario fans who try jumping into the pictures will be disappointed, since the actual entrances can be quite a long way from the puzzles that open them.
Initially, only one world - Mumbo's Mountain - can be explored, the single jigsaw piece needed to open it handily being in the same area as the picture. Everything else is tantalisingly out of reach, up a steep path that the lumbering Banjo isn't able to climb.
Mumbo's Mountain is a kind of microcosm of the game as a whole, offering players the chance to hone their skills and get to grips with the kind of obstacles that crop up throughout Banjo and Kazooie's quest. There's a small lake to practice swimming in, platforms to leap from, puzzles to solve and enemies to smash to pieces.
Also popping up for the first time is Mumbo the witch doctor, quite an important character in the game since he can turn Banjo and Kazooie into other animals (or indeed objects!) with abilities that let them reach otherwise inaccessible parts of the level. On Mumbo's Mountain, the pair are transformed into a termite, which can ding to the perilously steep surfaces inside a huge termite mound near Mumbo's hut. While the ultimate reward here seems to be just a puzzle piece and an extra life, don't be so sure - Mumbo's magic extends further than just his mountain...
Each world holds ten puzzle pieces, 100 musical notes (which when collected in sufficient quantities let you open sealed areas) and varying numbers of eggs (for shooting), red and gold feathers (for flying and invincibility), honeycombs (for energy) and Mumbo's magical crystal skulls. There are also five Jinjos in each world, that are little multicoloured creatures with long noses who award you a puzzle piece when you've got the entire polychromal set.
Collecting the puzzle pieces isn't as simple as it sounds. Although some are visible from the off, the only brain-teaser being exactly how to reach them, most of them are hidden and require you either to solve a puzzle or complete some task to make them appear.
The further you go into the game, the more demanding the puzzles, which stands to reason really. It'd be rather pointless to have things get easier the nearer the end you were. Like Mortal Kombat Mythologies, for instance. Early puzzles include spelling out the name 'Banjo-Kazooie' on a tiled floor (after first figuring out how to drain the room of water) which is straightforward enough, but later ones involve tapping out a tune on a giant church organ and making life comfortable for a huge mechanical shark!
For those who prefer action to thinking, Banjo-Kazooie doesn't skimp in this respect either. As well as dealing with the small-fry enemies infesting each world, who can be clawed, rolled or pecked into oblivion, there are larger bad guys who have to be nailed in their own individual ways.
Nipper the giant crab, a resident of Treasure Trove Cove, seems at first to be invulnerable, responding to Kazooie's insults with swipes from his massive pincers. Eggs don't harm him and his crustaceous body is impervious to anything Banjo has to offer, so how is he defeated? There's probably some smart way to do it involving precision tinning and darting between his claws to chin him, but the easiest approach is to wait until you've got Kazooie's 'wonderwings' ability later in the game, then come back and deck him while you're invincible. The brute force approach - works every time!
Other fun sections include a toboggan race against an overweight single parent bear, some Pilotwings-style precision flying through a series of Egyptian statues and a truly bizarre subgame where you have to help a set of Christmas tree lights get to their piney destination without being eaten by glass-chewing green heads that pop up from the floor! All of these events take place within the game worlds, so it's possible for smart players to check out the lie of the land in advance before committing themselves to a contest.
Oh What An Atmosphere
Of course, all of this kind of thing has been seen before, in Super Mario 64, which offered a similar 'worlds within worlds' approach, and in fact had more levels squeezed into a cartridge half the size of Banjo-Kazooie's. However, you only have to take one look to see what Rare have done with all the extra ROM space - they've used it to create some of the most stunning-looking environments ever seen on the N64, and indeed on any machine to date.
While early levels like Mumbo's Mountain could be accused of looking like Mario 64 with better detail Kazooie that doesn't have some well-designed texture slapped on it), the further you go into the game, the better it looks. Clanker's Cavern is a masterpiece of atmosphere, a polluted cylinder of rusty metal and garbage that somehow never looks quite as gross as you'd imagine. Its centrepiece is danker himself, a mammoth mechanical shark who despite being very nearly as long as the entire level is gorgeously animated. His tail slowly wafts from side to side (letting you climb up it and jump to other areas), his gills open and close, his fins send him bobbing ponderously up and down in the oil-slicked water-even his eyes track Banjo around the level!
The worlds themselves might not seem original if they're boiled down to one-liner descriptions -'the snow level', 'the Egyptian level', 'the haunted house level' -since Mario 64 also had these staples of platform gaming. What sets them apart from anything you've ever seen before is the sheer amount of detail in them.
The fantastic Mad Monster Mansion ('the haunted house level', if you will) in particular looks good enough to stand as a game in its own right.
The entire look of the game is generally cartoony, which is pretty much what you'd expect of a title where one of the title characters lives in the other's rucksack, but backed up with an attention to detail that bizarrely often makes it look more realistic than some games that strive for a believable look. The only other N64 game that comes close to matching Banjo-Kazooie's glowing look of solidity is Forsaken, and while Acclaim's title has more impressive lighting effects, ultimately its hi-tech tunnels have a lot less variety.
The music within the levels also varies, not just from world to world, but from section to section, smoothly segueing from one style to another as Banjo and Kazooie move around. An early case is in Treasure Trove Cove, where the music goes from jaunty Caribbean steel drums to a sea shanty as you get nearer to a pirate ship, but there are plenty of other examples.
As Banjo and Kazooie wander around Gruntilda's Lair, which is effectively a hub level that allows access to all the others, the standard music is a mutant version of Teddy Bears' Picnic, just far enough removed from the original to avoid any annoying legal problems. Approach the entrance of Gobi's Valley and the musicians start to walk like Egyptians; head across the graveyard to Mad Monster Mansion and you get a mournful organ rendition straight out of Dracula's castle. The character select screen of Diddy Kong Racing played with the idea of changing the music to fit the moment, but Вanjo-Kazooie grabs it, runs with it and plants it square on the touchline.
Sound effects are also well done. Even though Banjo and Kazooie's little yelps and squeaks do start to wear thin after a while, they never quite go so far as to become annoying. The 'speech' of the numerous characters is put across with appropriate burbling noises as the text of their conversations appears in bubbles on screen; Banjo has a germless yokel drawl, Kazooie a dry parroty squawk, Bottles the mole a muffled Kenny-style mumble and Gruntilda a demented cackle. Even bit-part players like feathers and glass tumblers (I kid you not) get their own distinctive little wibbles.
As well as the spot effects, there is also great use of atmospheric background noise. Clanker's Cavern echoes with rusty squeaks and rattles as the metal muncher shifts against his bonds, Bubblegloop Swamp has an underpinning of mysterious croaks and gurgles from unseen swamp dwellers and, in a superb example of sonic subtlety, the higher you climb above Treasure Trove Cove, the quieter the music gets, until at the top of the island's lighthouse all you can hear is the wind blowing across the mountain. Sheer class.
In play, Banjo-Kazooie is very much of the Mario 64 school, though tightened up a great deal. Making the most difference is the vastly better camera control. Even though the basic functions are the same - rotate around Banjo, zoom in, zoom out - it's a lot smarter, most of the time avoiding the irritating habits of 3-0 cameras where they can't decide where to position themselves.
Annoyingly (and somehow inevitably), the few places where the camera really struggles to keep up with the action are the ones where you're at risk of losing a life if you make a wrong move. One particularly irksome section is in the depths of Clanker's Cavern, where air is scarce -a friendly fish provides bubbles for you, but because there's a huge block at the centre of the deep pool you're in the camera often gets stuck behind it, making it impossible for you to find the vital oxygen. Another takes place over a sea of instantly-lethal lava, where just as you start to negotiate a twisting path the camera often decides to throw an eppy.
These glitches aside, the camera does probably the best job to date in any 3-D platformer. Useful tricks include a 'look' mode where you get to see the world through Banjo's goofy eyes, which shows off the impressive amount of attention put into every object in the game, and by holding down the R button you get a kind of floating camera, making it easier to judge jumps, so most of the game will be spent with the shoulder button welded down.
Each of the levels has had a lot of time and effort spent to make them challenging without being overly frustrating. There's nothing more annoying in a platform game than having to make a series of precise jumps to reach a certain area, only to have one slight mistake force you back to the start. Banjo-Kazooie does have a few sections where careful jumps are needed, but the game is fairly forgiving of mistakes, and thankfully if you do screw up it never takes too long to get back into position for a second try.
Captain BK And His Band
Banjo-Kazooie is also quite a funny game, as in funny ha-ha. Much of it is Childrens ITV-level stuff, with lots of discussion of Gruntilda's underpants and personal hygiene, but the characters themselves are more appealing than anyone was expecting. Banjo's a bit of a cipher, which is par for the course for a game hero (be honest, Mario has no real personality at all, does he? Yelling "Mama mia!" and going droopy-eyed when he's tired isn't going to get Robert De Niro interested in the role), but Kazooie is a star, insulting everyone she speaks to and complaining vocally whenever something looks as though it might inconvenience her. Selfish, rude, lazy and hedonistic - she could almost be a real person!
Even though the overall theme of the game is squarely aimed at kids, there's still the odd bit of good oP British Carry On-style comedy for older (note that I didn't say 'more mature') players. One scene has a dried-up palm tree complaining about the lack of water, prompting Kazooie to enquire after the condition of his nuts, and there's also a talking toilet called Loggo who could have come straight from the pages of Vizi
It's this sort of humour that keeps Banjo-Kazooie from sinking into the kind of sanitised Disneyesque world occupied by Mario, where not only do bad things never happen, but bad thoughts are banned too. If Nintendo are Disney, which they would undoubtedly like to be, then Rare are Warner Bros - on the surface doing the same thing, but with just enough of an anarchic edge to keep them interesting. (Nobody mention Space lam, or the analogy collapses...)
The Summing Up Bit
It's a pity we didn't wait until we'd seen Banjo-Kazooie before we carried out last issue's updating of the Nindex scores. If we had, Mario 64 would have suffered rather more, since in comparison to Banjo-Kazooie it looks like Stephenson's Rocket beside a Eurostar.
It just goes to show what a difference two years can make. Mario 64 was the first game on the N64, and at the time people were absolutely frothing at the mouth to praise it as the greatest videogame ever written.
Now, it looks positively barren and simplistic. Even though Banjo-Kazooie is the same type of game, it's a far more immersive experience, and it's not just because the graphics are better. Mario's stark, angular landscapes made it obvious that you were playing a game, but Banjo-Kazooie spares no effort to convince you that you're exploring an actual world. A strange fantasy world, to be sure, but it's got an internal logic that was sometimes missing from Mario.
With Banjo-Kazooie so good, it makes you wonder what Rare plan to do to make their other cutesy adventure, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, an improvement. Based on what was on show at E3 (see last issue), the style of play is very similar, but while Banjo and Kazooie overcame the preconceptions that were formed based on the character designs ("A redneck bear? The hell?"). Conker still looks disturbingly twee. And those eyes, those mad staring eyes...
Just how much long-term play Banjo-Kazooie will ultimately offer is debatable, if only because it's the sort of game that will be played intensively from the moment it's taken from the box until it's been cracked. Once all the puzzle pieces have been found, there's not much incentive to go through the game and find them all again unless you're trying to improve on your completion time. Much of the game's challenge comes from trying to work out where all the items are and how best to reach them, but once you know, it's possible to clear out a whole world in a matter of minutes. In the short term, once you've opened up ust how much long-term play Banjo-Kazooie will ultimately offer is debatable, if only because it's the sort of game that will be played intensively from the moment it's taken from the box until it's been cracked. Once all the puzzle pieces have been found, there's not much incentive to go through the game and find them all again unless you're trying to improve on your completion time. Much of the
game's challenge comes from trying to work out where all the items are and how best to reach them, but once you know, it's possible to clear out a whole world in a matter of minutes. In the short term, once you've opened up a few levels there are several points that offer infinite life loops - go into the level, take the shortest route to an extra life, leave the level, re-enter the level ad infinitum. Since death comes fairly infrequently anyway once Banjo and Kazooie have got their full set of moves, the most common cause of the game over sequence is the inconvenient human need for sleep.
That shouldn't deter you from buying the game. Banjo-Kazooie is brilliant, plain and simple, and another example of why Nintendo have become so dependant on Rare -the company produces games that are every bit as good as Nintendo's own, if not better. And there's no higher, recommendation than that!
Banjo-Kazooie DownloadsBanjo-Kazooie download
Set to put in an appearance as part of Rare's four-game lineup at the American E3 show in May, a full year after it was first announced and six months after it was originally planned to go on sale. Banjo-Kazooie is at last nearing completion! Here's another batch of shots from the ever-secretive Rare, showing more of the bizarre characters inhabiting the game. Get ready for a redneck rampage real soon...
Question: How do you get to the entrance of Clanker's Cavern in Banjo-Kazooie? I've opened it and have two pipes sticking up from the water but I can't reach the pipes.
Answer: To reach the pipes you just need to use the double-jump (A button, then A again in mid-air).
Question: In Banjo-Kazooie, on Mad Monster Mansion, how do you open the chest in the attic?
Answer: You can't open it, foolish people! Gwa ha haah.
One of the very best games on the N64 - or anywhere -thanks to Rare's attention to detail. Fantastic platform action that you must own!
Rare's mastery of the N64's hardware is once again demonstrated in this vast, stunningly beautiful, and supremely playable Mario-alike.
At any time in the game, go back to Banjo's house and look at the pictures on the walls to access a cheats sub game.