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Rare Replay: ‘Banjo-Kazooie’: 18 years later and still as charming as ever

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A bear with a bird in his backpack on a quest to save his kid sister from the grasp of an evil witch. At first glance it seems like quite the outlandish plot, but when compared with the rest of Rare’s work on the N64, it’s actually par for the course.

It’s no secret where the inspiration for Banjo-Kazooie came from. In 1996 Super Mario 64 changed gaming forever by ushering in the age of the 3D platformer, and in 1998 Rare took Nintendo’s mold, altered it ever so slightly, and created their own special little gem. SM64 had Mario traveling around the hub zone of Peach’s castle, and teleporting to differently themed worlds to collect stars in order to progress deeper into the game. Switch Peach’s castle with Gruntilda’s lair, and swap stars for puzzle pieces and you essentially have Banjo-Kazooie. Gold coins became music notes, red coins became jinjos, and the similarities don’t end there, but in spite of all their commonalities, there’s just something about Banjo-Kazooie that makes it stand out as so much more than a simple clone.

Banjo-Kazooie
Banjo-Kazooie is filled to the brim with charming characters and delightful humor. From Kazooie’s brash attitude that she uses with pretty much everyone she meets, to all the unique characters you encounter in the game’s nine different worlds, Rare infused the game with so much personality that you’ll have a hard time wiping the smile off your face as you play. It speaks volumes that side characters like Clanker the giant garbage disposal and Gobi the camel have more personality than any characters in Super Mario 64, including Mario himself. It’s no surprise that the minds behind this game would later go on to create Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Banjo-Kazooie certainly doesn’t push the envelope as far as Conker did in terms of raunchy humor, but they slipped a few double entendres and risqué jokes in there, like Kazooie’s reaction to learning that one of her abilities involves shooting projectiles out of her butt, or the oddly placed fact that Gruntilda’s favorite party trick is performing a striptease.

Much like the game’s characters, the nine different worlds you visit are all memorable and unique. From Clanker’s Cavern to Rusty Bucket Bay, all of the levels are vastly different in terms of both layout and theme. Upon entering each new zone, the player isn’t given direction on where to go or what to do. Each level has 10 puzzle pieces to find, but they can (for the most part) be collected in any order. Instead of being forced down a linear path, you’re encouraged to simply look around, go where you want to go, and discover at your own pace. Level design and complexity ramp up significantly as the game progresses, but at such a smooth pace that you really don’t notice it until you look back and compare the first couple of worlds to the last few you unlock. While Mumbo’s Mountain is incredibly small and can be 100% completed in just a few minutes, Mad Monster Mansion can have you searching for those last three music notes for hours. The game’s final stage, Click Clock Wood, is incredible and to this day stands out as one of the most interesting level designs in any platformer. The level is split up into 4 seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Due to changes in the climate, certain objectives are only obtainable during certain seasons, so players need to take mental notes and remind themselves to go back to so-and-so a place during a certain season. A few puzzle pieces require the player to perform tasks during all four seasons, and the music notes are spread out throughout all the seasons, so it’s easy to miss something. After you’ve completed all nine worlds, instead of going straight to the final boss fight, you get to compete in a quiz show! With Banjo-Kazooie you never know what’s going to be around the next corner, but you can be certain that whatever it is, it’ll be entertaining.

Banjo-Kazooie Mumbo Jumbo

Each level is accompanied by a set of catchy and timeless music tracks. Perhaps the coolest part of the game’s sound design is how the music dynamically changes depending on where you are in the level. When you dive underwater it’ll sound like your sound system has been submerged with you, and when you enter a house or a cave the track will seamlessly change to suit your new environment. In most games, sounds that repeat every time you pick up an item get annoying pretty quickly, but in Banjo-Kazooie, a game where you literally collect hundreds of things, the sound effects never get old. Like all other aspects of the game, the sound design has a certain charm to it that never expires.

Running, jumping, and climbing your way through the game’s worlds is a treat. All of the abilities at your disposal are both fun and useful, plus they’re animated just perfectly, and the game’s controls are tight and responsive. Unlike some other great platformers, Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t require pixel perfect jumps, but there are a few decently challenging segments in the later levels. The type of gameplay on display here is just timeless, and infinitely playable. Whether you played it on the N64 back in 1998, or just loaded up the game for the first time in 2016 on your Xbox One, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to have a good time.

Banjo-Kazooie N64_VS_XBOX
While many games from the PS1/N64 era have the reputation of aging poorly in terms of visuals, Banjo-Kazooie on the N64 still looks surprisingly good. Plus, in 2008 the game was re-mastered for the Xbox 360, so the version of the game that’s packaged in Rare Replay features 16:9 widescreen display and 1080p high definition resolution.

Whether playing the original or the re-master, there’s only really one gripe I have that really sticks out: the camera. Allowing the player to have complete control of their movement in a 3D space, while simultaneously letting them control the camera was still a relatively new concept back in 1998, and it shows. Often times the camera will suddenly jerk to one side, causing you to walk off a ledge and fall to your death. Whenever you find yourself in a confined area, the camera will zoom in super close, making any sort of maneuvering awkward. It certainly isn’t awful to the point where it’ll make you put the controller down and walk away, but you’ll probably die a handful of times due to the camera alone.

The development of Banjo-Kazooie was clearly a labor of love. From the excellent level design to the unhinged humor and everything in-between, all these amazing components come together perfectly and create an unforgettably charming experience that is, above all else, simply a blast to play.

-Matt De Azevedo

This article is part of our month-long spotlight on Rare Studios.

"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives." - Eddard Stark

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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