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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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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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