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Still Magic: Banjo Kazooie’s Click Clock Wood Twenty Years On

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I’m astonished that Banjo Kazooie (BK) marked its twentieth anniversary this year. I clearly remember being four-years-old, passively watching my mother, young still at twenty-three, ambling her way through its first few levels. It wouldn’t be until a few years later, with my two brothers and I sitting cross-legged in a row, basking in the cool light of our family’s TV, that we would collect enough jiggies to make it to the later levels. I fondly remember scouring and scavenging for mumbo tokens along the ivy-covered walls of the ghoulish Mad Monster Mansion. I also recall feeling my little eight-year-old heart race as I counted eighty-nine notes but had yet to collect those in the Rusty Bucket Bay’s infamous engine room. Yet, no level is as arguably as memorable as its penultimate challenge, the ethereal forest that cements the game’s fairy-tale quality, Click Clock Wood (CCW). While good game design can be observed, it must be also felt and experienced. CCW was my first true introduction to excellent game design. Even as an eager youngster, traversing the level with an underdeveloped understanding of game design, I understood that CCW was a step-up from its predecessors. It was, as they say, in a league of its own – so let’s explore what makes it so memorable.

It would be wrong to dig into the meat of CCW’s legacy without first describing the level. Aesthetically, CCW is reflective of its title – it is constituted by four areas that centre a giant tree-shrouded within a dense forest. As the player, you can experience this area in four different seasons by unlocking each season within the level’s hub area – the only level in the game to have such a space. Entering the hub world for the first time is magical – it’s characterized by a certain stillness, and an overwhelming feeling of isolation and singleness as one is confronted by four closed doors. Yet, there is also a certain coziness and intimacy that is generated by the grey forlorn sky and the colourful, overarching trees that are both luminous guardians and area boundaries.

Click Clock Woods

Click Clock Wood’s hub world differentiates it from the game’s other worlds.

Awe at the rich, colourful environment aside, it’s almost immediately understood what it is expected of the player – figure out some way to open the doors and momentarily leave this strange, still area. Exploring each of the doors, Bear & Bird are drizzled with light rain, snowflakes, and withered leaves instantaneously on their arrival to the hub’s seasonal areas. The switch that opens Spring is waiting patiently on the circular, crackled path that joins each of the doors, deceptively mimicking the shrouded wood surrounding it. Without hesitation, the switch is ‘beak bashed’ (a charming manoeuvre), and the door to Spring opens enticingly.

Banjo

Spring is the player’s first destination in the level, and thematically embodies what ‘Spring’ is popularly perceived as.


Entering Spring for the first time, the sheer size of the level’s main attraction – the gigantic tree, quickly becomes confronting. In contrast to previous levels, CCW feels spectacularly large. Coupled with a forest floor, lush in its viridescent green and lethargically patrolled by an enemy and one lone, bee protected honeycomb tower, the atmosphere of ‘Spring’ is established. The cherry on top however, is the immediate presence of a melodious Grant Kirkhope track. Heavy on the woodwind (but with just enough xylophone), Spring’s theme is a delightfully light ear-worm that spurs thoughts of the syrupy scents of blooming flowers, or the trickling of sunlight from winter’s leftover clouds. There’s Vivaldi’s ‘four seasons’ and this is Kirkhope’s – this track is re-arranged again and again throughout each of the seasons, all of them reflecting the popular perceptions of what they represent. As you enter each for the first time, the seasonal embodiment changes but Gruntilda’s challenge remains the same – Bear and Bird must ascend what looms before them.

The giant tree is the perfect playground for the player to express their platforming prowess.

Banjo and Kazooie need to travel upwards to complete jiggy-orientated objectives, and the only path available to them demands mastery in BK’s platforming mechanics. Jumping, gliding, back-flipping, talon trot-ing. All are required in ascending the tree and collecting the miscellanies that BK idiosyncratically boasts. One misstep can see the furry duo fall steep and splatter on the forest floor below, costing precious honeycombs or worse, meeting a grisly fate. This is particularly ominous in the original Nintendo 64 version as collection of musical notes (100 total in each world) are counted on a ‘most collected’ basis, resetting when the world is left (purposely or otherwise). Love it or leave it, collecting musical notes and other major collectables in CCW stirs feelings of intense pressure, even by today’s Dark Souls inspired difficulty trends. The slippery, sky suspended boardwalk particularly remains a memorable area for pulsing heart rates and breath-stealing concentration. There’s also nothing quite like sliding down the icy, snow-covered tree in Winter, courtesy of a snowball hit from everybody’s favourite enemy, Sir Slush the Snowman.

Sir Slush the Snowman strikes again and is a prime example of how the level uses strategic planting of enemies to increase its difficulty.

Moving on to story, narrative isn’t BK’s strong suit, with its primary narrative being more or less a generic hero’s journey. For those who haven’t played BK, the plot sees Banjo (a young male bear) and Kazooie (his female bird sidekick) try to rescue Tooty (Banjo’s sister, the fairest bear in the realm) from Gruntilda (an evil witch) who wishes to covet Tooty’s beauty for herself. It’s not the most sophisticated plot line but it lends itself to the comical nature of the game. There is a red-line of minor narrative woven within CCW that is absent from earlier levels, however. Now, it’s undeniable that other levels do incorporate some major events. Events such as Boggy’s resuscitation in winter wonderland Freezeezy Peak, freeing Clanker in the dank and dirty Clanker’s Cavern, and scouring for Captain Blubber’s lost gold in the glittering waters of Treasure Trove Cove are all memorable highlights that contribute to BK’s light-heartedness overall. However, all these events feel loose and unconnected when related to other tasks within their respective levels.

Banjo Kazooie

Caption: Jiggy tasks in Click Clock Wood are structured in a linear fashion and are informed by the logical succession of the seasons.

CCW fundamentally challenges this established formula, integrating a narrative structure that is intended to connect events in linearity. Successful completion of tasks in each of the world’s seasons concur with this structure. Watering a seed in Spring will eventually see it flower in Autumn, rewarding the player with a well-earned jiggy. Feeding the baby eyrie worms collected throughout Summer and Autumn will see them gift you another jiggy and fly away into the cool Winter night. Even with their jiggy purposes complete, the flower plant will have withered, the Zubba’s nest abandoned, and Mumbo having left to seek out warmer lands in Winter, exist as merely three of many neat details in this meticulously designed world. It’s also worth noting that CCW feels like a bridge between BK and Banjo Tooie, with the sequel taking CCW’s penchant for intertwined tasks and extending them further with jiggies being achieved through tasks completed across numerous worlds. In retrospect, CCW indicated how Rare intended to expand upon and improve BK’s established design formulas, cementing its place as an abnormality among worlds.

Even Mumbo is shown to be participating in the level’s effervescent seasonal themes.

On a final note on jiggies, CCW does largely follow the standard formula established throughout the game. Some jiggies require tasks to be completed, while others simply lie about, waiting to be discovered. I found myself thoroughly searching throughout the level for jiggies: climbing the tree in all seasons, diving beneath the lake, checking in with Nabnut and the other idiosyncratic characters to ensure I hadn’t missed any hints. Although I mentioned that CCW incorporates a linear structure, it’s up to the player to uphold it – once all the door switches have been beak-bashed, the player is afforded complete freedom in which season they wish to explore.

Searching the level high and low for jiggies can be frustrating due to its size.

As a result, unlike levels as compact as Mumbo’s Mountain, or with highly intuitive pathways (such as Bubble Gloop Swamp), searching for major collectables in CCW can become frustrating. While it is an outstanding level, it isn’t without its flaws – the repetition of the tree climb becomes tedious, some level spaces are abnormally sparse and lack purpose, and some design elements (Spring’s leaf bud platforms, for example) are a bit cheeky – they’re unnecessary in elevating the difficulty of the level. Shout-out to the Zubba hornet fight also, as I’m sure that’s caused even the most confident player a sudden pang of terror. Regardless, I maintain that the positive elements outshine the bad, and I feel I can’t reassert enough the impression of mastery that Rare conveys in level design in the flow of the level.  

In entering the hub world for the final time, with each door opened, and every jiggy collected, I feel both sombre and powerful. There’s this sense of utter suspension – in a rare twist, it is Banjo that is finally delegated a power; the ability to manipulate when he and Kazooie experience the seasons.

Banjo Kazooie Review

Visiting the hub area after the level is completed is bittersweet, signaling the beginning of the end of a classic platforming adventure.

In a way, CCW is a conflicting metaphor for time. In forcing the player to traverse four seasons, not necessarily in the same order, it conveys the relative instability and flexibility of our temporal narratives. Alternatively, the player must unlock Autumn before Winter, Summer before Autumn, Spring before Summer. There is genuine comfort derived from the ensured succession of the seasons, a routine forced upon even the most liberal schedule. Yet, while it feels natural to attach numerous meanings to games as we age, it’s difficult for me to perceive CCW as anything other than a last collective ‘hurrah’, a celebration of the gameplay BK offered, and the jewel that sits squarely in its crown. Whether you’re curious, nostalgic, or have never heard of the title, Click Clock Wood is one of many reasons that Banjo Kazooie remains a classic platformer, no matter the ever-turning trends of development, creativity, and platforming – much like the four seasons themselves.

— J. L. Elliott

J. Elliott is a PhD student in Media and Communication. When she’s not fueling her caffeine addiction, you’ll usually find her reading, writing, or resisting (but ultimately succumbing to) the urge to re-play Bloodborne, Dead by Daylight, The Witcher 3, or Nier: Automata again.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jacob

    January 14, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Nice analysis. I came by accident, trying to figure out why I thought it was “Tick Tock Woods”. Making the analogy to Dark Souls is interesting, Click Clock Wood is one of the worst to get all the notes because it’s a marathon of “a” level. They even nerfed the XBox version (notes are collected across deaths) because people aren’t good enough anymore! For shame.

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Game Reviews

‘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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