Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Back in pack...and out of pack, too."

After Super Mario 64 revolutionized the 3-D platformer, famed developer Rareware (the developers behind the Donkey Kong Country series) released Banjo-Kazooie, a colorful and kid-friendly adventure-platformer that, despite its appearance, possessed an unprecedentedly excellent quality. The richly designed worlds, top-notch platforming, and clever puzzles moved the game to the front of the Nintendo 64's library. With the gaming generation winding down, Rare released the sequel, Banjo-Tooie to equally stellar quality. 10 years passed since the original Banjo-Kazooie game was released, and the folks at Rare (now working for Microsoft) re-released the classic platformer to the Xbox Live Arcade, while also promoting the brand-new Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts 360 game. Fans clamored and Rare delivered the superb sequel Banjo-Tooie to the Xbox Live Arcade in 2009. But after nearly 10 years, does Banjo and Kazooie's second adventure hold up?

Taking place two years after Gruntilda's defeat in Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie begins with the witch's speech-impaired lackey Klungo attempting to free her from her entombment. Banjo, Kazooie, and crew decide to play cards, when all hell breaks loose. Gruntilda's witch sisters Mingella and Blobbelda arrive in a giant drilling machine to free Grunty, and it isn't long before the witch is back, albeit in a skeletal form. In an act of initial revenge, Grunty blasts Banjo and Kazooie's house, killing off Bottles, the info mole who helped the duo in the first Banjo-Kazooie. To make matters worse, Grunty and her sisters aim to dry the Isle O' Hags up of energy using a giant energy ray and restore Grunty to her original form. It's up to Banjo and Kazooie to stop her and rescue the Isle O' Hags from Grunty's evil plan. Remarkably, Rare made Banjo-Tooie a tad bit darker, killing off a major character at the start. However, the story transcends the simple damsel-in-distress storyline of its predecessor, instead engrossing the game with some shadowy tones and even more self-referential humor. It's no longer a fairy tale world for the duo, as much more is on the line. Despite its departure from the blatantly kid-friendliness of the past game, Banjo-Tooie is a unique direction for Rare to go. The fourth-wall breaking humor is in tact, and though it may be a tad too dark for the younger crowd, anyone else will find the game to possess a unique new story.

Banjo-Tooie takes a great deal of its trappings from its predecessor along with other works like Donkey Kong 64. A majority of the game involves exploring the many worlds, earning skills, solving puzzles, and collecting items. Fortunately, the different skills are much more advanced than those in Banjo-Kazooie, which mostly relied on platforming over puzzles. The puzzles in Banjo-Tooie are remarkably intricate, but surprisingly intuitive. Some even involve finding shortcuts in between levels that transcend the simple hub world. What you do in one world could very well affect that of a different world, something that very few games have been able to master. The puzzles' intricacies are intimidating at first, I must say, but once you complete a puzzle, the sense of accomplishment is immense. Fortunately, if a puzzle is too difficult or your moveset isn't enough, you can always return to levels later. The non-linear pattern of gameplay is very flexible, allowing you to play your own way, while enjoying the game at a pace best suited for your skillset.

Probably Banjo-Tooie's most prominent of properties is the variety. There are just so many things to do while exploring the Isle O' Hags and its many worlds. One minute you'll be leaping over gaps and climbing along ledges, the next you'll be playing through a cleverly designed minigame. The levels themselves are incredibly diverse. Anything from a Mayan temple to a prehistoric valley to a hazardously-designed theme park is up for grabs. Once you dive into the worlds, you'll find plenty of things to do. Each world has a minimum of one minigame, along with a special spell from Mumbo Jumbo, a transformation from local shaman Humba Wumba, and an incredibly well designed boss fight. This all has the potential to be overwhelming, especially in the bigger levels, but you'll surely find something throughout the game worth checking out. Some levels even have first-person shooting sequences where Banjo uses Kazooie like a rifle. These stages are mindfully reminiscent of Goldeneye, and although there are only a few of them, they are welcome additions to the cornucopia of gameplay styles that Banjo-Tooie presents. The fact that Rare was able to bring so much to the table in terms of varied content is absolutely astounding. Even better, the gameplay doesn't show any sign of age. Banjo-Tooie is a perfect example of timeless gameplay variety, something that definitely sets an example for future games in the genre.

But for everyone who has played the original Banjo-Tooie, Rare and Microsoft added some of their classic game additions to spice up the XBLA release. You get the leaderboards, improved save system, and Achievements like the Banjo-Kazooie XBLA game, along with a vastly improved graphics upgrade. The framerate is superbly improved, making exploring the tremendous levels from the sky a visual treat. A minor issue is the lack of online multiplayer. Many of the minigames and even the minimalist shooting sequences would've made some great diversions on Xbox Live, but sadly, they're only available with local multiplayer. The biggest and most anticipated of inclusions is the return of the Stop N' Swop phenomenon. Originally meant to be used with the two Banjo-Kazooie series cartridges on the N64, the Stop N' Swop finally lets you put those special eggs in the Banjo-Kazooie XBLA game to good use. You can earn new rewards with Stop N' Swop, and it's remarkable that Rare kept their word and made it a reality. The sound effects can be a bit grating and there's only 200 Achievement points, but the game still manages to have plenty of XBLA tweaks that make for a better game. Overall, the subtle inclusions in the XBLA release of Banjo-Tooie truly make it the definitive edition of one of gaming's most amazing of adventure-platformers.

Pros
+ Amazing level design holds up well
+ Huge amount of collectibles to find
+ Excellent writing makes for hilarious moments
+ Improved graphics and better framerate
+ Absolutely superb collection of puzzles and challenges

Cons
- No online multiplayer
- Still only 200 points worth of Achievements
- Sound effects may run your patience thin

The folks at Rare didn't have much to prove upon releasing Banjo-Tooie. They could've produced a game with simply more levels and the same amount of puzzles and platforming and called it quits. Thank goodness they didn't. Everything in Banjo-Tooie is better than the original, and that's definitely saying something. The levels are bigger, the puzzles are more intricate, the platforming is tighter, the abilities are more plentiful, and the amount of replay value is huger. If you have yet to play this absolute gem of a video game, the XBLA version is by far the definitive version. Leaderboards, Achievements, and the long-awaited Stop N' Swop integration make for some great inclusions, but the core game, the game that made platformer fans weep in joy, remains completely in tact. The extremely few graphical flaws in the original Banjo-Tooie are virtually non-existent; you won't find framerate drops in the XBLA version. Everything from the huge and action-packed worlds to the challenging objectives to the massive amount of things to do makes the game tower over its 1998 predecessor and its XBLA counterpart. Whether or not you're a fan of the genre doesn't matter; there's so much variety in Banjo-Tooie that you'll no doubt find something worth going through again. All in all, pony up the 1200 Microsoft Points and purchase this piece of gaming greatness. You won't regret it.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/09

Game Release: Banjo-Tooie (US, 04/29/09)


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