Review by Phange
Due to some much-needed improvements, Banjo-Tooie has taken its rightful throne
Banjo-Kazooie was one of the finest games on the Nintendo 64, and many fans still consider it to be superior to Mario 64. Filled to the brim with excellent production values, it's no surprise that Rare would make a sequel to Banjo-Kazooie.
What we got in 2000 was a technically superior but largely unpolished hodgepodge of great ideas and somewhat questionable execution. Banjo-Tooie came out in the waning years of the Nintendo 64, an era marked by developers pushing the system far beyond its original scope. While Rare themselves wisely utilized the Expansion Pak in Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie tried to "have its cake and eat it too" so-to-speak by utilizing a similar graphics engine without the use of the expansion pak. As a result, the game ran poorly and lacked the polish of the original. Not to mention the disappointing lack of Stop n' Swop.
Nine years later, Banjo-Tooie has been reborn on Xbox Live Arcade. This port/remake is everything the original N64 pak wasn't. Not only has the framerate been solidified, the game in general feels much better-polished than before.
Generally-speaking, the last few years of a console's life is when developers push the system beyond its intended boundaries, and Banjo-Tooie was no exception on Nintendo 64. Because of this, Banjo-Tooie would be a passable Gamecube/Playstation 2 title, and Xbox 360's native HD output helps the game considerably.
The most important change, of course, is the stabilized framerate. The original game's framerate was so wildly inconsistent that many players were unwilling to stick through it until the end, which is a shame since the core gameplay is so solid. Now that Xbox Live Arcade has addressed this problem, Banjo-Tooie can be seen for the diamond-in-the-rough that it was.
A rarity for N64 games, Banjo-Tooie features real-time lighting, "morphable" 3D geometry, incredible draw distances and impressive textures (for the N64, at least). These features are even more impressive on XBLA because they're output in HD, which makes the game look stunning. Rare's art direction is also in full force, as Banjo-Tooie is easy on the eyes.
Banjo-Tooie's soundtrack is akin to Banjo-Kazooie's, though I personally find it less memorable. There are some quality tunes in here, and Rare's staple morphable-MIDI adds a lot to the charm of the game. In every stage there's a primary theme song which, when events are triggered or when Banjo goes somewhere different, will slightly change without interruption. It's a nice relic of an era where MIDI audio was still common.
When I was younger I was more forgiving to Banjo-Kazooie's sound effects, but now I find them intensely annoying. Kazooie's obnoxious chirping, in nearly all forms, is almost unbearable (no pun intended). However, if you're willing to survive these effects, there's a lot to enjoy as far as the soundtrack goes.
Banjo-Tooie most certainly feels different from Banjo-Kazooie. Gone are the relatively small, enclosed worlds. Instead, worlds are more like giant hubs for smaller areas and some of the worlds are even inter-connected with each other. While I would like to say that this grandiose scheme is an improvement, it's also a bit of a hassle since some areas (like the mine) are utterly confusing to navigate and the sheer number of tunnels and sub-areas make it even worse.
A bright side of the varied structure of Banjo-Tooie is that the goals required to get Jiggies (Banjo-Kazooie's form of Mario 64 Stars) are far more complex and engaging than Banjo-Kazooie's. Some new concepts work better than others, however. Though greatly improved with the Xbox 360's dual-analog control, the First Person Shooter sections are still a chore to play and not intuitive at all.
In some ways, Banjo-Tooie feels more like Rare's Donkey Kong 64 in structure and look. However, Rare wisely set the item collection to a minimum in this outing by opting to place "Notes" (another currency) in stacks of five or twenty (instead of individual pieces in Banjo-Kazooie) and Jinjos are now no longer a pre-requisite for Jiggies.
Banjo-Tooie isn't perfect, but it's hugely ambitious for a N64 game and it still shows on Xbox Live Arcade. Just as it pushed the N64 to its limits, this is the largest Xbox Live Arcade game and certainly one of the most complex.
There are a lot of gamers who couldn't get into Banjo-Tooie for a number of reasons. Fortunately, the chief among those (the framerate) has been completely resolved. As an XBLA game it also feels more coherent, and the inclusion of a genuine Stop n' Swop feature has finally completed the saga's most obnoxious omission.
Overall, this version of Banjo-Tooie is for those who missed out on the game the first time, or couldn't bring themselves to play through it. It's also a valuable piece of history as it represents the waning years of Rare's "golden age", so those who are fans of the developer will also appreciate some of the additional in-jokes it contains.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Banjo-Tooie (US, 04/29/09)
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