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 64s 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 Kazooies second adventure hold up?
Taking place two years after Gruntildas defeat in Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie begins with the witchs speech-impaired lackey Klungo attempting to free her from her entombment. Banjo, Kazooie, and crew decide to play cards, when all hell breaks loose. Gruntildas witch sisters Mingella and Blobbelda arrive in a giant drilling machine to free Grunty, and it isnt long before the witch is back, albeit in a skeletal form. In an act of initial revenge, Grunty blasts Banjo and Kazooies 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. Its up to Banjo and Kazooie to stop her and rescue the Isle O Hags from Gruntys 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. Its 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 isnt 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-Tooies 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 youll be leaping over gaps and climbing along ledges, the next youll 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, youll 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 youll 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 doesnt 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 wouldve made some great diversions on Xbox Live, but sadly, theyre 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 its remarkable that Rare kept their word and made it a reality. The sound effects can be a bit grating and theres 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 gamings most amazing of adventure-platformers.
+ 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
- No online multiplayer
- Still only 200 points worth of Achievements
- Sound effects may run your patience thin
The folks at Rare didnt have much to prove upon releasing Banjo-Tooie. They couldve produced a game with simply more levels and the same amount of puzzles and platforming and called it quits. Thank goodness they didnt. Everything in Banjo-Tooie is better than the original, and thats 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 wont 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 youre a fan of the genre doesnt matter; theres so much variety in Banjo-Tooie that youll 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 wont regret it.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Banjo-Tooie (US, 04/29/09)
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