Sunday, November 30, 2008

Revisiting a bear and a bird's first tale... The Banjo-Kazooie XBLA Review

Ten years ago, the original Banjo-Kazooie bust into the gaming scene by Rare for the Nintendo 64. It was the developer's return to the genre that put themselves to the map, which is the platformer. While it is their first 3D platformer, it was a great fan favorite on Nintendo's system using what Super Mario 64 did as a template to take the genre to different heights. It introduced us to the bear, Banjo, and his bird buddy, Kazooie, as they attempt to save his sister Tooty from the clutches of Gruntilda the witch. Now that Banjo is back in a big and better way in Nuts & Bolts for the Xbox 360, Mircosoft and Rare, with 4J Studios doing the development, decided to re-release their first adventure on Xbox Live Arcade to bring fans and new players to the franchise. This XBLA port is a great nostalgic trip for those like me who played it ten years ago and also a great way to introduce players to the Banjo-Kazooie universe.

Microsoft and Rare decided to let this port be free if you pre-ordered Nuts & Bolts. Otherwise, the game is 1200 Microsoft Points (fifteen dollars) for those who didn't do that. 4J Studios did a great job of making the original 360-friendly eliminating any Nintendo material (well except the Game Boy when selecting a file) and making the controls familiar and even simpler for those who experienced it the first time around. The game's core content remains the same of Banjo and Kazooie transversing through Gruntilda's Lair and the nine diverse worlds collecting jiggys (puzzle pieces) and music notes to progress through the game. The game's story and personality also remains unchanged with different characters that need help, Mumbo Jumbo changing Banjo to different animals pending on the world, and also the humor. Quite simply, the gameplay still holds up to today's gaming standards especially for the platformer genre since there isn't as much platformers in this current generation.

Even though the core gameplay still holds up today, the same frustrations from ten years ago are still here and it is the non-platforming elements. Flying and swimming are still a pain to control at times when trying to precise. This is usually the case for the swimming levels like Clanker's Cavern and Rusty Bucket Bay when trying to get those last notes or Jinjos to complete the level as one bad move in the water could often lead to a lost life. As for the flying, it is also frustrating at times with its turning and mistiming a Beak Bomb because the angle wasn't right. Aiming with the eggs is also another frustrating aspect that is still in this port when trying to get the angle right for the shot. Rare actually started going crazy in the collect-a-thon department in Banjo-Kazooie with collecting eggs, feathers, and Mumbo tokens, but it wasn't as overboard as let's say Donkey Kong 64. Despite these frustrations, the jumping and combat are the game's greatest strengths regarding its gameplay.

The original Banjo-Kazooie had a secret feature that is supposed to link up with its sequel Banjo-Tooie, but unfortunately, this feature, called Stop n' Swop, never really took shape on the Nintendo 64. For this XBLA port, Stop n' Swop makes its return and actually has a purpose that getting these secret eggs and the ice key will give you special parts for Banjo and Kazooie's new adventure, Nuts & Bolts. In addition, normal progression through the game also unlocks new gamer pictures for the player which also involves getting the achievements. Speaking of achievements, they are pretty much easy if you 100% the game getting all jiggys, music notes, extra honeycomb pieces to increase Banjo's health, and doing the bonus puzzles Bottles give you back in Spiral Mountain. Normally, it will take players eight hours to beat the game, but at least ten to twelve hours getting everything.

I was really impressed of the overhauled graphics for this Live Arcade port. The game has been cleaned up for the 360 with no jaggies and full widescreen support. While it still looks a Nintendo 64 game, it is definitely an improvement on the 360. With the cleaned up visuals, the game runs at a crisp 60 frames per second, but slowdown does occur at frequent times when swimming and even on the select file screen. This slowdown usually happens when running the game at 1080i, but supposedly gone when running at 720p or lower. The camera, typical of the platformer genre, can be bad at times when trying to get the perfect angle, but it mostly works well even though the camera controls like in the Nintendo 64 with the right stick acting like the C buttons. I hoped this port had full right stick camera control like today's games, but I guess 4J Studios had to keep it similar for purists.

The sound of this port remains unchanged maintaining the same charming soundtrack it had ten years ago. Back when this game came out in 1998, Rare did a great job of mixing a different version of a certain song in the same exact stage like running around in Gruntilda's Lair and then going in water allowing the music to change. This is also the case when visiting the nine themed worlds with varied versions of the background music. In the Nintendo 64 era, voice acting was a rarity and it clearly shows in Banjo-Kazooie when everyone talks like they're grunting to the point it gets a little annoying, but I'm glad they kept that in this game and Nuts & Bolts maintaining its charm and personality. The other sound effects can also be a little annoying when Banjo jumps around either single-handily or with Kazooie. Other than that, the sound still feels fine as it was ten years ago.

Banjo-Kazooie is still a great game to play in today's era of gaming as a nostaglic trip for those who experienced it ten years ago revisiting those great memories it provided. The port is handled very well by 4J studios with overhauled graphics and taking advantage of the connectivity with the other Banjo games in the franchise with the Stop n' Swop feature. The game still has the same frustrations with the non-platforming elements and moments of slowdown in certain parts of the game. If you pre-ordered Nuts & Bolts, you're getting a great deal getting this game for free and since the new entry is 40 bucks, it is perhaps the best gaming deal of the year. For those who didn't reserve it, you're still getting a great 12 hour experience for fifteen dollars to newcomers of the franchise and people dying to play a traditional platformer in this current generation. Who of thought that a bear and a bird could still be awesome when we are at a time when violence fills the gaming landscape. It is just nice and refreshing to play something that doesn't have guns or profanity.

Score = 8/10

  • A great 360-friendly port of the N64 game
  • The Stop n' Swop feature finally matters especially if you're playing Nuts & Bolts
  • Cleaned up graphics and widescreen support
  • Core gameplay still holds up
  • A great deal if you pre-ordered Nuts & Bolts
  • Non-platforming elements still feel frustrating as they were ten years ago
  • Slowdown frequently happens at certain moments of the game (usually during swimming).
  • For some people, 1200 Microsoft Points (15 bucks) might be too much considering it is a 12 hour game pending on their interests

No comments: