As the dedicated, die-hard Banjo
fan I often claim to be, it pains to me admit that I never finished Banjo-Tooie
when I was young, and my prior experience with this spectacular sequel is brief. I played the original religiously back in the day. The N64 kid on YouTube? That’s the US version of myself when receiving my N64, Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie
at Christmas. It stands as one my all-time favourite games – and if there’s a game that was even better than Super Mario 64 in my memory, you know that we’re talking serious.
I’ll just come out and say already that Banjo-Tooie
truly lives up to the original. Even with euphoric nostalgia glazing over my eyes when I think of the original, threatening to create bias in my mind, I am happy to say that Tooie
is better than I could have anticipated. Better than I could have dreamed
Two years after defeating rhyme-obsessed witch Gruntilda, Banjo and Kazooie are relaxing at home and playing cards with their homies. Meanwhile, faithful thug Klungo is outside attempting to salvage Grunty’s corpse from beneath the boulder that crushed her in the first game. His efforts in vain, Gruntilda’s witch sisters Mingella and Blobbelda arrive and assist by using by using their magic to lift the rock. Now a living skeleton, evil emerges once more as Grunty is determined to evoke revenge on our heroes. She plans on using her sisters’ dastardly “Hag 1” machine to absorb their life force, returning her to her hideous former self. Investigating the tremors from the witches’ arrival that have disturbed their deceitful game of poker, Mumbo Jumbo is spotted by the villains and dashes back to Banjo’s house to warn the bear and bird.
A deadly bolt is cast from the wicked ensemble, destroying our heroes' home and the group manages to escape just in time... all except mole mate Bottles, who has now met a most unfortunate demise and a new vessel in his now-ghostly form. At the destruction of their humble abode, the ruined state of Spiral Mountain and the death of their friend, Banjo and Kazooie are ready for some revenge of their own.
This game is everything a sequel should be: more ambitious, more innovative and more challenging. Allow me to break down those points, starting with “ambition”. Tooie
’s worlds are gigantic
compared to the original. Of course, this applies to the game’s length. I spent over 30 hours playing Banjo-Tooie
, easily double the time it takes me to complete Kazooie with a 100% score.
Levels are also cleverly interconnected, meaning tasks in the lead-up to earning a Jiggy isn’t restricted to a single area. A thirsty dino in Terrydactyland will beg you for water, which you’ll send by making it rain in Cloud Cuckooland. You'll free a UFO from Glitter Gulch Mine in order to later ride it for a mini-game in WitchyWorld. With bigger playgrounds also comes new warp points, which are very handy since you’ll completing tasks all across the worlds to earn Jiggies.
You’ll find yourself going back to previous worlds after gaining a new move or ability in order to retrieve a previously-inaccessible Jiggy. There is a sense of excitement when finding one of Jamjars’ silos, which are this game’s answer to Bottle’s molehills in Kazooie. You really feel that you can achieve what was not possible before, and curiosity to the extension of the new move’s usage develops.
There are 24 new moves to learn, including new projectile eggs (fire, ice, grenade and clockwork), and new shoes. On top of the moves from B-K
that are available from the start, this may sound overwhelming – is this a platformer or a spin-off of Tekken
? However, instead two dozen new attacks to remember, many of these additions improve your platforming abilities with such subtlety that it will come naturally. Some are simple as allowing Banjo to climb ledges or Kazooie to leap higher – but bring a great sense of usefulness with their simplicity.
So how does Banjo-Tooie
“innovate”? The game emphasises exploration, and this extends to the use of moves. Figuring out what technique to use in each situation gives that retro feeling of “ohhh, THAT’S what I’m supposed to do!”, accompanied with a proud sense of achievement. In this sense, Tooie
can be considered a puzzle game almost as much as it is a platformer.
With Spiral Mountain and Grunty’s Lair in ruins, a new over-world is introduced. Isle O’ Hags takes our heroes to the great outdoors with a massive land of connected islands, that’s just as much a joy to traverse and explore as the worlds it inhabits.
As with the prior instalment, the levels all have a specific theme. Before we faced watery depths in Clanker’s Cavern and ghouls in Mad Monster Mansion; now we have Witchyworld’s twisted and decrepit theme park, Terrydactyl’s land of dinosaurs and Hailfire Peaks’ duality of elements. Exploring these worlds sometimes feels like you’re in some vast RPG, if RPG’s had talking animals and objects spouting hilarious nonsense.
Transformations return, but this time they are performed by Mumbo’s rival female shaman, Humba Wumba. As memorable as ever, our anthropomorphic allies are metamorphosed into a T-Rex, a washing machine and a torpedo-firing submarine, amongst many more.
With his duty stolen from him, what is the role of Mumbo Jumbo this time around? Our skull-faced scallywag now takes on a more active performance as a playable character. After giving him a Glowbo (little creatures that have now replaced Mumbo Tokens) and requesting his help, you can control Mumbo and zap enemies with his magic staff. More importantly, he can also cast magic spells at specifically-placed Mumbo Pads, modifying the environment or allowing access to a new area for Banjo and Kazooie.
Finally, the “challenge”. The difficulty has been ramped up in comparison to Banjo-Kazooie
, but players of the first game, after developing the platform skills required, will certainly appreciate it. That’s not to say newcomers should feel excluded, as the higher challenge is not bring frustration in any sense, nor does it stem from the player continuously dying. This time Rare have scrapped using lives and there isn’t even a Game Over screen any more. Even so, at times it’s easy to forget that this was primarily aimed at a children demographic.
Though I still suffered many deaths from falling and a fully-depleted life bar, as I mention it’s also mentally that the game will test you - solving the solutions to tasks and figuring out where to go and for what purpose.
Unfortunately, there is one case where Tooie
’s difficulty and larger level design become its detriment. If there’s one negative thing to be said about this game, it can be summed up in two words: Grunty Industries. A level near the end of the game, I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get inside the level. A huge factory stands in the centre of this level, where the majority of the world’s content lies. When I got inside the factory, I found its grey industrial environment comparatively dull after the six amazing levels before it. It took me yet another hour to get my first Jiggy, and many more to obtain the other collectibles. Sure, with enough Jiggies from the other worlds I could have easily skipped this one and moved onto the next, but following from my appraisal of the game’s fun exploring factor, that’s not exactly the spirit of a Banjo
After a boring and frustrating start, the level does eventually open up and I began to figure out what to do without continuously getting lost and confused. Many players may admire this level’s complexity, which on a few occasions does shine through. Had this been presented more forgivingly, it could have been a great level alongside the rest.
Thankfully, the game doesn’t end on a sour note, as the final world, Cloud Cuckooland, is perhaps my favourite in the entire game. The weirdness and imagination that runs through this level makes it by far the most amusing and memorable. The final boss was also a pleasure to battle through, again with just the amount of difficulty to cause me to die a number of times but addictively come back from each death readier than before. My heart was beating as not only did my health drop to a single honeycomb unit, the boss also came back for more when I thought I had already won. Rising as the victor and finishing the game’s story stands as one of my satisfying gaming moments.
Thanks to the HD re-paint, the game still holds up as the vibrant, colourful and wonderfully eccentric game it’s always been. With Rare’s iconic character design, seeing those classic goggly eyes again will please your very own retinas.
The game’s soundtrack is absolutely superb, which will come as no surprise to fans of the first game. On top of being instantly lovable, catchy tunes, each track embraces the theme of each setting and really emphasises its impact of absorbing the player. Mayahem Temple’s theme song incorporates chanting into its composition that brings out a sense of desolation from the jungle surrounding the temple, while Jolly Roger’s Lagoon welcomes you into its quaint little town with an upbeat and light-hearted jingle.
Another excellent attribute to the music, first established in the prior game, is the iconic sense of flow that Rare constructs within its soundtrack. The central melody will continue playing but the instruments will change as you enter different environments within a world; a calmer xylophone version of a track will play when you delve under water, or a slower, tension-inducing version upon entering a creepy cave.
Aside from one anomalous level, Banjo-Tooie
is a complete joy from start-to-finish. There's still so much more to talk about: mini-games, boss battles, cheats, multi-player, Stop N' Swop... It’s difficult to describe the level of depth and ingenuity at play here to really do the game justice, and so I conclusively urge anyone with the MS points to spare to relive this 3D platforming classic. It stands as a prime example of a genre that has been mostly forgotten about this generation, and why this bear and bird more than deserve to stand beside (or indeed above) Mario in the hall of N64 greats.