Ah, sequels. We love them or we hate them. We'll froth at the mouth in anticipation of more games that we love, and the release will either prove us right or make us swear of games forever. Any sequel, no matter how clever or amazing or game-changing, will invariably be compared to the original, for better or for worse.
Sometimes, though, sequels get things right. They improve upon the previous game, and they don't feel derivative or like cheap knockoffs. They feel fresh and new, like experiencing the first game all over again.
I couldn't wait to get my hands on Banjo-Tooie when it came out in 2000. I'd loved Banjo-Kazooie. It was my first game. This one had
to be good too.
And it was.
Whether it was better than Banjo-Kazooie is debatable, and an entirely different topic. More important is what we can learn about how to make sequels from the bear and bird's second outing.
1. Give the players more of what they liked
Everything Banjo-Kazooie had, Banjo-Tooie had more of. More eggs. More moves. More memorable side characters with funny voices. More transformations. More absurdity and leaning on the fourth wall. While it's possible to lean too hard in one direction and end up pandering entirely to the fans, it's also important to recognize where and how to deliver what the fans like and expect.
2. Bigger scale
Bigger isn't always better, but it's an easy way to add more to the game. I'm not saying games should pad their length (I'm looking at you, Phantom Hourglass), but most players will expect a sequel to up the ante from the last game, and scale can do just that. The worlds in Banjo-Kazooie were a good size, but Banjo-Tooie kicks it up a notch with worlds so sprawling and huge that teleportation pads are needed to properly navigate them, from the giant prehistoric Terrydactyland to the labyrinthine five-story factory complex of Grunty Industries.
The worlds, which were separate entities in Banjo-Kazooie, get a sense of connection in the sequel. Besides the train that links several of the worlds together, many worlds have secret paths that connect them, often to solve puzzles or access new areas. All this made those big levels feel more manageable, and some of the passages led to some nice "Ah-ha" moments. And the bosses were bigger too, literally in most cases, lumbering monsters that dwarfed our heroes. They may not have been difficult to figure out how to beat, but that didn't make beating them any easier. And man, was it cool.
Like I said, they were big.
There is, of course, the risk of getting too big too fast and constantly trying to top oneself, resulting in an absurd parody of what once was. Banjo-Tooie never feels like its trying too hard, and some games purposefully do over-the-top and do it well (the Metal Gear Solid series), but it is something to be wary of. Sequels can feel bigger without growing to the point where they collapse under their own increasingly gaudy weight.
3. Build logically on previous mechanics and ideas
Everyone expects sequels to have new things in them, something to keep the game feeling new. New things, be they mechanics, characters, or items, shouldn't be there for newness's sake. They should feel like logical and natural inclusions in the game world, building upon player's previous expectations and experiences. Perhaps the best example Banjo-Tooie presents is the split up mechanic. Banjo and Kazooie spent all of the first game together, Kazooie a constant passenger in Banjo's backpack. The two acted as one unit, despite being two characters. So it was only natural that they be able to separate, and that's just what the sequel gave us. The two could venture out on their own, each able to solve separate halves of puzzles or explore areas open only to one of them individually. They each got new moves, with Banjo utilizing his now-empty backpack in different ways and Kazooie now able to glide, jump higher, and hatch eggs (it sounds silly, but they make it work).
It's a natural extension of the previous game in terms of mechanics and flavor. Nothing feels forced.
4. Fulfill expectations, but have some surprises
Like most sequels, Banjo-Tooie follows a formula set up by the first game. An overworld, connecting levels, jiggies and notes, quiz show, final boss. Indeed, it would be strange if Banjo-Tooie had completely abandoned everything set up in B-K in favor of something entirely new. Likewise, Banjo-Kazooie dangled secrets and promises in front of us for the sequel to deliver on. The washing machine and T-Rex transformations, Gobi's mention of the 'lava world' and the Stop and Swap eggs and key (dissapointing though that conclusion was). Meeting those expectations establishes trust with the player.
Mumbo get new stick, this one not work.
This is not to say that Banjo-Tooie was a carbon-copy of its predecessor. Even similar aspects were mixed up to keep the player surprised. There might have still been a quiz show before the final boss, but the Tower of Tragedy was a very different sort of quiz show than Grunty's Furnace Fun. There were still minigames, but very different kinds from the last game (the first-person shooter levels comes to mind).
There are, of course, other things good sequels must do, such as eliminate that which doesn't work, but I couldn't find any good examples in Banjo-Tooie. Maybe that's just a sign that nothing bad existed in the previous game.
The elephant in this article is Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, the controversial third entry in the Banjo franchise. Why didn't I bring it up? Because I haven't played it. I'd like to write an article about Nuts and Bolts some day, perhaps about what NOT to do with sequels. We'll have to see.
Until then, what are you waiting for? Go out and dust off your N64s and relive Banjo-Tooie!