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Review: Banjo-Tooie (XBLA)

2:00 PM on 05.13.2009 // Ashley Davis

I don't know, but I've been told
Banjo-Tooie is kind of old
But now it's back on XBLA
Should you go out and get it today?

Read on for the answer!

Banjo-Tooie (XBLA)
Developer: 4J Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Released: April 29, 2009
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points

Banjo-Tooie takes place two years after the end of Banjo-Kazooie, and after all this time, Gruntilda is still trapped under the rock that crushed her after being kicked out of her lair. But soon after the game starts, she is saved by her two witchy sisters, who take her skeleton away to their home on the Isle 'O Hags to try and restore her body. Consequently, Banjo and Kazooie's home is destroyed in the process, giving them the first in an eventually long list of reasons to track the witches down and stop them.

Tooie's story is quite a bit darker than that of its predecessor, which serves as a bit of foreshadowing as to how the gameplay has matured as well. Tooie is the same old Banjo-Kazooie formula left to settle and grow into a much fuller version of itself. In many ways, this is a great thing.

In comparison to what the first game had to offer, the sequel is bursting at the seams with things to see and do. The worlds are enormous and have several different subareas to explore. The set of moves from the original game is topped off with at least 20 new ones, along with four new eggs for Kazooie to shoot that range from fire-endowed eggs to Kazooie-shaped guided time bombs. The transformations are as varied and awesome as ever, from fan-favorite T-rex to the washing machine that first appeared as a joke in the first game. There are even two shamans to help the bird and bear, as opposed to only having Mumbo Jumbo. However, Banjo-Tooie is the perfect case of bigger not always being better.

Sure, the game worlds are massive. They are interesting to traverse and offer a lot of variety in their Jiggy puzzles. However, they are so big that you may find yourself getting absolutely lost in them. This is a bit of a problem now that the difficulty of completing each world has been cranked up.

While the idea of collecting of Jiggies itself may be the same song and dance, Banjo-Tooie does not hold your hand through the collecting process. Finding them is a much more complicated matter this time around. There are hints located in the pause menu, but they only tell you so much. You're likely to check every nook and cranny of a level before realizing that the one you are looking for requires a move you have not yet learned, or an item you should have found in another world. It's really all a bit overcomplicated.

Backtracking is required for a big percentage of the game's Jiggies. Gone is the satisfying feeling of completing a world in its entirety before moving on to the next. Tooie forces you to go back and forth between the worlds more times than you may care to. This makes for some interesting puzzles that connect unrelated worlds together, but it also makes for some frustrating ones if you don't know exactly where you need to go or how long you will have to wait before you find what you need to proceed.

There are also a few control issues where egg aiming is concerned. When you switch into aiming mode, the left stick becomes extremely sensitive to movement. This makes it very difficult to target a moving enemy, particularly if they're moving around above you. This would only be a minor setback if it were not for the fact that first-person aiming is used quite often throughout the game.

As far as graphics go, the game looks absolutely beautiful in its XBLA form. Everything is much less jaggy, while still retaining the charming look of the blocky 64-bit era. I am not familiar with the framerate issues that the N64 version of the game had, as this was my first playthrough of the game, but everything seems to run smooth as silk on the Xbox 360. This may make a repurchase of the game worthwhile to those who may have found the original version unplayable.

The fully functional Stop 'n' Swop feature may also be of interest to some of you. It certainly was one of the selling points of the game for me, and while I don't want to go into any spoilers about what the eggs actually do, they are a pretty neat feature, if only for their historical value. Don't hype yourself up for it too much though, as you'll surely be a little disappointed in the end.

Banjo-Tooie's gameplay is a mid-point between the simplicity of Banjo-Kazooie and batshit insanity of Donkey Kong 64, though it can be immensely frustrating like the latter game a lot of the time. If you're a fan of Banjo-Kazooie, there is no guarantee that you will enjoy the second game in the same way. There are many things about Tooie that you will find familiar, and yet so many other things that are completely different.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my first time playing through the sequel, and as a huge Banjo-Kazooie fan, I'm still not sure quite what to think of it. At some points, I loved the added depth and challenge to the old formula, and at other times was frustrated to no end because of all the backtracking that is required of the player. I can easily acknowledge the fact that it is better than Banjo-Kazooie in many ways, but something about it keeps me from letting Tooie top the first game as being entirely superior.

If you're a fan of the Nintendo 64 version of Banjo-Tooie, you don't need me to tell you that the game is great, or whether or not it is worth buying for the first or second time. Banjo-Tooie XBLA is a very faithful port that fixes a lot of the original game's problems and adds a few new things via Stop 'n' Swop. If you're a fan of Banjo-Kazooie that never got to play the sequel the first time around, or someone who is new to the series, approach this release with a little caution. I would recommend the XBLA version of Banjo-Kazooie instead, but if you can deal with some frustrating game design and love collecting and platforming, you will most certainly fall in love with Banjo-Tooie like so many N64 owners did back in 2000.


7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Ashley Davis,
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