I Am Builder!
Behold gamers, the most overlooked and underrated game of 2008. From top to bottom, a complete experience. For the small price that keeps dropping as I write this. You know what is the worst part about it? People wanted something else. Where Banjo succeeds, I can’t recall any other game doing. It could be how it looks, although it couldn’t look any better. It might be how it controls, although it couldn’t control any better. And it might not be a traditional Banjo game, although I don’t think it ever needed to be.
The art style is no different than other games. You either like it or hate it. It’s fine. But for the purpose it serves, it’s just stellar. The levels are combinations of contraptions and patchwork buildings. I love that. I really do. To me it means someone worked hard on this game and with their own ideas, and created the bizarre things you see. Even the Jiggie holders are very impressive. It shows creativity. Everything looks unique. Nothing in any game is quite as impressive. The other thing is just the graphics. It looks fantastic. The bright colors, the large environments, and the incredibly clear textures, all are amazing. That’s the best word to describe the game technically. It looks like a Pixar cartoon.
If anything was going to be the least valid criticism, it was always going to be the controls. The people that don’t like the way the game plays probably didn’t consider that it had to be one style for all kinds of vehicles. Cars, boats, and planes all had to be combined into one….I’ll call it a driving model. And so that one driving model is a way to simplify that part of the game. It obviously makes it easier to build and use other vehicles. Focusing on the creation means you could ignore how the vehicle might have controlled if you put wings on the front instead of the back, or too much weight on one side of a car. It’s so complicated that in fact, the way the game handles and controls is brilliant. I really feel that if any criticism was completely invalid, it was that one.
The vehicle creation tends to lean on the verge of “Oh my goodness, why didn’t anyone do this before?” It’s nothing short of spectacular. In the first three hours or so, it’s narrowly focused on very basic objectives where you could just use what the game has available for vehicles. I think it is this period of time where the game turns people off. This is where everyone decides that the game isn’t for them. Unfortunately, the game only picks up after those sections. So my guess is if someone didn’t like it, they just didn’t play it long enough. Usually that can be a goofy argument, but I really think it’s valid here. After you unlock better parts, and more of them, it turns into this thing where all I wanted to do is push the limits of the game. Many times I found myself wondering “Will they even let me do this?” And the answer was always yes. The things I’ve built for specific missions are incredible contraptions that I allowed myself to do. Having that freedom allowed me to tackle specific types of quests. One involved protecting the Nutty Acres statue. Rather than fight the airplanes in the sky, I decided instead to build a giant flying box. I attached a shield to this box and landed it over the top of the statue. As the planes dived they would run into the shield and it prevented them from doing any damage. The game allowed me to do that as opposed to using force. Incredible! Another one wanted the player to protect one of the animals as they ran through a small course. Instead of building a tank to shoot everything, I build a car with some blowers on front. I pushed the enemies away from the little runner guy. There are many situations like that where sometimes the easiest combat is no combat at all. One other quest wanted me to push a ball into a goal with a boat. Rather than use just any boat, I built a vehicle that could suck the balls into my front basket. I was able to push around 5 balls at once, rather than a single ball. It’s this kind of freedom that allows for a totally unique experience every time. And it works at its best when you build very complex things that aren’t difficult at all. Any one of my machines took no more than ten minutes. You can place engines and tanks, ammo, and gadgets, anywhere on the vehicle. Everything works no matter where it goes. I even did the dominoes mission, which might be my favorite one. And ultimately I just built a helicopter that shot grenades into four different directions. I landed in the circle, and fired away! I can’t believe they let me do that!
It all comes together with the writing because if your patient enough to read everything, it’s shockingly good. I have trouble thinking of any non-RPG recently that was this good at what it did. It’s funny, it’s self-referential, and honestly it makes jokes for gamers. I love that. It’s nice to know that as games become more saturated and mainstream there will always be developers willing to throw in little things for the rest of us. And so for us, we get jokes about past Banjo games and a certain Italian plumber. And Klungo’s , a place built just for us. Also a place that is actually kind of fun! The story, you couldn’t do anything with Banjo that hasn’t already been done. So why not pull off the L.O.G. thing instead? It’s a lot of fun and never takes itself seriously.
The multiplayer is maybe the one part of the game that could be the weakest. I had fun with it, but all it consists of is a combination of mini-games and races. I enjoyed it, but the experience was a little difficult. It’s hard to find a match and when you finally do it requires a lot from the other players for it to be fun. The replay sharing is fantastic also. For any of the quests, you can watch replays of how the top scorers did the mission. And you can even download their blueprints, which you can then use if you have the parts. As the game goes on the quests get much harder and much more complex. This feature really makes those easier. And the game is almost meant to be broken. In a good way, it just goes to show how creative people are with stuff. Minute long missions could be completed in a few second in some cases.
After no less than 30 Hours in Banjo, I’m ready to keep playing. After all the build-up of what the game was it really delivered. The idea that this can exist and sell less copies then one of those movie games is just ridiculous. This might be the deepest experience of 2008 and nobody really cares. Remember how everyone ignored Beyond Good and Evil, or Psychonauts, and now they just praise it? Well, for those of us that remember, gamers were pretty quick to ignore both of them at the time. And those same people go on forums today to praise them. This is the 2008 equivalent. New ideas come along so infrequently, and it’s too bad that when they do most gamers never see it.