By Mento 2 Comments
Welcome to the Bucketlog! It's going to be 2019's year-long blog series, focusing on games I've been meaning to play since forever. I've put together a list derived from a mix of systems, genres, and vintages because it's starting to look like 2019 might be the first "lean" year for games in a spell (though time will tell whether that pans out to be true) and I figured this would be a fine opportunity to finally tick off a few items I've had on my various backlog lists/spreadsheets for longer than I'd care to admit.
- Game: Rare's Banjo-Tooie.
- System: N64 (via Xbox 360).
- Original Release: 2000-11-20.
- Time from Release to Completion: Eighteen years, six months, and fifteen days.
Leaving it a little late, but we have one more item on the docket for May: the monthly bucketlog entry. I've spent most of May playing games released just after the new millennium, so why break that trend? Banjo-Tooie is the sequel to Rare's original "bear and bird" 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie, and was released towards the tail-end of the N64's lifespan. Being put out on the shelves around the time when game stores were already looking to make space for the shiny new PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast libraries (not to mention Nintendo's own GameCube, which was launched in the US almost exactly a year after Banjo-Tooie) in conjunction with the annoying trend of Nintendo exclusive games taking forever to drop in price meant that Banjo-Tooie was a game that I never saw discounted (along with its 2000-01 N64 contemporaries Kirby 64, Paper Mario, and Rare's last N64 game Conker's Bad Fur Day). Thus, it sat there on display in my local GameStop equivalent with a full price sticker tag for several months before one day vanishing completely with the rest of the N64 stock. An irritation, but thankfully most of those games were later rereleased in various digital marketplaces for something far more reasonable than their immutable £40 RRP cost. In Banjo-Tooie's case, it was released on the XBLA marketplace in a slightly updated form in 2009 (this version would also appear in the Xbox One Rare Replay compilation).
Banjo-Tooie's one of the few sequels that really builds on the previous game in every respect. Many platformer games that grant abilities as you play, along with the spacewhippers and RPGs of the world, usually wipe the slate clean with a new game: you have to re-earn everything you've lost, starting from a point of vulnerability with perhaps a brief period of "abilitease" as a bridge between the two games. Instead, you start Banjo-Tooie with every single one of your previous abilities intact: a prologue has you wandering around the remains of the old game's hub map re-learning the controls for the skills you acquired in Banjo-Kazooie like the ranged egg shoot, the alacritous Kazooie run, Kazooie's flight, the ground-pound, and so on. The game is built with both these abilities and many new ones in mind, giving the player an unprecedented amount of techniques in their toolbelt, including several new egg ammo types with various effects and the ability to split up Banjo and Kazooie for some solo adventures. The game is also considerably bigger, expanding the size of its multiple levels and installing a fast travel system to allow easier backtracking.
It's a good thing it's so easy to get around these huge levels, because there are many times where you'll be running back and forth with the right set-up to reach specific collectibles: in addition to Banjo and Kazooie, both together and separately, there are the stage-specific magical transformations returning from the first game along with being able to play as the linguistically-challenged shaman Mumbo Jumbo for the first time - that's five different character variations, Rare clearly borrowing a page from their previous game Donkey Kong 64. Notes, which are the Banjo-Kazooie equivalent of coins, are not as widely dispersed this time around - they're usually found in clumps of five or twenty, making them far easier to round up - and the friendly Jinjos still announce their presence with whistles and calls for help when you are close by (as do the identical "evil" Minjos, unfortunately). Even so, the game seems to be significantly harder to navigate between the larger levels and the overwhelming number of abilities at your disposal, though it also feels like for every new hurdle there's some accommodating quality-of-life addition to alleviate the frustration. I would say that, compared to the first Banjo-Kazooie, Tooie's a little more rudderless but also a lot more ambitious, and I'm split on which of the two games I prefer. I suspect I'd be more inclined to start the first again if given the choice of replaying either, but I can't deny that I respect what Banjo-Tooie's doing in its particular approach to a sequel's thankless task of raising the stakes and adding to the feature count of an already carefully calibrated game.
I want to say also that Tooie has something of an unusual cruel streak to it. More so than just Kazooie's usual sardonic barbs, as she continues to insult everyone she meets and harangues them into handing over their jiggies and other collectible rewards ahead of completing whatever task they're ready to appoint to the duo. As soon as the game begins, in short order they make both Grunty and the Jinjo King undead abominations and kill off beloved ancillary character Bottles. I don't imagine any of these changes are permanent, mind, but it's like the difference between the intro to Double Dragon (Marion gets sucker-punched and kidnapped) and Double Dragon II (Marion gets murdered in a hail of gunfire). I suppose what I'm saying is that they didn't need to fridge the mole to make the sequel adventure more personal to the heroes, nor did they really need to replace him with his more annoying military drill sergeant brother. The game even has you visit Bottles's family home and talk to his wife and kids, all of whom are happily anticipating Bottles to walk through the door any moment. It's surprisingly dark, if not perfectly dark, even for the standard of dry British humor often seen in Rare's output.
This will be, to my eternal chagrin, the first Bucketlog entry that I didn't complete before writing it up. I always underestimate how long 3D platformers will take - I can spend hours searching for the last collectible on a stage and never realize it - and the final few days of this month have already kept me busy hosting the finale of this year's eight-part May Millennials series and a new Indie Game of the Week. All the same, I think I can pass early judgement here: Banjo-Tooie is everything I hoped for, witchy warts and all, and I can't wait to keep exploring each of its worlds for all their secrets and collectibles and silly nonsense. So thankful I have an excuse to go back to it almost twenty years on from the N64 era (on a related note: Twenty years?! Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.).