It is no secret that so far in the Xbox 360′s lifespan there has been a severe shortage of excellent platformers. The system started off strong with Rare’s once-Gamcube title Kameo: Elements of Power, but beyond that the system has struggled to produce a solid entry in the genre. Last year we were treated to the re-imagining of the Banjo series with Nuts & Bolts; a quirky building blocks type of game that continued the humor, but was much lighter on the platforming. Also released around the same time though was the original Banjo Kazooie for XBLA. This classic series is still one of the finest set of platformers ever created, and now with updated visuals, Achievements and a new audience, they have a chance to thrive once again. The sequel has finally landed on your virtual doorstep, and if you are a fan of platform games at all, you owe it to yourself to experience this massive sequel.
If you have yet to play the original game on N64 or even XBLA it isn’t necessarily required before diving into Tooie, but it does help. The opening cut scene will catch you up to speed on all things Banjo, and characters are easily recognizable if you are familiar with the universe. As you can imagine Gruntilda the Witch has returned (although not quite the same form you may remember) and it is up to Banjo and his feathered friend Kazooie to put a stop to her evil ways. The cameos from other games is not as abundant due to circumstances we will leave secret for anyone who didn’t play the original game, but most of the story is told with comedic undertones that highlight the humor pouring from the British development house.
Banjo Tooie is massive when compared to the first entry. There are a total of nine missions, each one consisting of ten Jiggies to earn. Jiggies are collected by completing various tasks throughout each level, which by my count brings the staggering total ninety separate activities to complete. Couple with the copious amount of items to collect this is quite possibly the largest XBLA title currently on the service. It will take some serious dedication to complete the game 100%. This is really where the idea of item collection really ran its course, and remains one of the staples for the in-jokes about gaming collect-a-thons. Whether or not you enjoy hunting for all of the extras, it still is amazing just how much there is to see and do in Tooie, making it one title that actually warrants its fifteen dollar price tag. Not to mention that the team has also added back in the Stop ’N Swap feature originally omitted from the original series.
The core gameplay as you can imagine centers around the duo and their various abilities. Instead of a double jump, you use Kazooie’s wings to give you more height. Banjo can roll around or use a stomp action to tackle enemies, while Kazooie relies on his beak and egg-shooting abilities. It is the same principle as most other games in the genre, just with more of a humorous twist. The combination is also exploited in great fashion as made evident with the amount of team-moves that can be executed. The levels are designed to take full advantage of each character’s strengths and weaknesses, and there are even segments where you can venture off as just one of the dynamic duo. Keeping the game fresh seemed to be a focal point for the devs, and even by today’s standards it does an amazing job of making most of the menial tasks more interesting. Banjo Tooie is a perfect example of how good game design can stand the test of time.
Even if nothing had been done to change the original game I could still recommend this title to anyone who enjoys the genre. However, with the release on XBLA there have been a lot of upgrades that really enhance the experience. First and foremost the game has received an HD visual upgrade that really showcases how good the original game looked. There are still titles that do not manage to squeeze as much animation out of their worlds. The colors are much more vibrant, and the overall feel of the game has been improved. This was a great looking game in its day, and with an HD coat of paint, you really begin to appreciate how much work was put into the worlds. The other main addition is of course the ability to earn Achievements, and compare scores on leaderboards. The inclusion of leaderboards may seem like standard fare this day and age, but these types of games were driven by comparing scores amongst friends. Instead of relying on trust, we can now prove who the real gamers are.
One of the biggest draws of the series though was its subtle humor. This returns in full force, and is a treat for anyone who missed it the first time around. Rare has always been great at adding in jokes that can appeal to all ages, while retaining a family oriented atmosphere. These range from the sophomoric fart jokes, to the quintessential poking fun at being video game characters and having to collect tons of useless crap. The balance between off-color humor and in-your-face comedy is perfectly segregated within the game, meaning enjoyment for all ages. Characters also still mutter in their goofy dialogue to insinuate the act of speaking, which simply adds to the overall humor.
Banjo Tooie is easily one of the best platform games ever created. When you consider how lacking the genre has been lately this will certainly be a breath of fresh air. If you are even remotely interested in the genre there is no reason to miss out on either one of these fantastic experiences. Both games weigh in at thirty bucks, which is half the price of one of the games when they originally releases. Considering that Banjo Tooie is leaps and bounds above most of the shovelware currently on the market, the game is practically a steal if you are a fan of platform games.