Ten years is such a long period of time. Ten years ago, I was a bright-eyed child who had finally saved enough money to buy a videogame on his own. Not a gift from Mommy or Daddy or Santa. It was something to show all the bullies on the block on the mean, mean streets of Suburbia, New York and say “hey, bitches! Look what I bought with my own money! YEAH, SUCK IT, DEVON THOMPSON! GO GET YOUR MOMMY TO GET ONE OF THESE, COCKSUCKER!”, with the most voice cracks from one mouth you can imagine. On that fateful day, I walked right up to the cashier’s booth at the local KB Toys, slapped down that $50, and proudly proclaimed my intentions to buy GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64.
The cashier told me I was too young to buy this game, and my mother suggested a game sitting elsewhere on the shelf—a much safer looking game with a bear with a bird in his backpack, carrying some elf…thing, and running from a gigantic, warty witch.
Begrudgingly, I followed my mother’s advice, and when I got home, my little 8-year-old eyes flung themselves into a world of googily eyes, musical notes, and freaky game over sequences that, for the first time, made my pants really tight. I had fallen in love with this game, and, after making the connection that its guys did Diddy Kong Racing, fell in love with a company that pumped out golden nugget after golden nugget from their cocky British asses all throughout my childhood.
Today, I’ve been accepted into my college of choice, my voice doesn’t crack anymore, KB Toys is closing down, you can buy Banjo-Kazooie for $15 without even leaving the house, and that game over sequence still gives me a gigantic wee-hee every time I see that Spice Girl parody strut out the magical contraption thingo.
You know how many years it took me to realize he was tapping on the screen?1
Banjo-Kazooie is a game that requires no introduction if you were as big of a Nintendo fanboy as I was in the late 90s. It’s a platformer that takes the innovations of Mario 64 and runs with them, creating an experience that gives what that masterpiece gave, and then some. Witty writing, fantastic graphics, a non-linear style of progression through the eight worlds, and the chance to unlock more moves and techniques through the game gave 64 owners much to grin about during the 1998 Christmas season. The question now is: Does the game hold its own today? And what’s different? Should you care? Is it better than Nuts & Bolts? Can I get the Ice Key? Is my mother going to touch me the same way she did when I played the game the first time?2
The entire game is kept intact for this re-release. You are essentially getting exactly what you got ten years ago, except with a few new additions. The game has been upgraded to HD, with a nice 16:7 widescreen mode, making the game as beautiful as ever. Although the polygons have been cleaned up, this still has the look and feel of a 64-bit title. It’s a bit uglier than most of what’s on XBLA, but it’s still ahead of most other games on the service.3
Controls have swapped almost perfectly from the N64 to the 360 controller. The right thumb stick now controls the camera, albeit haphazardly. The game still has camera issues that you’re going to have to work around; it’s hard to see exactly where you want to go sometimes. Crouching has moved to the left and right triggers, and pressing one after the other brings out the Talon Trot, in which the bird takes control of walking duties. Combat is still simple; there’s not a hard move to make in the bunch.
On the topic of alterations to the game proper, the biggest change is the inclusion of the canceled Stop ‘n’ Swop feature, in which obtaining items in the original N64 game would have had an impact on the game’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie. The N64 title removed this feature, making the Stop ‘n’ Swop items into Easter Eggs obtainable by entering assorted codes, to no effect. The remake makes the six hidden eggs, as well as the Ice Key, obtainable in the game proper, allowing players to unlock new vehicle parts in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. While it feels awesome to finally step into Wozza’s Cave and claim the Ice Key for yourself, it really sucks that all you’re getting out of it is a British Flag for use in a game that is, quite frankly, much worse than this one right here. All references to Nintendo are gone, too, leaving those opening titles a little barren without the N wandering across a cloud.
Going back and playing through Banjo-Kazooie again was an incredible sensation for me. As my generation has grown, we’ve heard stories from the generations before about the games of their childhoods. Now it’s time for my generation to look back at the masterpieces we grew up with, and maybe pass them off to a new generation of gamers, wasting their time on their Gears of War and Sonic Unleashed crapfests. If you missed this gem the first time, spend the $15 on it. It’s charming enough for the youngsters, and it has that familiar feeling and love from the golden age of 3D platformers. Some might say that the collectathon game is dead, but I believe it’s alive and well when someone can do it right, and without vehicles.
3. If I ever, ever, see that you have Rocketmen on your hard drive, and NOT Banjo, I will come to your house, and break every disc I can find. Even your dad’s Journey CDs.