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CONSOLE: Nintendo 64 DEVELOPER: Rare PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 20, 2000 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Remain trooie to youie.

The year was 1998, and Banjo-Kazooie "gu-huhed" its way into the homes of happy Nintendo 64 owners. Immediately after completing work on Banjo-Kazooie, the development team at Rare went back into their secret underground British laboratory to cook up something bigger, something bolder, something... sequelish. That's right: the bear and breegull team are back for more crazy mischief as they explore the world beyond Spiral Mountain. The game sold over three million copies, so they must have done something right. Banjo-Kazooie was a solid adventure title; Banjo-Tooie tries to emulate that and more, but something's just a little... off.

We arrive on the scene two years after Banjo and Kazooie foiled the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda to steal Banjo's sister's inherent cuteness for herself. Buried under a gigantic boulder, there was really no way for her to escape. Everyone seems to like it that way. As a rousing card game was underway at the homestead of our fur-and-feathered heroes, Grunty's sisters, Mingella and Blobbelda, appear to revive their now skeletal sibling. They manage to magically lift the boulder, freeing Grunty from her subterranean captivity. She seeks revenge on those who wronged her by firing powerful explosive magic at Banjo and Kazooie's house. Banjo, Kazooie, and the shaman Mumbo all manage to escape, but their beloved mole friend Bottles is not so lucky and dies. In order to gain back a body, Gruntilda must use a Big-O-Blaster (or B.O.B., not to be confused with the SNES game or the non-SNES rapper) to suck the life out of other beings in order to give her flesh. I don't ask questions. So now Banjo and Kazooie have to thwart Gruntilda's plan and also avenge the death of their beloved friend. Sounds like a fun time.

Just a quick note: Banjo-Tooie is actually darker than Banjo-Kazooie. Not in visuals, just in tone. The death of Bottles, the zombification and life removal of characters (King Jingaling, king of the Jinjos, most notably), Gruntilda is now a hollowed skeleton frame, and her former lackey, Klungo, is met in several battles where he is looking more and more beaten in each one, black eye included. And that doesn't include the time when you murder an innocent ice cube woman! Banjo-Kazooie never dealt with violence and death quite the way Banjo-Tooie touches upon it. Oh, but fear not, for there's still plenty of hilarity to be found. You'll still get plenty of yuks with another cameo from Loggo the talking toilet.

Here's the biggest issue I have with Banjo-Tooie. It's big. It's perhaps twice the size of the previous game. Rare obviously went with the adage that "bigger is better". In this case, however, the size doesn't necessarily work in its favour. For starters, just the overworld itself could, in theory, be a game world. It would be easy to get lost sometimes if there weren't warp silos to transport you around. Each separate world is massive (maybe not so much the first one, but later areas require extensive mapping and documentation to remember the locations of everything), and it could take you hours just to find everything. There are games such as MMOs that do this now, but on the Nintendo 64, it was quite a feat to be able to get lost so easily. Considering how many items you can find in each world, however, you're pretty much guaranteed to find something no matter where you wander off to.

Banjo and Kazooie's move list has also expanded, more than doubling their abilities. It isn't quite as confusing to remember everything they can do, but it feels as though Rare was just stacking them on. This leads to another major issue with the scope of the game: Banjo-Tooie requires some serious backtracking. Your goal is primarily to seek out and collect Jiggies, the golden jigsaw puzzle piece-shaped items that are so verily desired by King Jiggywiggy who will, in exchange, open up more worlds if you collect enough of them. There are 10 Jiggies in each world; unfortunately, in order to get some of them, you need special abilities that don't become available to you until worlds later, thus requiring you to go back much later (and try and remember where you needed to use that ability). Conversely, some Jiggies are quite easy to find, so there's no sense of feeling as though the journey is hopeless. There are also Jiggies where obtaining them requires traveling across multiple worlds! It gets bizarre trying to remember everything.

One other thing of note is that one world, Grunty Industries, is amazingly cryptic upon arrival. The main door is shut, and there is little around you to advise how to enter. It turns out you must press a train station button to open up a station, then take a train from another world to enter Grunty Industries. In retrospect, it seems obvious, but for someone first entering the area, it was like trying to read Sanskrit with a microscope: rather difficult.

Most of these sound like miniscule gripes, and for the person who just wants to get to the end, they can be overlooked. For perfectionists who want to complete Banjo-Tooie in its entirety and marvel in it serving as the primary example of a "collect-a-thon" game, frustration will likely set in from time to time.

Banjo and Kazooie are going on another adventure! You can come, tooie!

Banjo-Tooie does introduce some interesting mechanics, though. Using Split-Up Pads, Banjo and Kazooie can finally take some much needed alone time and venture around without their partner. They each get their own separate move set, learned world by world. Banjo, now possessing an empty backpack, can use it for self-defense, storage, or even as a makeshift sleeping bag. Kazooie, free from sack-tivity, can now move more quickly and fly with better ease. Oh, and she can hatch eggs. Finally, some bird stuff!

The game also allows you to play as Mumbo, the shaman with the giant skull head. He can finally leave his home and explore each world. Once he finds a pad with his face on it, he can stand on it and cast a spell specific to that world. This may include causing items to levitate, enlarging things, changing the weather, or even oxygenating water. He's not frequently used, however, and it's a shame that his first playable outing is so dull. You basically take him to a pad, let him chant for a bit, and then return him home. (In Jolly Roger's Lagoon, for example, you can get everything done with him in around a minute's time.) In other words, Mumbo takes a quick walk around the block for exercise.

Banjo and Kazooie can also transform, thanks to the magical assistance of Humba Wumba, a Native American medicine woman (who even speaks in stereotypical broken English, omitting determinants, just as you'd see in a terrible 1950s Western). Each world provides a new transformation, including a bee, a snowball, or even a washing machine. You never know what'll be next! Wumba is also in a bit of a rivalry with Mumbo for some reason, so he's not exactly welcome in her wigwam.

The controls of the game are generally responsive. I have never been a fan of flying or swimming in Nintendo 64 games, but Rare seems to nail it when it comes to non-pedestrian forms of travel. There were certain times when I tried to perform a move and ended up just Bill Drilling into the ground, but I think I'll blame myself this time. One thing that probably drives most players up the wall is during encounters with Canary Mary, a creepy birdwoman that keeps challenging you to races and offering her sole possessions as prizes. When you race against her, you have to tap the A button as quickly as possible. But it's not even humanly possible to tap the button that quickly, especially the second time you meet her. The only way to succeed is to put your index finger and thumb together and rub it repeatedly across the A button to press it more frequently than by thumb alone. That really burns after a while. I could have roasted a sausage overtop of my thumb afterward. Spicy!

Banjo-Tooie's graphics are among the best you can find for the console. Everything is rich and colourful, something that can't be said for some relatively drab titles. Each world has its own unique flavour, and there is much to see everywhere you look. The giant worlds you visit, however, come at a price: the framerate does sometimes significantly drop, especially in large open areas. There were times when the game noticeably chugs along, trying desperately to keep you going. Rare also pulled a Majora's Mask by reusing many of the characters from Banjo-Kazooie in different locations.

As well, the music is lively and comical, but it does get old quickly. You can only listen to variations of one song so many times before you clamor for something different. Like Banjo-Kazooie, every speaking character also gets its own sound effect while gabbing away. Some of them are funny. Others, not so much. I wouldn't mind if Grunty stayed silent during her lengthier speeches.

I had played Banjo-Tooie many years ago, and I thought it was great. Coming back to it again, I feel like I had left my rose-tinted glasses on the nightstand and have seen the game for what it really is: too big for its own britches. Rare tried to do too much in this game, and it ends up overwhelming more than being a fluid game. I'm sure many will disagree, throw rocks, or burn torches, but I believe Banjo-Kazooie provides the more coherent experience because it keeps things simple. That being said, Banjo-Tooie is still one of the better games for the Nintendo 64 and another of Rare's crowning achievements. It didn't beat the original, but that was a tough feat anyhow.

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