Review: Banjo-Kazooie Xbox Live Arcade (A look back)

It’s amazing how a game can be so good and so memorable, that you keep playing it over and over for more then ten years, and never get bored of it. For me, ‘Banjo-Kazooie’, is one of those games.

‘Banjo-Kazooie’, created by Rare, was originally released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64. Ten years later, the original that we have come to love is back, this time on the Xbox 360’s arcade service, and it’s better then ever!

For those of you unaware, Banjo, our protagonist, is a honey loving bear that wears bright yellow shorts and a blue backpack. He’s good-natured and genuinely nice to the characters that the pair meets throughout their adventure. Our other protagonist, Kazooie, however, is an entirely different story. Kazooie is a bird, a Breegull to be exact, that lives in Banjo’s backpack. She’s rude, outspoken and knows how to ruffle the feathers of the other characters in the game. Both must work together if they should succeed in their adventure. Other notable characters in the game, Bottles the Mole, who teaches most of the pair’s abilities, and Mumbo Jumbo, the shamen, who transfoms the two into various creatures, for a price of course, more on that later.

‘Banjo-Kazooie’s story is typical for a fairy-tale like adventure. Gruntilda the witch, our antagonist, is imformed by her cauldron, Dingpot, that there is a girl prettier then Gruntilda. This girl turns out to be Tooty, Banjo’s sister. Gruntilda, intent on stealing Tooty’s beauty, swoops out of her lair on her broomstick and snatches Tooty. Banjo, sound asleep, gets awakened by Kazooie who has heard the commotion outside. Banjo and Kazooie walk out their front door and their adventure begins.

‘Banjo-Kazooie’ has always been known as a collect-a-thon. Not demanding like ‘Donkey Kong 64’, not in the least. It’s resembles ‘Super Mario 64’ so much more. Instead of stars, Banjo and Kazooie collect golden jigsaw pieces, also known as ‘jiggies’. These are used to open the nine worlds in the game, ten are found in each world, including Gruntilda’s lair, one hundred total. Other items the duo collect include musical notes, which are needed to open Gruntilda’s magically sealed doors throughout her lair, each with a different amount of notes required to pass. Eggs are used for ammo. Mumbo tokens are given to Mumbo Jumbo, to transform Banjo and Kazooie into various creatures like a termite, a bee, and a crocodile. Jinjos, five little bird-like creatures that must be saved in each world to earn a jiggy. Empty honeycomb pieces, twenty-four in the game total, used to expand your health bar. Lastly, red and gold feathers, the red are used for flight, the gold for invulnerability. It may sound rediculous, the amount of items you’ll collect while playing the game, but I can assure you, it’s not. Everything is intelligently layed out to not overwhelm the player.

For those of you wondering how ‘Banjo-Kazooie’s control scheme pans out, well, you’ll be happy to hear it’s control scheme is layed out quite nicely on the Xbox 360 version of the game. For example, the ‘B’ button on the Nintendo 64 controller, and the ‘X’ button on the 360 controller are both in the same proximity of their respective ‘A’ buttons, so naturally the ‘X’ button serves as the Nintendo 64’s ‘B’ button controls. The left trigger, as well as the right trigger, serves as the Nintendo 64’s ‘Z’ button controls, and so on. For the eighteen moves, most taught by Bottles the Mole, had to be layed out in a way that’d work, and luckily, it does.

The gameplay holds up really well, for a game that is now eleven years old. The controls are really responsive and precise, especially compared to the original release. The game is also so much more enjoyable to play, thanks to the comfort that the Xbox 360 controller offers. It makes the game a bit easier to play as well, and as an added bonus, no Nintendo 64 joystick, therefore, no sore thumbs!

The visuals are still the same as they were years ago. Blocky character models, limited weather effects and the same impressive textures, which was a feat for its time. Everything also just looks much sharper and cleaner. Never in ten years would I have imagined this game could look so good.

Do you remember the occasionally annoying sound effects in the game like Kazooie’s Talon Trot move? How about the characters’ unique speech effects that we hear when their text bubbles pop up on screen? Well, none of this has changed. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Changing too much would lose the game’s nostalgia. Everything in the game as far as sound effects and music goes is the same, for the most part. All of the music and sound has been remastered. So parts of some songs, like Mad Monster Mansion’s music, does sound a tad different, but it isn’t a huge deal. The only real drawback I found to remastering the game’s sound, is a couple of the sound effects can be ear piercing. For example, that ‘ting’ sound you hear when you surface any body of water in the game, is one of them. Collecting a honey comb, is another. Clearly a result of the remastering process, so those of you with sensitive ears, you’ve been warned.

Many noticeable changes have been made throughout the game, some for legality reasons, others are just gameplay adjustments. The walking Nintendo logo you see upon booting up the game, is no more. This is an obvious change, but certainly a noticeable one nonethless. The Nintendo logo on Mumbo’s zylophone during the intro has been changed as well, and now says ‘Microsoft Game Studios’ instead. Surprisingly, Banjo’s Game Boy in the file select screen is still there, minus the Game Boy’s boot up sound effect, strangly enough.

Major changes have also been made to the game, and they are all quite welcome. The framerate runs at a very smooth sixty frames per second, no hiccups at all. The draw distance has been fixed too, so if you’re missing a couple musical notes, chances are, you’ll find them a bit easier now. The note system has also been completely redone, so as to not frustrate players as much as the original did. Instead of having to re-collect all the notes in a level if you died or left the level, now, the game saves each of the 900 notes individually upon collecting them. So if you die or leave the level, whatever you collected previously, will not magically reappear, it is gone permanently.

Achievements and leaderboards have naturally been added, as these are requirements for any Xbox 360 release. All in all, ‘Banjo-Kazooie’ proves to stand the test of time. The game is dated, sure, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun and enjoyable game. It’s just as much fun to play now as it was when it came out so many years ago. It’s a classic, and it deserves a spot with the other greats on the Xbox Live Arcade service. As of this writing, ‘Banjo-Kazooie’, as well as its sequel, ‘Banjo-Tooie’, are both in the top ten in the ‘Top Rated’ section in the Xbox Live Marketplace, under Xbox Live Arcade. The ratings don’t lie. Download the trial or full version, and I can guarantee you, you will not be disappointed.


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