Monday, December 29, 2008

Banjo Kazooie

As an encouragement for preordering Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, one could get a free download code for the original Banjo Kazooie for Xbox Live Arcade. This is essentially a port of the old Nintendo 64 game, except the graphic engine has been retooled to take advantage of higher-definition screens and widescreen aspect ratios. The characters are still rather low in the polygon count, but as comparison videos reveal, the result is much sharper and cleaner than one would get simply hooking up an N64 to a modern TV.

This deal was a no-brainer to me. I figured a couple cartoony platforming characters would make a good upcoming Christmas gift for the kids, especially with the game retailing at $40; but when they added the free download for the $15 arcade game, that clinched the deal.

I never played the original Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 (my brother didn't even get an N64 in the house until after I left for college), so these characters were all new to me. The game is a faithful reproduction of the N64 game, though. In fact, when I got stuck in a couple places and found myself looking for help on the internet, it was a walkthrough of the N64 version that led me to the missing pieces.

Overall, I'd have to say it was a fairly enjoyable game. It is a very simple platforming adventure, with very old-school goals, like "collect all the notes". And it has some of those frustrating elements that older games still used, like the concept of "lives". (Or have we just gotten spoiled by being able to endlessly fail and retry?) There are certainly some frustrating elements, such as twitchy camera control and narrow ledges at great heights that are awfully unforgiving of missteps caused by twitchy camera control. And I never did quite get the hang of the "beak bomb" maneuver. But there were some really classy tricks, too, like the way the music seamlessly changed styles as you walked from one region to another or dove underwater.

I played a little of the Nuts & Bolts demo, and one thing I noticed was that it was really light on character orientation. I don't know if it was removed from the demo or if it's not in the game at all, but it does make me wonder a bit if it's not in Nuts & Bolts at all. Nuts & Bolts (from the demo; haven't played the full game yet) focuses on the vehicles you can build and drive. (In fact, in-game loading text recommends getting Banjo Kazooie from XBLA for classic platforming.) But things that had me fairly confused in the Nuts & Bolts demo (like the mechanics of swimming) became clear when they were introduced while playing Banjo Kazooie. It makes me wonder if Banjo Kazooie isn't just a handy prequel to Nuts & Bolts, but is rather a prerequisite. Time will tell when it comes time for that game to come up in the post-Christmas rotation.…

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