Tooie’s a crowd.
During the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 days, there was no developer hotter than Rare. With heavy-hitting games like Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the company was highlighted as the best of second-party developers under Nintendo’s wing. One of the last titles put out by Rare before the Microsoft acquisition in 2001 was Banjo Tooie. Following the footsteps of Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie took the collect-a-thon formula and expanded upon it, luckily not crossing the line into over-collecting (Donkey Kong 64, anyone?), and became one of the last really good games to come out for Nintendo 64.
[image1]Banjo Tooie starts off two years after the end of Banjo Kazooie. The heroes are enjoying a late night card game when they are abruptly interrupted by none other than Gruntilda’s evil sisters (Brentilda, nowhere to be found), who wish to rescue Gruntilda from the boulder she’s squished under. After a few grim events, Spiral Mountain is trashed, and a tunnel to yet another platforming adventure for the bird and bear duo is revealed.
As expected, the game follows the same treatment as Rare’s port of Banjo Kazooie for XBLA, but put in a prettier package. Banjo Tooie sports sharper graphics, an improved frame-rate, and bonus content. Being one of the few Nintendo 64 games that used the expandable memory cart, the original suffered from horrible frame rates that came at a cost for better visuals. Thankfully, Rare improved on that in spades, making the game much smoother.
For players who have been scratching their heads over what to do with secret items found in Banjo Kazooie, it’s finally time to hatch those eggs… literally. Banjo Tooie‘s main draw, besides being a much improved version of the original game, is its connection to both Banjo Kazooie and the full-fledged Xbox 360 sequel, Nuts ‘n Bolts; finding hidden collectibles will unlock bonus vehicle blueprints in the latter title. If you found the not-really-secret Ice Key in Banjo Kazooie, a certain bonus will be waiting in Banjo Tooie, along with prizes like a dashboard theme and gamerpic for some of the hidden eggs.
[image2]A lot can be credited to Banjo Tooie for improving upon the original title. It’s faster, a bit more flexible, and certainly more complex. Levels are not closed off from one another, as solutions to puzzles depend on exploring more than one world. In some cases, even non-playable characters move from one level to the next, continuing sub plots between those worlds. Instead of throwing away the moveset already established in the previous game (*cough Metroid cough*), every move Banjo and Kazooie know at the end of Banjo Kazooie is available right off the bat, with new ones taught by Bottles’ stricter brother and soon-to-be radio DJ, Jam Jars. The new set of moves brings more flexibility into the platforming, such as adding a wall grab for ledges and faster swimming.
Everything is also much more user-friendly this time around, with a comprehensive help section that not only reviews every move (there are a lot along the way), but also offers tips for collecting individual Jiggies for each level. While they do not go out of their way to say exactly how to obtain them, the tips are a welcome feature at spots where some players will undoubtedly get stuck.
On the other hand, Banjo Tooie shows some signs of outdated platform gaming design. When Banjo dies, instead of returning to a checkpoint somewhere close, he appears all the way back at the world’s entrance, which is annoying in bigger stages that require a lot of platforming. However, dying this time doesn’t bring a lot of consequences in terms of progress, since there is a "no lives" system.
[image3]Rare seemed like they wanted to cram everything they could into this game, showing off a lot of what made them kings of the Nintendo hill back in the day. Banjo Tooie includes first-person shooting sections in the single-player campaign, which alternates between shooting and melee combat – this carries over to the 4-player local multiplayer mode as well. The FPS controls are pre-Halo; that is, not as quick or as multi-directional, making this multiplayer mode more of a quick distraction than anything else. A sporting event from the adventure mode also presents itself as another multiplayer section, in a sort of 4-way inverse soccer match, where the player with the most self-goals wins. It easily becomes hectic, like the best local multiplayer games do.
Banjo Tooie feels like it takes two steps forward and one step back, as an experiment in how Rare might make their games in the future: complex, deep, and more user-friendly, but still retaining the old feel of platformers. Rare’s magic may have fizzled during the move to Microsoft’s consoles in the beginning, but they seem to be picking up the pace. Between Banjo Kazooie: Nuts ‘n Bolts, Viva Piñata, and both XBLA ports of the original Banjo games, it certainly looks like there’s hope for the once undisputed developer. Now, all we need now is a Jet Force Gemini port…