Release Date: December 3, 2008
No one was pleased when the Xbox Live Arcade resurrection of N64 classic Goldeneye ended up getting snuffed before it could be made available to tons of rabid Rare followers who were itching to revisit the developer's glory days. Fortunately, that opportunity has resurfaced in a different, but no less admirable form through Banjo-Kazooie, the open-world platform game that could be considered one of the best on the N64. There may be some technical hiccups to contend with in the XBLA version of Banjo-Kazooie, but the majority of its gameplay has been ported well and still holds up by today's standards. The only problem with this version is that it supplies a true test of fandom with an unusually high price point for an XBLA launch of a title that's over a decade old, just slightly restricting its range of appeal.
For any youthful readers who were too young to start screaming wildly at the site of an N64 under the Christmas tree, Banjo-Kazooie was released by Rare in 1998. The game features Banjo (the bear) and Kazooie (the bird), both tasked with saving Banjo's sister (Tooty), who has been captured by the evil witch of Spiral Mountain (Gruntilda) because she's prettier than an ugly old witch. The gameplay is built upon controlling both characters in tandem as they navigate a variety of open-ended worlds ranging from frigid mountains to tropical islands in search of Jiggies (puzzle pieces), music notes, and various other objects while battling it out with the denizens who reside within each non-linear level. Gamers who have an incessant collecting addiction will be in heaven as they traverse large outdoor locations filled with plenty of interior spaces, which can all be revisited at any time in order to seek out each and every one of the many trinkets.
Also, players who happen to own the latest iteration of the series, Nuts and Bolts, will have even more incentive toward item-hunting, thanks to Stop n' Swop, a feature originally planned to work with the N64 version of Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie. Although the function ended up getting canned, Rare has finally resurrected it, allowing Nuts and Bolts owners to unlock special vehicle parts through collecting several mystery eggs in the arcade version. It's definitely good fan service on Rare's part by including a feature whose inception was constantly delayed, and now gives players of the latest game another reason to go back and experience the original.
Even today, the wide-open expanses that can be seen when using Kazooie to fly across the world is pretty impressive, and thanks to the graphical update, the game looks better than some players may remember. Banjo-Kazooie has been gifted with a large facelift that's most evident in the player models themselves, who sport smooth frames with no jagged edges. The textures in the environments still look a bit dated, but honestly, the vibrant lighting and color when playing in HD makes it easy to forget the title's age.
Of course, looks are only so important, and the biggest worry when it comes to releasing old games on new consoles is whether the controls have been adapted properly. As far as the way the characters physically handle, everything seems to be in place, even with the more complicated combat moves that involve simply holding the right or left trigger and the appropriate face button to send Banjo leaping into the air, then smashing down with Kazooie's beak. But like most arcade re-releases, Banjo-Kazooie doesn't get off squeaky clean due to some frustrating camera problems.
Controlled with the right stick, the camera can be manipulated around Banjo, and moving it forward or backward causes the view to zoom in and out. However, I would have preferred being able to look up and down with the right thumbstick (rather than using the useless immobile first-person mode) when performing any treacherous jumps, where looking above or below can prove to be a useful advantage in any 3-D world. While maneuvering down narrow pathways, the right or left bumper can be held down in order to keep the camera locked behind Banjo. This may sound useful, and it would be, if not for the constantly glitching camera that tends to get stuck behind objects or abruptly changes angles when rounding corners, immediately shifting the direction in which one needs to move the left thumbstick and causing some unfortunate falls.
These issues do cause some frustration, but in the end, Banjo-Kazooie is a game that stands the test of time thanks to the open-world design, which is a very desirable trait still used by platformers today, such as in the latest Prince of Persia. The game also sports a constantly evolving move set, where players can learn new acrobatic and combat moves from Bottles the mole, adding some complexity and growth to the gameplay that should keep a contemporary audience entertained. One area that the game does heavily show its age is in the voice acting department, or lack thereof.
The musical numbers are all just fine, but I felt the short effects used to illustrate speech via text got a bit tiring. It's an understandable shortcoming in the context of the original game given the limited space on a cartridge, but most gamers today probably won't be willing to put up with the reading. Given that a new Banjo-Kazooie game was in development, couldn't the VO production assets have been shared with the XBLA release of the original?
Luckily, those who are literate enough to wade through the text will manage to find some very sharp lyrical Rare humor that occurs often in the banter between the surly Kazooie and pretty much every other character she and Banjo encounter. The entire package certainly isn't a bad offering, other than the asking price of 1,200 Microsoft points. Some will argue that this is acceptable due to the fact that Banjo-Kazooie is no regular arcade game, and indeed there is a lot more gameplay time to be had.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Microsoft is charging the same price for Original Xbox downloads of games only four or five years old, and other arcade re-releases of older "full games" like Duke Nukem 3D have gone for less. Since Banjo-Kazooie is over a decade old and contains no extra features besides online leaderboards, some players might be a little miffed at the value. It's worth noting that this is the first N64 game brought to XBLA, and hopefully not the last, so perhaps Microsoft has some learning and tweaking to do when it comes to pricing.
Banjo-Kazooie remains a solid resurrection of a classic game whose influential nature can still be appreciated and enjoyed today. Unfortunately, it is hampered by some bad camera glitches and could have used a few more enhancements, given the price tag. Anyone who's been digging the latest Banjo-Kazooie outing, Nuts and Bolts, and is dedicated to playing through the original adventure will probably find this worth their cash. However, those who just want to take a trip down memory lane, which I've found is often the case with many old-school XBLA purchases, might be better left with dusting off their old N64s.
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