There are so many games that are near enough universally adored, but are they all as perfect as we like to believe, or are we just peering through overly rose tinted glasses? The goal of Brilliantly Flawed is to expose games we all know and love for what they really are: very well made and enjoyable, but by no means perfect. Watch as childhood memories are shattered and objections are shouted. This week we take a look at what is popularly thought to be the highest point in British developer Rare’s long history, Banjo Tooie on the N64.
Banjo Tooie is easily my favourite game ever. It was the first game I ever bought on a launch day and was possibly the point that my interest in videogames started to rise. Call it nostalgia if you will, but I absolutely adore this game and possibly the only thing I dislike about it is that the musical note collection was significantly toned down from the first game. Despite that though, it still used Banjo Kazooie as a base, but turned it into what I consider the most perfectly interconnected platformers ever made. Every single level was linked to at least one other level through hidden passageways; so many jiggies were obtained by travelling from level to level, doing tasks that required elements of both to get them. The mechanics from the first game were refined, tweaked and perfected. To make that even better, Rare threw in tons more to make the game much bigger and much better. While the first game lacked them, Tooie introduced regularly occurring bosses which were all amazing. Everything about the game radiated the charm that everyone had come to expect from Rare, with their familiar English humour poking its head through the dialogue every now and then. It’s the absolute pinnacle of the platformer genre and something that I think anyone who enjoys platformers should add to their “must play” list.
I didn’t play a massive amount of Banjo Tooie but it’s obviously a very well loved and remembered title by a large audience. One issue that really struck out to me from the get-go and remained a massive issue throughout was the camera. Obviously having a very awkward to manage and effectively play with camera was a problem in a large number of Nintendo64 titles, but Banjo Tooie was one of the shining (or not so shining) examples of the issue itself. This makes itself especially prevalent due to the collectathon focus in the game. When you’re jumping around trying to locate hidden items in an area that itself is awkward, combined with an almost unusable camera, it can remove any kind of fun in finding collectables, which in itself is questionable.
Banjo Tooie is a very enjoyable game and one that I will always remember fondly. It holds the same Rare charm as many other games from the developer did around the time of the N64, but I feel Banjo Tooie is one of the weaker games. Quite simply, I feel as though the formula was over-complicated in comparison to Banjo Kazooie and many additions felt irritating and lacklustre. The wide array of new eggs of display never really interested me at all. The simple egg mechanic was used fantastically during the original Banjo game, but here it felt cluttered and messy. Blue eggs, fire eggs, ice eggs and grenade eggs were all present and only the blue egg ever felt necessary, as switching around eggs and keeping tabs on how much of each you had was just tedious and added another collection element to a game that was already hefty on the collection aspect. Some new transformations lacked some of the magic of the previous game and really stretched the Rare philosophy of “stick some googly eyes on it and we’re done”. A Van, Washing Machine and the repeated Bee transformation being among the main offenders though this was moderately saved with the awesome T-Rex whether it was in “baby” or “Daddy” forms. To hark back to the point about the eggs, I feel the over-complication that appeared there was also injected into much of the games design, leading to confusing levels that weren’t much fun to explore, especially when comparing it to Banjo Kazooie, and often this lead to the player feeling fatigued while simply wandering a level. So, Banjo Tooie is a good game, then, but one that I felt could’ve been much better.
As far as the camera goes, that is an absolutely minor issue. It starts to become a problem in some areas, maybe two or three. But when you consider the scale of the game and how large the world is, it really is just a non-issue. Banjo Tooie’s camera is by no means bad at all, it’s just the awkwardness of a very small number of areas in the game. You look at how 3D platformers on the N64 started off with Super Mario 64, sporting a camera so awkward that it becomes infuriating to play today. Banjo Tooie, on the contrary, had a very workable camera. The fact that Rare and 4J Studios were able to port the game with the same camera controls onto the 360′s right stick with next to no problems should be enough evidence to show that the camera was absolutely fine.
The formula may have been slightly overcomplicated by Rare, but I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. The eggs are possibly one of the best things added into the game, in my opinion. They were mainly used for bosses and puzzles, leaving blue eggs behind for regular combat. Sure, they may have made the blue eggs slightly useless as a result, but it added more depth to the already established egg mechanic. The clockwork egg added a lot of opportunity for secret areas that could be entered through tiny holes that could house collectables like jiggies and jinjos, which Rare made ample use of. As far as the design of the transformations go, they probably could have been a bit better, you’re right. When looking at how they play though, I’d have to completely disagree. The washing machine (or Wishy-Washy Banjo) was a great addition and a wonderful homage to one of Rare’s most well known cheat codes in the original Banjo Kazooie. The levels themselves weren’t overly complicated, really. What made them seem complex is that a lot of the levels featured inaccessible parts that could only be explored after certain criteria had been met, but that’s part of what made the game great; everything was connected. The levels were big enough without connecting together as they did, but when Rare connected them all they made a platformer that was less of a level-based game and more of an open world type platformer.
Saying that there was “no issue” with the camera despite vast numbers of reports from players and personal experience saying otherwise is slightly strange to me. Saying that the camera was on the higher end of an extremely bad lot doesn’t negate the issue by any means, and to me it seems like you’re attempting to ignore the issue because the overall enjoyment made it seem small in your opinion. The difference between the C Stick and an analogue stick is absolutely massive in terms of comfort, ease of use and general level of control.
Using eggs never really needed more “depth”, in all honesty. It’s a system that felt complete, though some extra moves including eggs could’ve been incorporated, and adding a few more to improve boss battles and some puzzles didn’t really do much for me in the slightest. I can submit to the idea that new transformations played much better than they looked, thankfully, but I would’ve simply preferred if they were designed with both features in mind so as the player doesn’t automatically assume them to be dull before even taking proper control. The design was terribly complex, I’ll admit, but it was enough to frustrate and destroy any feeling of flow. Nobody wants to walk around aimlessly poking around to find the right way, if we were rewarding for poking around with new ways in nearly every direction then it would’ve been a much more satisfying experience overall.
Banjo Tooie still stands up tall as a good example of what a 3D platformer can accomplish in terms of scope and design, but age has hit the game badly and most of its charm is left to live with those wiho still hold nostalgic thoughts for the Rare of days gone by. For someone who hasn’t played many 3D platformers, there is no going wrong with Banjo Tooie. It may be over a decade old, but fans are still crying out for a true sequel regardless.
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