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Saturday Gaming Retrospective: Banjo-Tooie Nintendo 64

May 1, 2010

Banjo-Tooie – Nintendo 64
By Louis Bedigian

Banjo’s sequel was ahead of its time, but is it still fun to play?

When Banjo-Kazooie launched in 1998, it received a lot of acclaim for its ability to mirror the Mario 64 formula. But unless you were a Mario fanatic like myself, desperate to get hold of any game capable of competing with the world’s leading plumber, did Rare’s hard work really pay off?

Contrary to what most gamers realize, yes, it really did. Banjo-Kazooie practically invented the concept of dual-character gameplay. Without that game – and the inspiration it created – where would we be today?

Likewise, Banjo-Tooie, the lesser-played sequel for Nintendo 64 (and now Xbox 360), was one of the first single-player open-world adventures that allowed players to control several different characters, paving the way for the next generation of gaming – the one that gave birth to Xbox and GameCube.

What Were its Cultural Impacts and/or Importance?

At the time of its release, Banjo-Tooie was happily devoured by everyone who loved the original. However, it was criticized for having some objectives that were painfully simple and others that were extremely frustrating.

On the whole, Banjo-Tooie received a fair amount of praise from reviewers, but the average Nintendo 64 owner didn’t seem to care. While the original Banjo arrived at the height of the console’s success, Banjo-Tooie came out shortly before Nintendo introduced the world to GameCube. By then, most gamers, even diehard Nintendo fans, had turned their attention to Dreamcast and PlayStation 2.

In a way, that makes the Xbox 360 release of Banjo-Tooie a special treat. Millions of Xbox Live users now have access to a game they likely couldn’t have played 10 years ago.

What Areas of Gaming did it Advance?

Though you may not find many developers who list Banjo-Tooie as a source of inspiration, it seems to have had a stronger influence on the development community than actual players. Prior to Banjo’s second outing, you couldn’t find too many multi-character action/adventures that utilized each character in a unique way. But after Tooie’s release, almost every adventure series around – Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Oddworld, etc. – switched to a multi-character format. Even movie games like Shrek and The Incredibles were happy to jump on the multi-character bandwagon.

Considering that Sonic and Mario have been using multiple characters since their 2D days, they get a free pass on this one. However, it must be noted that aside from Super Mario Bros. 2, both franchises are guilty of using their multi-character features as a visual gimmick rather than a gameplay enhancer. Even with Mario 2 included, Banjo-Tooie still deserves credit for being one of the first to accomplish this in 3D.

Does it Stand the Test of Time?

Time is an area where the Banjo series never fails to shine. The frustrating objectives haven’t gone anywhere, but years later, they no longer stick out as the sore thumb they once were. Instead, the overall experience of the game takes over, thanks in part to Banjo-Tooie’s intriguing and highly engrossing worlds, which – despite their occasional bouts of linearity – are still quite impressive, even by today’s excessive standards. (Who here thinks that Banjo would get lost in Panau or Liberty City? Anyone?)

In fact, the only element that truly feels dated is the camera, which uses the sticky, unintuitive format of Mario 64 (as almost all N64 games did). You could argue that the graphics are dated as well, but who cares? This isn’t called “Retro Saturdays” for nothing. In terms of creativity, how many action/adventures can you find with worlds that are this rich and colorful? In terms of originality, where else can you play a game with environments that are generously layered on top of each other? Banjo-Tooie’s levels are so deeply interconnected that Rare had to include several portals to make them easier to navigate quickly.

But while unprecedented depth is one of the primary reasons for Banjo-Tooie’s long-term success, the most significant thing about the game is that it gets better with time. I hate to use the fine wine analogy (so I won’t), but I’ll definitely remind you of the first Banjo, which didn’t claim the title of “masterpiece” – in my eyes, at least – until several years after it had been released. Banjo-Tooie had a similar fate, which makes me wonder if I will one day be oblivious to the many frustrations of Banjo-Kazooie, Nuts & Bolts, and refer to it as a masterpiece as well.

Until then, I’m happy to relive the joy of Banjo-Tooie.

Gw
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