Before YOOKA-LAYLEE comes out, Allen revisits one of the N64's biggest game changers.
Unlike most fans of the series, I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie until I was in college. Being in college, I couldn’t afford new consoles or games, but I had a friend who let me borrow his N64 along with his whole game collection. Playing the game in 2007 or so, I had a much different perspective than those who had grown up with the game. The graphics were outdated, the controls felt clunky (especially when swimming), and platformers had all but become a thing of the past, yet I still fell in love with the game mainly because of its personality. Personality practically oozes from every aspect of Banjo-Kazooie, especially the characters, the stage design, and the music.
I can’t talk about this game without first mentioning the tongue-in-cheek humor that pervades every character interaction. Who can forget the taunting, often insulting rhymes of Gruntilda or the wisecracks and verbal putdowns of Kazooie? These were the days long before Hollywood voice talent entered the gaming industry. Characters were brought to life with the magic of various sound effects and dialogue boxes. The chemistry of Banjo and Kazooie was integral to the experience with Kazooie insulting every character they met on their journey throughout the nine stages the game had to offer. In addition to recurring characters like Bottles and Mumbo Jumbo, each world had its own set of memorable characters that brought these worlds to life with their unique personalities and set of problems.
Even after all these years, I can recall each and every stage in the game with fond memories (except for you, Rusty Bucket Bay). Following the formula of Super Mario 64, Banjo uses a hub world to navigate to nine different stages. Each stage comes replete with various side activities, collectibles, and mini-games unique to the stage. As the game progresses, you unlock additional abilities that allow you to navigate the worlds with ease. While I could say something about each stage in the game, I’ll stick to one for a close analysis.
Click Clock Wood stands as a testament to good game design because it challenges players in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it’s a vertical stage centered around a tree which gives ample opportunities for players to fall and lose some progress (and swear vigorously). Players have to be careful and deliberate with their movement if they want to reach the top. Secondly, certain activites and items are only present during a particular season, of which there are four. This design encourages replayability and forces players to pay attention to the level design, especially if there’s an area that’s out of reach. In some cases, players must complete certain activities during each of the four seasons to unlock a collectible. While this might seem repetitive to some, it’s far more fun in practice, especially when you’re entranced by the catchy tunes of Grant Kirkhope.
Grant Kirkhope is something of a celebrity in the world of video game music. and if you’ve heard Banjo-Kazooie’s soundtrack, this comes as no surprise. From the opening credits, Grant Kirkhope’s fun, playful music sets the tone for the series. Catchy melodies abound in this game, from the haunting, moody chords of Mad Monster Mansion to the bright, upbeat melodies of Treasure Trove Cove. Part of the pleasure of exploring each stage in the game is simply enjoying the soundtrack. It’s not an exaggeration to say Grant Kirkhope captured the imagination of an entire generation of gamers and musicans. Look no further than an album like Jiggy Rock (http://apple.co/2oyBDhQ) to see how the legacy of Banjo-Kazooie and Grant Kirkhope lives on today.
With the imminent release of Yooka-Laylee, a game created by many of the same people who made Banjo-Kazooie, it’s important to reflect on what made it so beloved to by many. While the gameplay of Banjo-Kazooie was hardly groundbreaking, its personality elevated it above most of its peers. The gaming landscape may have changed considerably since 1998; however, gamers still appreciate charming characters, a great soundtrack, and memorable stages. If you don’t believe me, just ask the fans of a little game called Undertale.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Allen Brasch is an aspiring writer who loves good science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When Allen's not writing or gaming, he's talking about all things geeky on his podcast, Devil May Play.