Banjo-Kazooie: The Best Childhood Game You & I Never Played

As fans of particular genres, whether they be action movies, mystery novels, or in my case, mascot platforming games, chances are that despite our perceived expertise in our areas of interest, there will always be a film, book, or video game in our niche that we have not experienced. For me, this was Banjo-Kazooie: a whimsical 3D platformer released for the Nintendo 64, featuring “collect-a-thon” gameplay in the vein of Super Mario 64, a childhood favorite of mine. I knew that this game was up my alley, and had heard high praises sung for Banjo for quite some time, but did not get the chance to play it until about six months ago. Needless to say, given the title of this post, I had an absolute blast!

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The game, as its name shows, has the player control a bear named Banjo, who’s moveset is augmented by his bird companion, Kazooie; if the former jumps, the latter can flap her wings to pull off a double jump, for example. The duo travel through nine large, open levels ranging from a pirates’ cove to a Christmas-themed winter wonderland. The worlds the two explore are filled with collectibles, each containing ten jigsaw pieces (or “Jiggies”) used to unlock new levels, as well as one-hundred musical notes, which are needed to open pathways to said levels. Secondary trinkets and additional moves can also be obtained throughout the adventure.

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Now, I am aware that many prefer a more straightforward, level-to-level approach to their games, so Banjo-Kazooie‘s emphasis on thoroughly scouring each area to collect every item might be a turn-off to some. However, I personally feel that Banjo’s levels are not as expansive as they initially come off to be; although I was slightly overwhelmed whenever I arrived in a new world, but in due time, was able to intuitively traverse it. Additionally, I would argue that the game is not much more sprawling than the rather similar Mario 64, a classic that many people my age played as children, with the “Power Stars” in that game being analogous to the Jiggies in Banjo as gold coins are to musical notes. Heck, it is even possible that some players would consider the admittedly tighter controls of the bear-bird twosome easier to manage than their Italian counterpart’s more slippery handling.

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Pretty dang similar if you ask me!

If readers decide to indeed heed my advice on Banjo-Kazooie, I truly hope that they enjoy the similarly blissful experience I had. From the moment of booting it up on my old N64, I knew I was in for something special when a fun, quirky opening cinematic featuring the titular characters playing their namesake instruments was shown. To me, being left to explore such open worlds and collecting each and every item in the game felt incredibly rewarding, and I even found myself dancing along with Banjo and Kazooie each time they collected a Jiggy. In addition to the great levels and game mechanics, the game just has a great “feel-good” atmosphere to it in general, especially in terms of the soundtrack, which contains some of the most “hummable” music from a video game, a solid example being shown below.

Discovering a new great work in one’s favorite genre of film, literature, or gaming is a very gratifying experience, as is the case with me and Banjo-Kazooie. This game made me feel the same sense of wonder I had as a child when first playing similar titles, and not only do I recommend this game to platforming fans, but I also recommend readers try out new things in general both within and outside their interest ranges.

P.S. You don’t need a Nintendo 64 to play Banjo-Kazooie! It is available as a digital download on Xbox 360 for $14.99, and as part of the “Rare Replay” compilation for Xbox One!

 

 

I’ll Admit it: I’m a Sonic Maniac!

“By the mania, for the mania”; these were the words Sonic Team head Takashi Iizuka used to describe the recently released Sonic Mania, a full-blown throwback to the Blue Blur’s games of the early 1990s that was officially published by Sega, but developed by an indie team composed of lifelong Sonic aficionados with a history of creating fangames. In other words, this game was made specifically with people like me in mind, for I am a “Sonic Maniac” myself.

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Sonic Mania has received critical acclaim since launching, with many praising the game as one of, if not the series’ absolute best. I consider myself among those who agree with this consensus, and as such, will be focused more on my personal experiences surrounding the game (and series in general) as opposed to a straight-up review.

I have been a Sonic fan since kindergarten, when I played some of the earlier 3D titles (the Adventure duology, Sonic Heroes, etc.) on my GameCube, and was instantly enamored by the slick, fast gameplay, as well as the ever-expanding world and cast of characters surrounding the franchise. I eventually gained access to the 2D-era games of the ’90s as well via a compilation known as the Sonic Mega Collection, where I fell in love with the “holy grail” that is the original trilogy.

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I have since kept up with the hedgehog’s outings, and while I do enjoy many of the more modern titles, I will acknowledge Sonic’s occasional misstep, the worst of which I feel was 2014’s Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which made me legitimately concerned for the series’ future, assuming there was one, as no news on an upcoming installment was released in a long time.

That all changed at Comic-Con 2016, when Sonic Mania was announced to great fanfare. I vividly remember watching the reveal trailer (see below) in absolute amazement; not only did it hearken back to the original set of games, graphics and all, but it was being developed by the same people who made near-perfect ports of the first two games for iOS! Call me overly sentimental, but I may have shed a tear of joy as I saw the beautifully-animated Sonic pose at the end of the trailer.

Waiting for this game to come out was absolutely grueling, so imagine my frustration when the release dated was delayed from this spring to just three weeks ago. All was forgiven, however, once the game turned out to be well worth the hype. From the pinball-esque physics to the godly soundtrack, Mania hit all the right notes, and then some; even my biggest concern regarding the game, that it was confirmed to rely primarily on “remixes” of older levels, was averted, and I ended up looking forward to seeing how the development team shook up each of my childhood favorites. I had a wide, dumb grin on my face the entire time I was playing, and it truly felt like I got to be a kid one last time before moving off to college.

If someone my age is looking for a game to broaden their horizons past the stereotypical shooter and sports genres, Sonic Mania is definitely a good place to start, being a fairly straightforward side-scroller. Despite a newcomer not being able to understand the many obscure references slipped into the game (all of which I squealed with elation at), it is still a very fun time in its own right, and a great way to “convert” them into a Sonic fan.