Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Banjo-Kazooie - Gameplay

I just finished Banjo-Kazooie from the Xbox Live Arcade. I downloaded it after I finished Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. It was originally a Nintendo 64 release from Rare, who also made Viva Pinata and Conker: Bad Fur Day. I had an "uneven" relationship with B-K...through the first half of the game I was really enjoying it, and during the second half I thoroughly hated it.

B-K is a 3d platformer. I've reviewed a few of those over on bucketofchuck.com and the same axiom applies here as it did in those games: it all comes down to the camera. The more precise and intuitive the camera, the more enjoyable the experience. The camera in B-K is mediocre...it's responsive and fairly easy to control, but it hangs on environmental objects too easily and is imprecise.

That then goes a long way to explaining my shifting feelings about the game. Through the first half the game is pretty easy, with basic combat and rare, straightforward jumping puzzles. The camera is good enough in those situations to not hinder the player, so the game is fun. But in the second half (around the time you hit the snow world), combat becomes more common and dangerous, and your chances of success will often hinge on your ability to make precisely timed and aimed jumps around the environment. Suddenly the camera, which you probably weren't giving a lot of thought to that point, becomes your biggest enemy. It is massively frustrating to perform a series of jumps (say, to get to a high point) only to miss the last one because the camera spins off to the side while you're in midair and you suddenly can't see where you're about to land. I remember investing a lot of time mastering these types of jumping challenges playing Super Mario World as a kid, but I've really lost my patience for it over the years. Redoing jumping puzzles over and over is not my idea of fun, and being foiled by the camera is the proverbial salt in my wounds.

I wouldn't make such a big deal out of this except that gameplay is pretty much everything in B-K. The entire game is running (and jumping) around environments looking for widgets to collect. There's not much story here, so if the gameplay isn't fun then it's kind of a dealbreaker.

Other notes:
- I liked the graphical design of the game, as it features some nicely constructed worlds. However, if you're a graphics snob then B-K is not for you. They cleaned up the graphics a bit for the Arcade release, but this is an N-64 port and it shows.
- The save system in this game is just plain broken. Essentially it autosaves whenever you collect a key item like a musical note or jigsaw piece. But it doesn't save your progress with other aspects of individual worlds. Let's say you need to feed 10 worms to a hungry bird to advance. If you find nine worms, give them to the bird, and then die while looking for the tenth (say by falling a long distance thanks to a camera issue), you have to start over from worm #1. It's exactly those kind of design decisions that made me bitter and resentful towards the game once it got more difficult.
- One thing I did really love about the game is it's sense of humor. You can really tell that these are the same people that made Conker, because you can already see their subversive sense of humor developing in this game. Gruntilda make for a great nemesis, and I found the game's ending to be really satisfying.

I'll have another post later about the Achievements...

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