Thursday, March 14, 2013

Top 10 Most Shocking Games in a Series - #9: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Back in 1995 on the Super Nintendo, Rare, after developing the masterful Donkey Kong Country trilogy, went back to their roots to try to design an original game for the system. This game would be known tenatively as Project: Dream. The core team working on Donkey Kong Country put another team in charge of the Donkey Kong series so that they could get to work on what they planned to be Rare's greatest SNES game, with Tim Stamper, one of Rare's founders, working as the leader of the team. This was also around the time when composer Grant Kirkhope joined the company.

Project: Dream was planned to be an RPG starring a young boy named Edison, wielding a wooden sword, the boy got in trouble with a group of pirates lead by the fearsome Captain Blackeye. Several sidecharacters included a rabbit that looked like a man, a baby breegull, a dopey dog and a bear.

According to Grant Kirkhope, when he saw the demo of the SNES game he was "blown away", stating that it looked beautiful and that it would be very superior to the Donkey Kong Country games. Before long, though, it became clear for the developers that the game was getting too big for the aging SNES, so they instead moved over to the Nintendo 64, where they were planning to use what was presumably Nintendo's (eventually unreleased) Nintendo 64 Disc Drive attachment.

What really slowed Project Dream was, in fact, Conker, then in its Twelve Tales, child friendly form. When the team saw this game and how well it ran using a Mario 64 type of 3D design compared to their clunky (but innovative) 3D system, their hearts sank. They went back to change their formula to one closer to this, and the game began running just fine. But then they became unhappy with Edison, being a sort of generic hero. Tim suggested they change him into an animal, and they decided on the bear sidecharacter in the end, thus creating Banjo, and later adding his trademark backpack and Kazooie. Keeping the RPG aspects, Tim still didn't think it held up well, and after seeing Mario 64 get a successful release, he made the decision to go back to Rare's roots and make it a platformer, and Banjo-Kazooie was born.

It's really hard to describe just what Banjo-Kazooie did without first talking about Super Mario 64. Mario 64 was a very open-world, adventurous 3D game where the goal of the game was to get all of the Power Stars and use them to save the Princess from the evil king Bowser. The level structuring was... not all that great. The levels themselves were a bit contained and simple, and while you could get most of the Power Stars from any mission, once you got one you would be booted out of the level, and have to go back in to get another. Not only that but a lot of missions slightly change the level, making some things only obtainable in certain missions. The game also lacked much personality, choosing to focus on its basic and somewhat slow gameplay.

Banjo-Kazooie took the base that Super Mario 64 laid for it and escalated it one hundred fold. Expanding the levels and giving them, and the characters in them, gallons of personality. No longer was the game mission based, but rather everything was absolutely open, you could get almost anything in any order you wanted, it encouraged exploration and had tons of things to do in a world. Not only that but it added a lot of different mobility-centered moves to the formula, making the game flow much better and giving the player a lot more control over their situation.

Other than that it was pretty similar to Mario 64, but it was a solid formula to begin with, and Banjo absolutely perfected it. Banjo-Kazooie was released in 1998, to give millions of kids a wonderful fantasy adventure game that many would never forget, winning tons of awards in the process. It's a game that's still acclaimed today, and it was so good it got a sequel! And it was even better! Taking the Banjo formula that was already set up and fine-tuning it even more! It was an incredibly smooth game, and just as big of an adventure, if not even bigger.

But some good things can never last. In 2002, Microsoft purchased the company Rare ltd. and the rights to all of its properties, destroying several of their Nintendo ventures in the process. They could still produce handheld games for Nintendo, however, as Microsoft aren't in that market. Rare produced two more games in the Banjo series, the mediocre 2.5d platformer Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, and Banjo-Pilot, a game that was originally supposed to star Diddy Kong, while producing such games as Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo: Elements of Power for Microsoft's original X-Box.

So what became of the bear and bird? Well, development for a third Banjo-Kazooie game first started in 2002 for the X-Box. There they threw around several ideas for a new Banjo, the first few being remakes of the original game. One idea was to do a straight remake of the game, only with high-scale events added in, such as one planned where a termite queen would burst out of the top of Ticker's Tower, and act as a boss. Another idea was yet another remake, but one where Gruntilda would follow and mimic the player. It's unknown all of what this would entail, but soon, before any of their ideas came to fruition, the XBox 360 entered the market, and Rare was forced to shift, leaving any work they'd done behind.

One of the things all of the Rare staff felt is that doing a regular sequel would be boring, that it was typical, they wanted to do something new. They WERE developing a customizeable racing game starring Banjo, but that eventually got scrapped and worked into some of their other ideas... So, in 2008, eight years after the release of Banjo-Tooie, the next main Banjo game, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, was released. Now I know what most of you are probably thinking by this point, and no, I am not going to throw around my criticisms of this game like confetti. This is about what it did to people with its changes, not if those changes were good or not.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was released as a... very new concept for the series. A lot of people fault Microsoft for this, but this is something that the people at Rare themselves wanted. Nuts & Bolts is a game all about vehicles. You build different vehicles and use them to accomplish tasks which usually earn you Jiggies, like in the old games, but more than that has changed.

First of all, Banjo and Kazooie can do nearly nothing outside of the vehicles. You can walk around and jump, and in some rare cases there are things that only they can do outside of a vehicle. Kazooie has the ability to pick up objects with a magical wrench, and you also have one very basic attack that can be used on the occasion that you run into an enemy, which isn't often. The majority of the time you'll just be in a vehicle of some sort.

Another thing that was really off about the game was the level structuring. Every game world was gigantic, too gigantic to navigate well on foot, but it was separated into three "Acts". Each one is generally the same except that all of the missions were restricted to one of the three Acts, going back to the Mario 64 formula a bit. The missions were almost always very straightforward and usually required you just to complete one basic task, such as getting to a point within a certain amount of time, or something involving picking up an object and carrying it somewhere with your vehicle.

Another change was that the missions didn't give you Jiggies directly, but rather they let you get Jiggies from a vending machine type thing in the main hub world, which you then took to a large machine in the main area of town that would unlock more worlds for you if you got enough.

So... just why was this game shocking? Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie created a very large fanbase for its unique style and smooth gameplay, and after Microsoft bought Rare in 2002, nothing was quite the same. Fans waited eight whole years for the next Banjo game, only to get what was more of a spin-off than anything. No longer romping around on foot with your bird buddy Kazooie, traversing huge and interesting worlds and looking for items, Nuts & Bolts is much more mission based than exploration based, not to mention being centered around building and piloting vehicles. Most people were SO shocked by this that they absolutely hated the game, calling it a fluke, claiming that Rare was over (which it was in the end, actually).

Is this game bad? I think so, but not because of the gameplay changes alone. Most people were way too put off by the game's drastic style change, and whether that was justified or not is left to the individual. But for now, let's just hope that by some miracle, we'll see the real Banjo-Threeie we've been hoping for all these years.

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