Banjo-Tooie

Medium Rare?

Gamers have a peculiar relationship with the past. I'm always fascinated by the personal attachments people form with whatever games amused them as children, even when the games in question are clearly creaky and horrible museum pieces. And I'm equally fascinated by the way other people assume that anything produced before the PlayStation 2 should be sealed in a dark vault and left to rot like so much unwanted meat.

It makes reviewing retro releases a very strange balancing act. Be too critical and you enrage the first lot of people. Be too effusive with praise and the second bunch think you're an addled old fart. It's a dichotomy I've fallen foul of several times, most memorably for pointing out that the Ninja Turtles arcade game was absolute arse water, and it also found Kristan stewing in a cauldron of piping hot hatred when he declared that the years had not been kind to Rare's N64 hit, Banjo-Kazooie.

Now the sequel, the cunningly titled Banjo-Tooie, has joined its forebear on XBLA and the issue of how best to critically reappraise old games is once again smashing around inside my skull like a particularly truculent moth.

You see, I agreed with a lot of Kristan's complaints regarding the original Banjo, but I disagreed with his score. These games really haven't aged all that well, but then that doesn't make them bad games either. They're just undeniable products of that late nineties boom in 3D platformers, when a veritable menagerie of anthropomorphic critters scrambled, leapt and mine-carted their way through colourful locations, snatching up hundreds of fruits, coins and whatever else had been dotted around the landscape in pleasingly collectable lines.

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Certain supporting characters are playable, provided you can give them what they need.

Banjo-Tooie picks up two years after the first game, with Banjo the bear and his avian partner Kazooie enjoying the peace and quiet following the apparent demise of Gruntilda the witch. Things don't stay quiet for long, and her sisters have soon resurrected her (or her skeleton at least) and set off to dominate Spiral Mountain and its surrounding area using a fiendish death ray.

From there it's familiar territory, and this brings us screeching to a halt in front of the first of Tooie's main criticisms. N64 owners had to wait two years for this eagerly anticipated sequel, so the fact that it's essentially the same game was more selling point than flaw. Live Arcade gamers have only had to wait a few months, and the less than inspired whiff of sequelitis is harder to ignore.

That's not to say that it's not a lot of fun though. It's nowhere near as streamlined or ingenious in its design as its obvious inspiration, Super Mario 64, but it comes far closer to that hallowed status than its contemporary peers like Gex, Croc and Bubsy. Levels are large and varied, with plenty of different things to find and do while you hunt down those bloody Jiggys. If anything, the game feels overstuffed, packed as it is with eggs, feathers, Jinjos, musical notes, treble clefs, Glowbos, Cheato pages, honeycombs and shoes, all of which must be located and hoarded for a variety of reasons, hurriedly explained in the many unskippable dialogue scenes.

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