The GBA will be the rest home of 2D platformers forever. Publishers will never tire of churning the things out and, in some respects, gamers will never tire of gobbling them up like mad, leaping, platform-digesting bears or something. And here's another one of them. Thanks to THQ's contribution, Rare's dynamic duo Banjo and Kazooie make a welcome return to a Nintendo platform.
Get Jiggy with it
Taking place just after the first Banjo-Kazooie title, the heroic bear-bird tag team's arch nemesis Gruntilda the witch has been sealed beneath the ground. Sadly, she doesn't stay down there for long thanks to her bumbling assistant Klungo, who resurrects her soul and reincarnates her pure evil inside a mechanical time-travelling suit. Grunty gets straight back into the role and sets off to get her revenge, immediately kidnapping Kazooie and dragging her back in time, hoping to alter history so that Banjo and Kazooie never meet, and Gruntilda is never imprisoned underground. Cue Banjo hopping back in time thanks to voodoo magic in pursuit of his feathery friend and to get it on with the evil-thwarting while he's at it.
Initially Banjo is useless, meandering about picking up musical note icons and cautiously stepping around the big... gorilla things. That is until he stumbles across Bozzeyes, a mole who teaches Banjo how to smack adversaries with his backpack in exchange for some of those shiny notes. Then Banjo discovers the Jiggy temple and learns that the collection of Jiggies will allow him to travel back and forth between new lands, and the Jinjo Oracle which tells him of the five Jinjos to be found throughout each level, which when united will grant Banjo a Jiggy. Confused? It's simple really: Jiggies mean progress. Notes mean skills mean Jiggies. Jinjos mean Jiggies. Collect everything. There lies the focus of Grunty's Revenge.
Grunty's Revenge isn't the best-looking game we've seen on the GBA, but it's by no means shabby either. The pre-rendered graphics are colourful and wonderfully animated, but then they stand out against rather lacklustre scenery. The action takes place from an above-and-back-a-bit viewpoint, which actually makes it incredibly tricky to judge height and distance sometimes, and we found ourselves hankering for a Spyro-style isometric view within an hour or so.
Grunty's Revenge plays much as you would expect. You move Banjo about jumping with A and bopping enemies with B until you collect enough musical notes to pick yourself up a new talent from Bozzeyes, at which point he'll teach you the more complicated button combinations for different things. At first these will involve attacks, like the aforementioned Pack-Whack, followed by a roll attack, which can also be used to manipulate switches. Banjo can also take a spell in the body of a mouse or octopus and even transform into a tank thanks to his voodoo mate Mumbo, as long as he can find one of the elusive totems. The variety of ways Banjo has to go about collecting his Jiggies usually keeps you on your toes, and while some can be picked up with a bit of simple exploration, others require a mad dash across the level to pick up a Jiggy before the timer runs out, or leaping around perilous assault courses.
Once Banjo manages to rescue and team up with his sidekick Kazooie, still fairly early on, that's when the fun starts to pick up. The characters are actually quite well written and play off of each other well with some unmistakable Rare wit. Newly acquired moves from this stage on usually involve Kazooie in some form, with Banjo able to grab hold of her legs and hold her horizontally to fire eggs, or use her claws to climb up slippery surfaces, for example. Once you get yourself a new skill, you'll be giving yourself a knowing nod and heading back to areas that previously had you flummoxed, allowing you to scrape the corners of each level for every last Jiggy.
To offer a little light relief from the main quest, there is something like ten mini-games scattered throughout the five levels of Grunty's Revenge, and most come at just the right time to divert you from the platforming and score you some Jiggy action. You'll be slipping down slides collecting eggs, firing eggs at pirate ships and attempting to bait sheep out of sheep-dip amongst other activities. While they're not especially challenging they do at least offer a diversion - and diversions that you can come back to as often as you like once you've finished the adventure.
Revenge is short
And that won't take you long at all, with only a handful of hours in Grunty's Revenge from beginning to end. Sadly, for those few short hours the title doesn't really involve much more than collecting, leaping and basic problem solving. The plot doesn't interfere much, and as such the time travel element that could have been used to good effect is cast aside as just another excuse for all Banjo's hard work.
Obsessive collection fans will get more out of this than most of us. We'd imagine many GBA owners are sick to the back teeth of vanilla platformers like Grunty's Revenge, and we can't really blame them. There isn't anything especially bad about it, but it's just so bland in its goals that, beyond the quirky characters and cute side-games, we'd have trouble recommending it, because Banjo offers little in the way of real challenge or substance. Put next to the platform's finest, including the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, and it feels like a missed opportunity.