This is a cross-post from Doctors of Gaming.
Platonic Games’ Yooka-Laylee will be released in just shy of a month. The crowdfunded project raised over £2.1 million (that’s $2.6 million) back in 2015, and platformer fans have been waiting anxiously ever since. Yooka-Laylee promises to be “A Collect-Em-Up For The Modern Era,” that will even feature music by David Wise and Grant Kirkhope. In celebration of its release, I thought it appropriate to return to its spiritual predecessor.
1998 was an outstanding year for the gaming industry. It gave us The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which would forever change our expectations of Zelda and games as a whole. We also experienced the redefining of first person shooters that year; Half-Life, Grim Fandango, Baldur’s Gate, StarCraft, Thief, Metal Gear Solid, and Spyro are just a few 1998 games that are still inspiring developers – and entertaining fans – today.
But there is one game that came out that year that I hold nearest to my heart. Banjo Kazooie is, as of this writing, #44 on IGN’s Top 100 Games of All Time list. There’s a debate as to whether it’s a rip-off of Super Mario 64, but that’s not what this piece is about (though I will say Banjo-Kazooie takes the formula Mario set up and adds to it with smoother game-play, charming characters, and funny dialogue).
So, let’s talk a bit about one of my favorite games from my childhood. I’ll try not to gush. And I’ll try not to make it a review, as there’s already plenty of literature about this game (there’s a great review over at IGN). But we can just talk about the game, and what it did for platformers as whole.
Platforming games have played a pivotal roll in the video game industry. Household names like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Sonic helped pave the way for games as we know them today. Their successes are still giving us great 2D platformers today (see Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight). But after the 3D platformer craze started by Super Mario 64, the market hasn’t seen a truly exceptional non-Mario 3D platform game since the early 2000’s. Sure, we’ve had games like Portal, Mirror’s Edge and Enslaved, but they lack that je ne sais quoi that collectathons like Donkey Kong 64 and Conker’s Bad Fur Day had.
Now these cartoon platformers – for the sake of brevity we’ll call them “Rare Games” – were not without their faults. Conker was clunky and Donkey Kong overdid it on the collectibles. But Banjo-Kazooie seemed to find the perfect mix. I set out a couple years ago to revisit this game I loved a kid and do a 100% playthrough of Banjo. Here’s what I remember.
On its surface, this is a kid’s game. But, in the same vein as Disney, it’s not without it’s mature humor. Much of this comes from the characters and their dialogue. Banjo is a good-natured bear, but his wise-cracking sidekick Kazooie always has something snarky to say to any character you interact with. Mumbo, the shaman, is as goofy and sometimes inept. The villain, Gruntilda the witch, always rhymes when she speaks. It creates this fun, wholesome, mostly light-hearted game that’s entertaining to any age group.
Players explore Gruntilda’s castle, but in order to reach the top they must collect golden puzzle pieces called “Jiggys” and musical notes. Each world is unique, much like other platformers of the time. You have an ice world, a desert world, a water world, and more. The sequel even has a dinosaur land and a theme park world, but that’s all for a different day.
Possibly my favorite part of the game is its soundtrack. Grant Kirkhope creates songs that I can still whistle by memory, and even tell you which part of the game its from. I like to call Kirkhope “the John Williams of video games scores.”
If you haven’t yet played Banjo, you should. It’s very important for the genre, and I’m glad the team that worked on it has had the opportunity to create something new for us. It’s a type of game I really do love, and I hope Yooka-Laylee will breathe life back into it.