Over the past six months I’ve taken part in game-swaps with other bloggers. Possibly the best thing about them is the chance to broaden my gaming horizons: I’ve played a game I’ve never heard of before, a series I’ve never touched and a title with a mechanic I don’t usually like.
The latest game-swap has been with Nathan from Gaming Omnivore and we decided to go for genres we’re not skilled in. He was looking for a point-and-click and wanted something with a horror storyline; and out of the several options I proposed, he decided to go for Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. It may not be the scariest game but you can’t beat Tim Curry playing a sleazy protagonist. I can only apologise to Nathan for some of those puzzles though – nobody said that 90s adventures were logical.
In return, he asked my other-half and I to play Banjo-Kazooie. This was a very good choice for us in terms of the brief for two reasons. Firstly, neither of us are particularly great at platformers (check out our previous GameBlast streams to see us playing Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and you’ll see what I mean). Secondly, it was also a sneaky way for him to get me to play a Nintendo game on stream (I still need to finish the post about why I dislike the company that I mentioned back in August). Well played, sir.
Rare’s release was just what we expected from a 3D-platformer published in 1998: big polygons, bright colours, caricatured characters and platforms where it’s impossible to tell how far you need to jump. It has a similarly cartoonish storyline to match. A bear and a bird – Banjo and Kazooie from the game’s title – must try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who has kidnapped Banjo’s younger sister Tooty with the intention of putting her in a machine and stealing her beauty.
They’re aided by Bottles, a mole who teaches them new moves, along with a shaman called Mumbo Jumbo who can turn the protagonists into other forms including a walrus and a pumpkin. The heroes travel to each of the nine levels through a central overworld known as Gruntilda’s Lair using collectibles to unlock doors. A certain number of Musical Notes will grant you access to a new section of the overworld, while jigsaw pieces known as ‘Jiggies’ will complete puzzles to get you through to a new level.
Each is made up of challenges involving standard platforming, helping non-player characters (NPCs) and defeating a range of enemies. Find Bottles’ hole within a level and you’ll learn a new ability to help you on your way. For some of these, you’ll need to seek out additional items such as Red Feathers for flying or the Turbo Trainers for speed boosts in timed puzzles. There are also the Jinjos to look out for, five small creatures in each level that will grant you a Jiggy if you locate all of them.
The main reasons I don’t play platformers often is because I tend to suck at them and continuously seeing your character die isn’t an enjoyable experience. 2D versions aren’t too bad – for example, I managed to complete LIMBO for #MaybeinMarch last year – but I’m normally useless when it comes to 3D games. There’s something about the camera angles which means I don’t seem to be able to judge distances very well and falling off ledges ends up being a frequent occurrence.
Although you’re generally able to move the camera in Banjo-Kazooie, it usually ends up wandering back to its original position and is even fixed in one place in some cases. And let’s not forget about the inverted controls: when completing the underwater swimming sections, down on the controller moves the protagonists upwards and vice-versa. Although I played very small parts on stream, I’m very glad Pete was in charge for this game-swap because he did far better than I ever could.
He admitted finding the title hard at the start because it felt rather clunky being a 1990s platformer. But he’s now at the point where he’s really got the hang of it and has even managed to collect all Jiggies, Musical Notes and Jinjos in some of the levels. The swimming parts are still a pain in the butt and it’s proving far too easy to overshoot items when underwater or run out of air while trying to pick them up. But one or two more sessions (at the time of writing) and I reckon we’ll have another game-swap behind us.
I wouldn’t have been so positive if you’d have asked for my opinion during Furnace Fun though. This final level takes the format of a quiz show where players must answer questions about what they’ve seen, heard and discovered about Gruntilda during Banjo-Kazooie. It’s harder than it sounds: some of the screenshots shown during visual tests are so abstract they’re almost impossible to recognise, and we couldn’t hear the audio tests well due to our speaker-volume being turned down low to prevent feedback on stream.
Consider also that if you answer incorrectly, you don’t get to move forward and one of your Honeycomb health-pots will be taken away. Lose all of them and you’ll find yourself being taken right back to the beginning of the level to try all over again from scratch. I have to say a big thank you to The_Ghost_Owl, The Gaming Diaries, Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes and Nathan for helping us by adding the answers in chat and cheering us on when we finally managed to reach the end.
Speaking of the people who joined us in chat for the streams, it was lovely seeing so many of them share their past experiences with Banjo-Kazooie. It appeared Pete and I were definitely in the minority of those people who hadn’t played it as a child on the Nintendo 64 or in fact ever picked it up before. Ellen from Ace Asunder revealed that it’s in her top-three games of all-time; and Frostilyte had plenty to say, particularly when it came to the engine room in Rusty Bucket Bay.
That nostalgia is an incredibly powerful thing. Most people recall social contexts and good relationships when they’re asked to describe a nostalgic memory; so they might reminisce about a certain title, but the chances are that they’re actually thinking about a time they bonded with loved-ones or shared their hobby with friends. Because my other-half and I don’t have these memories, Banjo-Kazooie didn’t have the same impact and instead ended up being simply an acceptable platformer.
I’m not sure we’ll ever feel more about entries in the genre. It’s The Secret of Monkey Island that brings back fond recollections for me because I received it as a gift for Christmas as a kid and it was the first game I’d ever really played for myself; and Pete always brings up Zork on the Commodore 64, a release which both intrigued and frustrated him. I think we’re therefore always going to be drawn to narrative games and feel more for them, because they feature in our earliest gaming experiences.
That’s not to say this current experience hasn’t been worthwhile though – far from it. As I’ve written previously and mentioned again at the start of this post, perhaps the best thing about game-swaps is that they’ve encouraged me to try titles and genres I wouldn’t normally play. So I’ve got to say a huge thank you to Nathan for proposing Banjo-Kazoozie as well as telling him ‘well done’: you did it. You actually managed to get us to play a Nintendo game on Twitch, damn you.
I’m still plugging away at Final Fantasy XIII at the time of writing but now having reached the penultimate chapter, it won’t be long before we’re able to start our next swap. I know that Frostilyte wants to see Pete play a visual novel, a genre he’s really not a fan of; will he manage to convince him?
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.