As a young gamer, I always had to defend video games to my parents or friends who didn’t “get it” by saying video games were more than just games – they were educational, and taught me things. This was partially true on the SNES days, where games like Mario RPG and A Link to the Past taught me how to read, but had I been a more clever child I would’ve brought up other more subtle qualities I learned from games. Like Link’s unending will to fight for justice, or the Donkey Kong clan’s care for their kin. But it’s never too late to learn from an old game – and so, in honor of Retroware’s Banjo-Monthie, I’m returning to one of my favorite Rareware games and discussing the lessons I learned from Banjo (and I guess Kazooie) over the years.
1. Keep a friend around who is nothing like you.
Banjo and Kazooie in many ways are a bit of an odd couple pairing. Banjo is polite, softspoken, a little lazy, and generally friendly, while Kazooie is outspoken, tactless, and a little arrogant about her own abilities. But while it seemed like they were always bickering, that’s not always a bad thing.
Having someone unlike you to contradict you, especially someone you actually value, forces you to consider other options and grow as a person – and in many times will be able to help you with skills you don’t have. When interacting with others, Kazooie was the assertive one that said what Banjo was obviously too kind to say out loud, and Banjo proved time and time again that you got more flies with honey than vinegar.
And on the field, Kazooie’s more athletic movepool made up for Banjo’s continuously out-of-shape body. But in contrast, Banjo had more circumstantial options, like a backpack that healed you or carried you across toxic liquid. Each brought a skillset the other wasn’t likely to have given their usual way of doing things, which made them a viable team.
2. You don’t have to be perfect if you’re creative and willing to try new things.
Nuts and Bolts was not the most well received of the trilogy by any means, though taking apart and building vehicles had its own charm. For me, what really made the game a big selling point was that the customization of vehicles often meant you didn’t have to solve puzzles one specific way anymore. I’d play the game, and watch a friend beat the same level in an entirely different way. Sometimes faster. Heck, his way was almost always faster.
I’m not a puzzle guy. It’s just not the way my brain works. But I didn’t have to solve the puzzle the fastest way to know I’d get there eventually if I kept trying things. I think in real life, it’s really easy to get discouraged when something doesn’t work, and to just assume that our best effort will continue to fall short – which to a certain extent validates Nuts and Bolts as a game that reminds us there are more ways than we know to overcome certain obstacles. There’s a certain optimism and joy that comes from realizing it’s okay if things aren’t going the way we think they should.
Years later, neither of can remember how we beat certain puzzles, and neither of us gives a brown Jinjo who beat it faster. We just remember that we beat it, and we liked playing. On a long enough time scale, most persistent people will get to equal levels of success, be it in the job world or a fictitious game world – but the ones who struggle will usually have better stories.
3. If someone tells you to stop messing with them, you should probably stop.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second and defend Grunty for a second; Grunty doesn’t really have much. She’s a fat, lonely witch whose only companions are crazy sisters that visit sometimes and an incompetent but loyal servant, and her only job is to lose to Banjo in the game (the characters are sentient enough to recognize that they’re characters in a video game, but not sentient enough to realize they’re fictional characters – which implies to them this is basically an acting gig). So when Grunty sees Banjo entering cheat codes for a game she’s destined to lose anyway, it pushes her over the edge – that’s just insult to injury, the one joke that took it too far. Grunty tells Banjo to stop several times, and then if the player continues to enter cheat codes, she deletes the player’s save file out of frustration.
Bottles almost does the same thing at the beginning of the game if you repeatedly call him for no reason, only Bottles is merciful enough to stop because Banjo apologizes. But all the same, regardless of consequence, it speaks volumes when someone takes the time to say something more than once. Most people don’t tell you to stop messing with them if they don’t already feel provoked, and they don’t repeat things if it isn’t important to them. Especially in the professional world, most people let things simmer a bit before they get confrontational. And if there’s one thing Grunty teaches Banjo with the game erasure, it’s that you never know just how much power someone has over you until you push them too far.
But this common courtesy extends far beyond the simple “don’t do this because it has bad consequences”; this is just about being a good person and thinking of others. Grunty has a terrible job. Her job is to sit and wait, knowing that sooner or later a cartoon bear will beat her brains in and then look like a hero for doing it, getting a party to celebrate the fact that he buried you under a rock for two years. Sometimes people just need a break.
4. Money comes and goes. Don’t assume you’ll always have more.
Probably one most frustrating parts of the first two BK games was the strong desire to be an alligator or washing machine or some other cool transformation, only to realize that you didn’t spend enough time looking for Mumbo tokens. And not being able to afford them when they’re just a novelty is nothing compared to not being able to afford them when you need a transformation-specific puzzle piece to progress.
These games taught me a strong appreciation for an earned dollar, and how frustrating it can be when I want something but don’t have enough money – but moreover it taught me how much worse it is when I need something but don’t have enough money. In real life, however, we have options that Banjo didn’t; we can get a damn job and save our money, thereby preventing the latter from being an issue as long as the former doesn’t tempt us.
I like to go out with friends fairly regularly, and so I’m always tempted to sacrifice what I’ll need later in exchange for what I want now. But Banjo also prepared me for this, by creating puzzles that can be completed out of order; with a finite number of Mumbo tokens but multiple options on how to finish, I learned as a kid to prioritize to a certain degree. Granted, I still have some improvement on this one, but I saw the early signs of financial regret in this game and recognize it sooner than I otherwise would.
5. Learn the difference between “I can’t” and “I can’t yet.”
In the earlier two games, levels were creatively designed in such a way that certain puzzles would require moves learned in later levels. At first I didn’t grasp this, and just repeatedly tortured myself with barely-out-of-reach Jiggies. They seemed grabbable, but I just couldn’t do it for some reason.
Eventually, when an older friend explained how that worked, I saw everything in a whole new light. I went back to games I couldn’t beat as a much younger kid and realized my hand-eye coordination had improved, nearly effortlessly letting me beat games like Super Mario Land and Donkey Kong Country 3. Then, taking a note out of Banjo’s repertoire, I played each level assuming I’d fail and have to come back to certain things. This made the game much more manageable, and ultimately less stressful.
It took me a long time to accept this as a life lesson as well. With most things in life, you can only try something so many times before someone tells you that you’re obsessing over something you can’t control, or that you should move on. But sometimes moving on doesn’t mean giving up – sometimes it means coming back to something later when you have more skills. For a real life example, there was a job I applied for when I first moved to Boston that never even called me back, but after a few years of experience I applied again later and got an interview.
Make no mistake as you read this; Banjo is not the best role model. At times he’s too timid for his own good, and when not absolutely necessary he won’t do much, as evidenced by the morbid obesity he accrues between Banjo-Tooie and Nuts and Bolts. But much like us, his adventures teach him lessons – and if we’re wise, we can learn a thing or two from his mistakes without having to endure the same hardships as many times before we finally get it.