Have you ever had someone look at you in shock and say “I can’t believe you never played ___!”? That’s what this column is about. I’m an old fart gamer experiencing some of the classic retro games for the first time – and rather than having something profound or meaningful to say about it, I’m just going to share my initial thoughts upon playing a game most others have already deemed a classic. Hope you enjoy my newcomer insight – and ignorance – to games I should have played by now!
This week, I’m covering Banjo-Kazooie, for the Nintendo 64.
If you are a fan of my writing – and if so I apologize – then you’ll notice that Banjo-Kazooie is actually not a game I would normally write about in this column, given the whole point is to experience something I haven’t before. However, in light of all the rumors about Rare making a Banjo-Kazooie sequel, and in light of the spirit-successor Yooka-Laylee going on over at Kickstarter, I felt like this game could use a little more love. So this week, I’m mixing things up a bit; rather than having an article about me experiencing a game for the first time, I decided to expose a friend of mine to the game and compare whether my nostalgia hype actually lives up to how a person would view the game today.
Let’s call this friend of mine Cody for the purpose of this article. Cody is a big fan of technology as a whole – he builds his own computers, has the latest smartphone, and frequently buys gadgets that I’ve never imagined could exist – but he is only recently getting into video games. Naturally, as an adult that is my age, he has a bigger interest in games that appeal to him as an adult; most of the time, we play Grand Theft Auto V.
The first part of the game that stuck out to him negatively was the voice acting, causing him to actually skip the expository scene at the beginning. Much like the person who talks during a movie and then asks questions later, this led to the rest of the introduction having a great deal of confusion – luckily, as a
rabid fan boy person well-versed in Nintendo 64 culture, I was able to help him out and fill in the gaps. It’s funny, as a kid I actually really enjoyed the voices; they never quite said the words but more just mumbled gibberish sounds, so you had a sense of how characters sounded but never had your imagination completely spoiled as to completely find out how they spoke. Cody, however, found this obnoxious. This led to all sorts of fun with me imitating the garbled syllables just to press his buttons.
We spent far more time on the intro than planned, and while skipping the opening scene – and later the move tutorial – cost him a bit, some of it was not his fault. He kept falling into the river on Spiral Mountain, unable to get out, eventually screaming, “This is how all games go!” Originally I thought he just needed to learn the controls, but eventually my inner child kicked in and I desired to do it for him rather than watch him fail over and over – which led to me realizing the Xbox version had trouble making sharp turns the way a N64 controller could. Looking back, I don’t think my childhood ever had this much cursing during the game.
We did, however, eventually evoke the child inside of him, in particular with the stubbornly refusing to quit when something was utterly impossible. Veterans of the game will remember there’s a hill between the first and second worlds that can only be trekked with the Talon Trot move, which you obtain in the first world. Cody repeatedly kept trying to climb that hill despite me telling him it can’t be done. “No, I got it! Seriously, look how close I was that time,” he would say. We also saw child-logic repeatedly as he walked around the first two worlds. The basic introductory enemies like the bull and the ants hurt him a few times before he could learn the attacks, and rather than learning the one-button attacks he just decided it’d make more sense to run away from them, which repeatedly would get him into trouble. At one point in Treasure Trove Cove, he got to a point where a small crab chased him into the shark infested water, only to have the knockback of the shark attack throw him into the boss fight with Nipper. Or, in the eyes of someone who hasn’t played: the crab chased him into a shark, which chased him into a bigger crab, and everything was awful.
There are many games that I’ve replayed as an adult and found them to be less scary than I remembered, and while some of that may be me just growing up I think Cody’s gameplay has reminded me that the games are more terrifying when you’re completely and utterly screwed. But Cody took this failure in strides, and the game’s comedic voices started to make his repeated dying hilarious after a while. Eventually, he concluded that “No kid can beat this. It’s too difficult.” I told him he just needed to put the time in to get better, which was obviously not the correct response.
This game is ideal for kids of all ages. I used to think that phrase was cliché, but games like this explain why a phrase like that can become cliché to begin with. When Cody played, his inner child came out, and he laughed in a way that an adult normally does not. He laughed at failure. He laughed at the world being this big open place full of mystery. He laughed at cheesy childlike dialogue and funny voices. I was so concerned this kind of charm in a game would be lost on someone who never played games, or someone who was a grown ass adult that typically played adult games if any game at all – but just like all those times in as a kid, Banjo-Kazooie left me pleasantly surprised and amazed at its quality.
[Author’s note: this article is dedicated to Nancy Grace – not the legal commentator, but the professor at the College of Wooster, who taught Chalkey everything he knows. Well, not everything; just the aspects he does well in writing articles. The rest he probably learned from the internet.]