Friday, March 27, 2009

Museum Of Banjo History

I have not been the only one to play my copy of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts since its release. My girlfriend has played a significant chunk of it and so has my little three year old sister. Watching them both play has been rather fascinating. My girlfriend, a seasoned gamer like myself, approaches the game's challenges in a completely different fashion to me by building different vehicles and trying new methods. Seeing this different play-style is intriguing as it gives perspective on how I approached them and also demonstrates how everyone plays games differently. I noticed this the most when I realised that my girlfriend was engaged with the main aspect of the game, building vehicles, a lot more enthusiastically than I was. As a result, her progress ultimately reaped the reward of her patience. My sister on the other hand, well, all she really does while playing is run/drive/fly/swim around the levels. I assume that their size is overwhelming for her yet extremely compelling, possibly exciting her as she discovers more and more things that she could see or play with. Again, I find this intriguing but I also find it exciting because her enjoyment is different to my own, or my girlfriend's -- that and it suggests that I will have another co-op partner as she continues to grow up. Watching them showed me something else though, something that was a pleasant surprise yet ultimately something that I should have expected from the game and Rare.

The attention to detail in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts is simply mind-blowing. Rare has always been known to include subtle references to their own products (or even others' like the Nintendo 64 that was in Wrinkly's Save Cave in Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie's Double Trouble) and they also have a reputation for their attention to detail. This continues in Nuts And Bolts with the game's levels absolutely filled to the brim with self-referential nods to other games -- none more so than the level Banjoland.

As I watched my sister fly around and crash into various things, I was simply astounded by all the references to past games in the series. Being a theme-park about Banjo, it obviously has main attractions from previous games such as Clanker from Banjo-Kazooie, but what I am talking about here is the less obvious stuff -- the subtle nods to games gone before and even other games from the company's line-up. Whether it is a garbage bin filled with copies of Grabbed By The Ghoulies (Rare poking fun at how unpopular it was), cabinets featuring statues of Banjo's various transformations or posters on the walls of characters and levels that we all know and love, the level is just full of references. Even the infamous 'Stop N Swap' gets a reference via the ice key which is situated below the Freezeezy Peak Snowman exhibit. Banjoland isn't the only level to feature this stuff though, other levels like LogBox 720 have small hints here and there, namely the spinning discs of Rare's previous games: Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Viva Pinata, etc. Dialogue between characters also contains references to previous games, as well as other franchises not owned by the company such as a reference to a certain Nintendo mascot. Even the character LOG parodies the industry's traditions by claiming to have created the many mechanics we've come to know and love over the years such as losing all of your health in a challenge resulting in "Game Over". This subtle fan service is essentially unnecessary, yet, Rare chose to include it anyway. It's enough to make a massive fan like me cry. Okay maybe not cry, but there was certainly a big grin on my face as I was seeing it all.

The game's attention to detail doesn't stop with self-referential nods to previous games though, the way the levels are built also demonstrate just how much Rare enjoyed revisiting the franchise. Take the first world Nutty Acres for instance; in the distance you can see cogs rotating and controlling things such as the clouds, while on the ground you will see parts of the grass peeled back, revealing the framework of the level below. Banjoland features a snow-making machine where you can literally see the ice cubes being destroyed, while the Jiggoseum has sporting equipment from nearly every sport that is featured in the Olympics - the references even extend to the massive scoreboards hanging from the roof. The level also has its own Torch that you get to relay in one of the level's challenges. It is awe-inspiring to see so much attention to detail and I have only just scratched the surface.

What can I say? I love it when developers take the time to include this stuff. Rockstar has a reputation of doing it with their games, the most obvious one being the Grand Theft Auto series. Nintendo also do it, though they mostly go about it in a subtle matter. A few other developers are known for it as well but beyond those, the majority of developers don't and I honestly find that disappointing. I understand that it takes time away from more important agendas and that they have a schedule to keep (not to mention budget), but as a consumer who doesn't have to care for those things I can't help but crave that more games are given more attention to detail. It is fan service through and through and as a fan, I love it.

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