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Xenogears 06: Ricardo Banderas

Let's fightLet us consider the story of Ricardo Banderas.

At the age of 30, a man named Sigmund had become the Kaiser of Kislev. Sigmund had had a hard life, being one of the last survivors of the nation of Elru. As a result of his heritage, Sigmund was a demi-human, complete with elven ears. However, he could pass as a “normal” human, as pointy ears are easily hidden by a bright orange hat, and you barely even notice that hat when a guy owns a pipe organ the size of a giant robot. Kaiser Sigmund was very successful as a soldier and politician, and much of that can be attributed to his apparent normalcy.

Sigmund’s son… not so much.

When Sigmund’s wife Anne was pregnant, malevolent doctors in the employ of Solaris administered some nasty drugs. This caused the beastly traits of Sigmund’s genetics to present themselves harder, and, when Rico was born, he had a skin color only a Blanka could love. Anne and Rico were banished (Sigmund was unaware, of course). Anne was left to raise Rico alone in the slums, and, a mere decade after losing her position as empress, Anne had wasted away into death. Rico was now all alone in the world.

Even when Anne was alive, Rico did not have a good childhood. Racism against demi-humans was always on the rise, and being an orange haired freak did not help Rico’s reputation. After his mother passed, Rico was forced to steal to survive as a poor orphan, and the local law enforcement did not turn a blind eye to this undesirable’s undesirable actions. Rico, son of a kaiser, had a mere ten years as a free child, and was then sent to prison for the next twenty.

But despite being a detainee of a discriminatory system, Rico was able to succeed. Rico grew into his beastly strength, and was able to learn how to fight with all the intensity of a man that is 90% muscle. By the time Rico was 20, he had been accepted into the Battler tournament, and was granted his own Gear. A year later, he was the victor, and reigned as the undefeated champion of all prisoners in Kislev D-Block. His Stier Gear was S-tier, without peer.

CHOMPRico may have reigned forever had it not been for the arrival of Fei Fong Wong. No one can say if it was the power of the Slayer of God, his inclination toward not fighting brute strength with brute strength, or the fact that Rico had been injured previously while skulking through the sewers that caused Rico to lose. But Rico did lose, and, after so long as the undisputed champion, Rico was robbed of his identity. Shortly thereafter, a despondent Rico attempted to assassinate the Kaiser by crashing his Gear into Sigmund’s skybox during a fight. When that attempt failed, Rico attempted to raid the Kaiser’s home, but was unsuccessful and imprisoned once again. This time, Rico was to be executed via being dropped into a terrarium with a dinosaur. That is enough for most people…

But Rico survived! Rico was rescued by his rival, Fei. But Fei was only there because of the other prisoners that Rico had led in his time in D Block. Rico may have been a downtrodden prisoner, but he was still a good man who inspired others, and ultimately his soul was saved because those others decided to repay the favor. And, from there, Rico realized how his hometown was important to him, and decided to pilot Stier in an effort to save everyone. Rico was instrumental in protecting the nation that had treated him poorly for nearly his entire life.

Rico, despite everything, triumphed over his own adversity, and became a leader and liberator on par with his father.

And then he is never mentioned in the scripture ever again. Let’s assume he had a good time.

Even Worse Streams presents Xenogears
Night 6

Original Stream Night: February 16, 2021
Night of the Breath of Fire (4)

Random Notes on the Stream:

  • Starting by talking about potential Nintendo Direct announcements (the one that would premiere 2/17/21). Rumors of Zelda games are forever!
  • My Link is always Chaotic Lazy.
  • We have it on official recording that none of us ever believed Sora would be in Smash Bros. Ever. I predicted Xenoblade 2 characters. Pyra and Mythra were announced the next day. I am a genius.
  • “His name is S-Tier?”
  • Fei wins the tournament, Dominia is introduced, and we talk about the Smash Bros that canonically f$&@.
  • Looks niceAs Rico has a flashback to his childhood, let us talk about Namco Webcomics involving Chis Hastings.
  • Time to hate on Donkey Kong 64. Platforming can never be fun (according to Rare).
  • Big Joe is skulking around the alleys while we discuss Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the impossibility of it having a sequel. Oh, and Caliscrub arrives.
  • We have to rescue Rico while Caliscrub begs to know when Hammer will announce his mad skillz. Gonna be a while!
  • “Please, videogame. I just want to play videogame.”
  • Finally! Gameplay! With trains! And discussing Street Fighter launches!
  • Sodom should appear in more Street Fighter games. And, hey, we have a dungeon here.
  • The “just had an article about this” mentioned refers to Rockin’ Kats.
  • We almost have the Weltall back! And Balrog and Ed are dicks.
  • We rescued Rico! And we haven’t talked about Xenogears actually on the stream at all. All fighting games! All the time!
  • Here come Elly and her boys.
  • “Clowns are not a race.” Kinda!
  • “Wait. They’re star-crossed lovers and they both have a robot?”
  • Guards!  Guards!Yes, Fei and Elly take a moment to hop out of their Gears to survey their own destruction.
  • Please do not get me started on the Xeno-timeline. We are trying to fight a giant robot boss here!
  • Fanboymaster claims he would be inordinately surprised if Fatal Frame 5 ever left the WiiU. Guess what was released across all consoles the following October!
  • Elly is saved by Grahf while we discuss Punch-Out and Ashita no Joe yet again.
  • “Hit ‘em with the Blanka ball!”
  • “There’s a lot I like about this game, but I’m glad I’m not playing it” is the final significant thought before we call it a night.

Next time on Xenogears: Back to committing war crimes.

HA HA
Chrono Trigger always made this less ominous

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Mega Fun

This is Mega Man. Mega Man has appeared in countless videogame titles, a handful of animated series, an excellent comic book, a reasonably acceptable holiday special, and more sprite comics than will ever be acknowledged. Like many “stars” of videogames and videogame adaptions, the Blue Bomber has a choose-your-own-adventure sort of canon, and, while there is a dedicated Mega Man timeline, if you want to claim that Mega lives in San Francisco or Monsteropolis, you don’t have to be wrong. And, on a personal note, I type this all with no small amount of authority, as I have dedicated thousands of hours of my life to Mega Man. That right there is Mega Man as he appears in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and, should you require I provide a complete history of his exploits and appearances, that can be arranged.

Back off, boy

This is Astro Boy. It is a well-known fact that Astro Boy is a significant influence on the creation of Mega Man. Astro Boy was the creation of Osamu Tezuka in 1951. That would have been a year when my grandfather was younger than I am now, so Astro Boy has been around for quite a while. Astro Boy has appeared in a number of cartoons, comics, and movies since his premiere, and he even scored one of the best Gameboy Advance games ever created in 2003/2004. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a Treasure beat ‘em up/shoot ‘em up that plays like a lost Super Nintendo classic in the absolute best ways. It also features a surprisingly remarkable story mode involving betrayal, racism, time travel, and Osamu Tezuka creations as guest stars. In fact…

Look at em all

A major point of Astro Boy: Omega Factor is that it includes a full, Smash Bros-esque roster of classic characters. Some are allies, some are bosses, and some only exist to be hidden powerups. Whatever their purpose in the game, they all appear in a final “who’s who” that relays to a neophyte fan who you are looking at and why you should care. In a lot of ways, it is similar to the “trophy mode” of many Smash Bros. titles, and it similarly begs the player to learn more about Osamu Tezuka and his prolific body of works.

And… uh… I know nothing about these guys and gals. In fact, I am going to see if I can view the Tezuka stars exclusively through the lens of the various Smash Brothers. It worked for Mega Man and Astro Boy, right? Let’s start this off with…

Dark Pit

A friendly guy

Dark Pit is the evil twin of the star of Kid Icarus, Pit. Pit has been around since the bygone era of Captain N: The Game Master, but Dark Pit was a new addition to the mythos back when Kid Icarus finally earned its third title, Kid Icarus: Uprising. Dark Pit was created by a magical mirror that was meant to draw out the worst traits of Pit… but Pit was too much of a good boy, so it created an “evil” twin that could best be described as surly. Dark Pit is an exact match for Pit in combat, though he has different divine patrons, so he can beat his counterpart in a few key areas. Regardless, Dark Pit pretty well defines the concept of the darker, edgier rival character, even if “darker” in this case mostly means “can say one (1) additional cuss word”.

Atlas

Nice hair

Atlas is Astro Boy’s mechanical adversary, and, in many incarnations, his literal or figurative sibling. This bother of a brother is as angry as Astro Boy is friendly, and has the typical rival problem of always having to be the very best, even if it means burning down the planet on the way to victory. In Omega Factor, Atlas is a tragic villain with a background involving moons and girls in suspended animation on said moons. This puts Atlas in some prime real estate to be the obvious villain at the start of the adventure, but more of a footnote as the story goes on. In fact, if you want a real villain, you should look at…

Ganondorf

Piggy

Ganondorf first appeared as the Dark Wizard Ganon in The Legend of Zelda in 1986. Fun fact: distinct from characters like karting king Bowser or baseball star K. Rool, Ganon was one of the few Nintendo villains to never be playable in an affable capacity. You couldn’t even control Ganon outside of Smash Bros. until Hyrule Warriors in 2014, and even there, he was involved in a campaign to kill literally every other playable character. Not the friendly sort! And why would he be? He is an immortal outcast that desires nothing more than ruling/destroying a kingdom or two. Ganondorf is not a pleasant fellow.

Garon

Big Boy

Garon is an unstoppable robot from the stars that towers over Astro Boy and may have nearly conquered Earth once or twice. And, oh yeah, depending on the translation, sometimes he is simply known as “Satan”. That is not a name you want to see assigned to a giant robot. Garon is one of the monsters that Astro Boy wasn’t able to defeat with basic armaments in his original appearance, so ol’ Astro has to trick Garon into monkeying with the gravity and inadvertently hurling himself into the stratosphere. Now, I’m not saying this could ever work on Ganondorf, but has anyone ever tried tricking the big guy when he was making a wish on the Triforce? It might have some fun results.

Falco Lombardi

Bird boy

Let’s get back to the heroes. Falco Lombardi is the ace pilot of the Star Fox team. He has occasional fights with his leader, Fox McCloud, but generally seems to get along with his other fellow pilots, Slippy and Peppy. There have been a few rare occasions when Falco tried to strike out on his own, but, give or take when he tried to join F-Zero, he remains a loyal pilot. He’s also a bird-man. This isn’t unusual in his universe of eclectic animal people, and nobody really makes a big deal about his avian ancestry.

Duke Red

Bird brain

Duke Red appears in all sorts of Tezuka materials, most notably (in my mind) as a criminal kingpin in Metropolis. He has been a villain many times, but is a well-meaning politician in Omega Factor that kinda sorta creates a doomsday device that literally destroys the planet. Whoopsie. Regardless, what is important is that Duke Red is some kind of bird man, and nobody ever draws attention to this fact. Many Tezuka worlds are racist as hell, so he is patently not living in some kind of utopia universe. Maybe people aren’t familiar with birds in these stories? Whatever. This whole thing makes a whole lot less sense when there isn’t a talking toad around…

Bayonetta

Bullet Hell Woman

It is miraculous that Bayonetta appears in Super Smash Bros. This is the franchise that had to stick nylons on some scantily clad weapon ladies, and could not include King of Fighter’s Mai as a background character because her design was not built for good little boys and girls. Bayonetta meanwhile is a bullet witch that hunts angels with the power of removing her clothes. She exclusively appears in games rated M for Mature, and swears like a sailor while destroying celestial creatures with hair-based attacks. And those heels! Attached to those legs! Won’t someone please think of the children!? I mean, she kicks ass and her games are awesome, but she looks a little out of place standing next to the Ice Climbers.

Prime Rose

Nice sword

In Omega Factor, Prime Rose is practically the definition of a damsel in distress, as she is caged in a tube for nearly her entire appearance, and two boy (robots) have to fight over her while she is double rescued by a brilliant surgeon. Likely as a result of being stuck in a tube/operating table, when Prime Rose is finally well enough to speak, she exclusively appears while stark naked. However, when she later is part of the game’s glossary of characters, she is wearing a battle bikini and equipped with a sword. Why? Well, apparently she originates from a 1982 manga that was meant to capitalize on a “cute girl” craze. And then there was a movie where she was some kind of anime Red Sonya. So, hey, when do we get to play that game? Prime Rose and Bayonetta could team up!

Banjo & Kazooie

Banjo!

Speaking of pairs, in the beginning, there was Banjo, and he was pretty good at racing. But this bear’s career didn’t take off until a bird’s egg fell into Banjo’s backpack, and Kazooie was born. Thus, the inseparable (except in that one game) pair joined forces, and beat back any green witch mean enough to cause a ruckus in Banjo’s neck of the woods. Banjo & Kazooie haven’t seen much play in recent years, but they are the good kind of goofy mascots that can appear in practically anything. Hey! Nintendo and Rare? Let Banjo do the Olympics with Mario. Everybody will enjoy it.

The Amazing Three

Dumb horse thing

The Amazing Three are aliens from a far-off planet that were sent here to assess whether or not Earth should be allowed to continue to Earth along, or should be obliterated with a neutron bomb. Considering we’re still here, looks like we passed. Once the Amazing Three arrive on Earth, they take the forms of a rabbit, horse, and duck. That is enough like a bear and bird for me to be happy with this article’s comparison. Also, let’s be real here: Banjo & Kazooie need the ability to destroy their planet at all times. Can’t find that last musical note? Destroy the universe. It is appropriate retaliation. Oh, anyway, The Amazing Three appear as comic relief in Omega Factor, so let’s not worry about how Nokko the Horse Alien is eventually responsible for the birth of Bojack Horseman.

Piranha Plant

CHOMP

Piranha Plant is just one of those dudes you never consider who appears in damn near everything. Not unlike the cheap cheap, P.P. has not only done his best to appear in countless Mario platformers; the prickly plant has also appeared as background fodder in various Mario Karts, Parties, and probably somewhere in those soccer games. Of course Piranha Plant became a full fledged fighter in Super Smash Bros Ultimate: he appeared in the original Smash Bros as an obstacle in the hidden arena. Even Bowser didn’t make an appearance in that game!

Black Looks

Unfortunate name

Black Looks, aka Black Lux, was little more than a pissed off dude that hated robots in his original appearance. However, in Omega Factor, Black Looks becomes a trench coat clad army of dudes with laser guns and a major hate-on for robots. They are relentless, and, in typical Treasure fashion, there are some inexplicably stretched sprites of Black Looks, so you get to fight a few “humans” that are twelve feet tall. And this is the legacy of the piranha plant: a simple fellow that, through no fault of his own, is now an entire army unto himself. No one should be surprised when Black Looks start popping out of pipes and biting plumbers.

Incineroar

Gotta catch em all

Incineroar, the heel Pokémon. Although it’s rough mannered and egotistical, it finds beating down unworthy opponents boring. It gets motivated for stronger opponents. When its fighting spirit is set alight, the flames around its waist become especially intense.

Brontus

Big Bird

Mont-Blanc, aka Brontus, one of the world’s seven strongest robots. A guide from Switzerland, it is said he had over 100,000 horsepower. He met Pluto, a gigantic bull robot, and was destroyed within a minute. He then appeared in the 1963 and 1980 anime… and was similarly immediately crushed. In Omega Factor, he is marginally invincible, and can shoot fireballs. So, like a Pokémon, his abilities are increased dramatically the minute he can run around in an actual action game.

Sora

I know that guy!

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s final fighter: Sora hails from Kingdom Hearts, a game that may have been discussed on this site. Sora has an extremely convoluted backstory, but what is important is that he will fight for his friends, and his friends include a whole lot of Disney properties. Goofy, Mickey, Aladdin, Elsa, Jack Skellington: Sora knows all the big players, and they are all connected to his heart. Of course, you’re not allowed to mention any of them in Smash Bros., because Disney keeps an iron grip on its intellectual property, and apparently the world will explode if Mario’s white gloves touch Donald’s feathery butt. And speaking of Disney being litigious…

Pook

Pooka?

I know this one! Pook (aka Bobo) is a trouble making little boy robot that appears across various Astro Boy stories, but, more importantly, this Pook can transform into Jungle Emperor Leo aka Kimba the White Lion. Ever hear about Kimba? Kinda sounds like Simba, don’t it? Well, that is theoretically not a coincidence, as there have been many accusations over the years that Disney outright stole much of Kimba the White Lion when it was not able to purchase the rights. But, let’s be real here: that’s hogwash. After all, everyone involved in The Lion King’s production has claimed that they never even saw Kimba the White Lion, and it is just a coincidence that both stories involve lion protagonists with rhyming names, wise mandrill advisors, fratricide, a lion with an eye scar taking over in the prince’s absence, hyena henchmen, and a cute lioness love interest. And the scenes that look like they were wholesale lifted from the original Tezuka anime? Complete fluke! And Kimba doesn’t even know Elton John, so they’re absolutely separate movies. Let’s just put that rumor to rest now.

Donkey Kong

You know him well

But we can’t ignore every bit of litigation in every company’s past. Donkey Kong is an established bit of Nintendo history now, but he came with a lawsuit in his early days. The estate of the late great King Kong claimed Donkey Kong was biting on the whole “big gorilla kidnaps woman and climbs on stuff” shtick, and Nintendo nearly had to retract its greatest selling arcade game for fear that it would be squashed by copyright law. While Nintendo won in the end, it just goes to show that even the most original companies often come from origins that border on theft, and all ideas stand on the borrowed shoulders of giants. If we are being honest, there would be no Donkey Kong without King Kong, and there would be no Mighty No. 9 without a Mega Man who needs his Astro Boy.

Sharaku

EYEBALL

And that’s just Krillin fused with Tien Shinhan, right? This Osamu Tezuka guy is a hack.

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

  • System: Gameboy Advance. If ever a game deserved to be ported to something for modern consoles, this would be it.
  • Number of players: Astro Boy gets by with the support of his friends, but is stuck in a single player game.
  • Here comes the factor!Favorite Astro Friend: It is a great bit of storyline/gameplay synergy that Astro Boy levels up as he meets more people. I normally cannot stand a leveling system in a beat ‘em up, but I’ll allow it if it means Unico adds to your fighting power. Anywho, Don Dracula, head vampire of Mu, is cowering on a train, and will sell out his boss unprompted by anything, so going to congratulate that vampire on being my favorite “ally” in this adventure.
  • What gets your points? Power up Astro Boy’s mega death laser for maximum fun. Yes, it is a hyper move that requires charging some punches, but it is absolutely the best way to do damage to practically everything. In a way, it seems like Astro Boy learned how to be a videogame from Marvel vs. Capcom 2… which may explain why I like it so much.
  • So, did you beat it? I used a FAQ back in the day, because some of the conditions for unlocking the proper paths are complete nonsense (replay the tutorial stage? Really?). That said, for a game that is based on just punching and/or lasering stuff as hard as you can, the way the plot progresses is a really interesting way to get the player to experience the same levels over again. I would be annoyed if it weren’t so much fun.
  • All aboardGoggle Bob Fact: This game was a Christmas gift from my grandmother, and now this article is publishing on her birthday. She would have been nearly 110 this year! That’s weird!
  • Did you know? The North American version of this game was delayed to coincide with the release of the Astro Boy Saturday Morning Cartoon. This allowed Treasure to put some additional polish on the experience during the waiting period, so maybe that’s why this is easily one of Treasure’s best games. Or maybe fighting robots are just a natural fit for videogames. Whatever. It works!
  • Would I play again: Yes. Now somebody release it on Switch so I can play it without having to dig out an ancient portable system with pulsating batteries.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Body Harvest for the Nintendo 64! We gonna fight some bugs! Please look forward to it!

ROBOT
Robots! We get it!

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

knock knockIt is 2020, and Banjo-Kazooie is still one of the best 3-D platformers of all time.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I have no affection for Banjo and Kazooie. I hit puberty right around when Banjo was making the scene, and that resulted in some lingering issues regarding the goofy bear. Actually, to be clear, I officially became a teenager a couple of years earlier (right about in time for me to focus on other things in polygonal graphics), and that meant I was well and truly over it by the time the Nintendo 64 was hitting its stride. Did I still play videogames? Of course. But did I only play videogames for mature, highly sophisticated teenagers such as myself? Indubitably. Excuse me, Rare & Nintendo, I only have time for developed JRPGs right now. Did you see that tactics game insult God during the intro? I don’t think this fuzzy creature is going to offer me a similar experience.

So I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie in its prime. Despite loving Mario 64, I had moved on to other genres by the time one was supposed to be collecting collectathons, so BK was dropped as easily as DK (he’s the leader of the bunch). And, as I eventually became a poor college student during this time, I didn’t wind up snagging the game in any capacity until the Gamecube had conquered the gaming continent (or at least the Nintendo island). Then I was able to pick up N64 games by the bucketful, as they had dropped in value from “hundreds of hours of fun should cost nearly a hundred dollars” to “you can have a new game, but you have to buy one less taco”. So Banjo-Kazooie was purchased with other titles that I had deigned too “kiddy” at the time (see also: Paper Mario). I played it for about a week, collected what I could, beat the bulk of the game, and then moved on to other adventures. There were new, better games out, and why should I waste my time on something so obviously past its prime? Just look at Eternal Darkness! Need I be more fair? Aim for something more in the same genre? Well, I recall jumping directly from BK to Mario Sunshine. “Now this is a modern platformer!” I exclaimed to an empty room while dropping bear ‘n bird forever…

And who knew that nearly 20 years later, I’d be writing an article about how Banjo-Kazooie kicks Mario Sunshine’s soggy ass?

Here we goWait, heck, I feel like I have to elaborate on my own opinions again. I like 3-D Mario titles. Hell, I consider all of them to be some of the best videogames out there. I’ve spoken of it before, but the feeling of controlling Mario is unparalleled. There is nothing like perfectly leaping over obstacles to grab another star, shine, or moon. I like Mario Sunshine. It is probably the Nintendo Gamecube title I revisit the most, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many smashing brothers reside in that system. 3-D Mario games are still the gold standard for moving and “playing” in a 3-D space.

And, to be clear, Banjo is no Mario. This bear might have the somersault jump, and something approximating Mario’s 3-D triple leap, but the similarities end there. Beyond that, Banjo’s moveset is a bit stiff. It’s not bad! It’s actually pretty great compared to some of the turds that appeared in the 3-D space in the late 90’s. But there are a lot of… little things that hold Banjo back in his first adventure. Shooting requires stopping and ducking, which is immediately frustrating when a witch is lobbing fireballs. Switching to Kazooie’s footwork is fun for climbing hills, but it’s another move that requires you stop and swap. And why are we even talking about a bird walking when she can be flying? Banjo’s Kazooie-aided float jump is pretty fun, but actual flight can be a bear. Landing and/or determining your exact location relative to the ground is difficult when you’re anywhere past about six feet off terra firma, and dive-bombing your opponents is nearly impossible to properly aim (and, half the time, you add injury to insult by losing health if you miss). Maybe it’s the familiarity, maybe it’s the focused design, but, somehow, Mario feels effortless to control, while Banjo is stuck in a number of situations where his abilities are lacking thanks to a combination of controls and camera. It should not take any more than a second to power-poop an egg into a hole!

Don't look at meBut judging Banjo-Kazooie as merely a platformer does it a disservice. Yes, Banjo doesn’t control as well as Mario. Mario wins that match every time, against every opponent. But Banjo-Kazooie does beat Mario in its own, chosen field: Banjo-Kazooie is a better collectathon than Mario 64. What’s more, Mario, from Yoshi’s Island to Odyssey, has never beaten Banjo-Kazooie at its own game.

Banjo-Kazooie is every bit the collectathon your parents warned you about (“Stay away from that bad boy, and don’t waste time grabbing everything in a collectathon!”). Every one of the nine worlds in BK contain no less than 100 music notes, 10 jiggies, 5 jinjos (required to obtain one jiggy), 2 honeycombs (health), and any number of silver skulls, eggs, and feathers of all colors. And, like many collectathons, every last bauble and collectible is simultaneously optional and mandatory: you need to nab a certain percentage of everything previously listed, but you don’t need every last item if you stocked up on some in an earlier level. Regardless of required amounts, though, this does mean there is a lot to find in every level, which is always a blessing and a curse. It is fun to find a new jiggy, but it is also a pain when you’ve got nine out of ten and… where did that last one go again? Was I supposed to beat some manner of giant crab, or explore the depths of the ocean? It’s… somewhere around here… Right?

But that is exactly where Banjo-Kazooie excels. By clearly defining the number of essential collectibles for every area, a simple checklist is immediately generated. By limiting the size of levels to something that can be easily traversed in minutes, you’re never stuck in an area that is far too large to explore for that final music note. By transparently outlining “extras” in an area with the assistance of a friendly mole, you always know if there is still a new move or ability to find. And when every world gives you a clear goal and a constrained play area, you wind up not having to sweat the small stuff. Found eight jiggies, have a general idea on the locations of those last two, but haven’t completed their associated challenges yet? Great! Now you can caper around the area at will, and all you have to worry about is eventually returning to those last few pieces of gold. When you know the parameters of every world’s challenges, you can have fun within those borders. No need to obsessively press A next to every nook, cranny, and NPC to hope for the best…

WeeeeeeAnd this is a lesson Mario never seems to learn. Mario 64 vacillated between “you can earn every star immediately” and “you must complete challenge A before moving on to challenge B” from level to level. Mario Sunshine decided to focus on sequential challenges, and wound up making each “world” more of a “level” in the process (and aggravatingly tossed unaccountable blue coins all over the place in the process). The Super Mario Galaxy games focused even further on making “courses” as opposed to “exploration worlds”, and would once again hide a collectible or two around a level, but never a consistent amount. Mario Odyssey finally returned to the exploration of Marios gone by… but every area suddenly contained an unruly number of moons. Would this mundane block randomly grant you a moon? Or do you have to defeat a mighty boss to get the same reward? How about jump roping for thousands of hours? All the collectibles were equal in value, but violently varied in their collection methods. And, since that “final moon” for the level could be found through something as routine as throwing a hat at an unexceptional frog (basically how I spend my Tuesdays anyway), a player without a distinct guide was forced to try every goddamn thing in every world about six times. Hey, sorry to bother you again, but maybe you are the one skeleton dude that will hand over that final moon…

Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have this problem. Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have autoscrolling levels, flying shyguys hording red coins, or areas that require six kinds of backtracking. Every one of its nine worlds is very honest about its challenges and collectibles, and, if you’re getting lost, there’s probably a googly-eyed toilet around that will shout some clues at you. There are no situations where you will have to repeat an entire area just for one last jiggy, and (by my count) there is only one possible challenge Nice placethat requires a powerup out of sequence with the rest of the game’s flow (that would be the running shoes in the ice stage, for the curious). Everything else is straightforward to a fault, and you’re every bit as capable of immediately finding everything in the first world as you are at the finale. Banjo-Kazooie is designed in such a way to help a player understand the rhythm of its worlds very quickly, and then, once that is accomplished, gently guide play from one challenge to the next.

Banjo-Kazooie is an expertly planned collectathon that wholly avoids the greatest pitfalls of the genre. That makes it one of the best 3-D platformers ever committed to cartridge. It is, to this day, a smashing success.

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

  • System: N64 to begin, and then it migrated over to the Xbox 360. It’s currently available on Xbox One, too, as part of the Rare Replay collection. This is ideal, as N64 games make my eyes bleed.
  • Number of Players: This is one of the few “Nintendo” N64 games that didn’t at least try to use all four controller ports. So one player here.
  • Reused Game: As I have stated before, I generally do not delete old save files from used games if I can help it. This is because I have brain problems, and treat save files like precious children. So, speaking of children, here’s what the previous owner of my copy of Banjo-Kazooie was up to…

    33 hours, and they didn’t even beat the game. Tell me your secrets, N64 cartridge! Did someone just like running around in circles for hours? That’s perfectly okay! Just tell me what happened!

  • Port-o-Call: Okay, I might insult the graphics of the N64 on a routine basis (I think it goes back to that teenage angst thing mentioned earlier), but the controls of Banjo-Kazooie really were made for the N64 controller, so playing it on the original hardware at least once adds a little context to how the whole “using a gold feather” thing made sense on at least one console. That said, definitely play the Xbox360 version, because at least that unlocks new features for other Banjo-based games.
  • Are you talking about the Stop ‘N’ Swop Eggs and the Ice Key? Yes. Please don’t get me started on Nintendo Power lying to me yet again. I’m still grumbling about Crash Man.
  • This is the worstHey, Mario 64 called, it wants its everything back: There was a lot of discourse in the 90’s that Banjo-Kazooie wholesale ripped off Mario 64. There’s a desert level full of pyramids and flying, a huge castle filled with secrets and portraits, and, perhaps most damning of all, an entire ice level themed around an impossibly large snowman. And, while these are all great points, it’s important to note that Banjo-Kazooie is 100% its own adventure. How can you tell? Well, you don’t see oversized cartoon eyes on Mario 64’s ridiculous eel, do you? Check. Mate.
  • Favorite Level: Tick Tock Woods actually disproves my thesis, as you are repeatedly returning to the same area with slightly different changes, and then have to explore the whole area all over again. It’s like a dry run for Donkey Kong 64! That said, it’s the exception that proves the rule, and I enjoy even the slightest scraps of time travel, so I’m down. Also, it contains the only worthwhile magical transformation in the game, so I’ll take it.
  • Everybody Talks: If I’ve got one complaint about Banjo-Kazooie, it’s that absolutely every damn thing has something to say, and 90% of that dialogue is awful. I don’t need a shark explaining that he is trying to eat me, Rare, he’s a shark. And the whole Gruntilda thing could be fun from a “she’s a scary/gross Halloween witch” perspective, but the entirety of her interactions with the world boil down to “she’s fat”. Over and over again. Same joke. She’s fat, and nobody likes her because she’s fat. And it’s wonderful to see that joke continued into the most recent Banjo adventure…
  • The goggles do nothing: And they insult people for wearing goggles!

    The goggles!

    But I guess it gets better.

    They do nothing!

    Partial credit.

  • Did you know? Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong are not disguised as a basic chimp and guerrilla lurking in the first world. Those are totally different characters, and, if you want Banjo and Diddy to interact, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
  • Would I play again: Probably! I was impressed by how Banjo-Kazooie fares compared even to its own direct sequels, and I’ll probably give Banjo another go in the future. It’s fun collecting things when a game is designed around placating my OCD, and not just running it into overdrive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES! Yes, that’s right, it’s inexplicable bee transformation week here at Gogglebob.com! Please look forward to it!

Bee yourself