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Reviewed by Raymond Almeda Dreams do come true. Over a year ago, rumors swirled about a Rare/Nintendo title that carried the code-name "Dream." After numerous delays, that dream has become reality. The game is Banjo-Kazooie, and it has proven to be well worth the wait. Banjo-Kazooie is arguably the best 3D platformer of all time, and unquestionably one of the best titles yet to grace the N64. Probably the least interesting aspect of Banjo-Kazooie is the game's rather predictable storyline. The honey bear Banjo receives his call to action when his lovely sister Tooty is kidnapped by (who else) the wicked witch Gruntilda. The old hag's plan is to suck the beauty out of Tooty, an atrocity that Banjo must prevent at all costs. So he teams up with his breegull compadre Kazooie, and ventures out into the vast world of the game. The characters of Banjo-Kazooie (despite their unfortunate names) are well crafted and memorable. Most of them would be right at home on the big screen, acting in the latest Disney flick. One of the unique design characteristics of Banjo-Kazooie is the way the game stars two characters. Kazooie tags along in Banjo's blue backpack, emerging when needed. Each character can perform special moves, so each character makes a significant contribution to gameplay. Although Rare could have easily gone with one character for all these moves, the focus on teamwork is welcome; it makes for a nice break from the solo questing of lonely Italian plumbers. Did someone say Mario? As you have no doubt heard, Banjo-Kazooie has been heavily influenced by Shigeru Miyamoto's classic Super Mario 64. Many of the controller moves are even identical in function. For example, jumping and pressing the Z button produces a "beak buster" in Banjo-Kazooie, which is very similar to Mario's butt stomp. Some of the levels are also reminiscent of Mario, especially the winter and haunted house environments. So do the similarities make Banjo-Kazooie a so-called "Mario clone"? Perhaps. Is that a bad thing? Not at all! When Miyamoto unveiled Mario 64, the gaming industry was amazed. Just as he had created the 2D side-scrolling platform game in the 1980's, Miyamoto created another genre for the 1990's. The problem has been simply that most game companies lack the creative and technical talent to produce a comparable game to Mario. So there have been many attempts to make a great 3D platformer worthy of Mario-status; Banjo-Kazooie is the first game to really get it right, and that is testimony to Rare's own incredible talent pool. The heart of the Banjo-Kazooie development team has another title called Donkey Kong Country on their resume. These guys get it, and their talent is demonstrated beautifully here. There is a total of nine huge levels in Banjo-Kazooie, as well as a massive "overworld" from which each level is accessed. The game progresses beautifully; in the beginning, our bird-bear duo know only a handful of moves. As they progress through the game they collect musical notes (there are 100 on each level) and puzzle pieces. Collect enough notes and puzzle pieces, solve the right brain-teasers, and you can advance to the next level. With the instructional help of Bottles the Mole, new moves are also learned throughout the game. While the duo may begin with only a handful, by the end of the game there are over 20 different moves! You will find yourself using each move often, as the ingeniously designed levels require a constant juggling of the action. Each level of Banjo-Kazooie is laden with objects to collect, puzzles to solve, characters to meet, and mini-games to play. The levels are both vast and fully visible. One of the most impressive graphical features of Banjo-Kazooie is the incredible depth of vision. It is possible to stand at one end of a massive level (ie. a giant underground cave in Clanker's Cavern) and visually scan the entire level. One can see the equivalent of miles in the distance. There is no fogging whatsoever throughout the game. The depth of vision may be startling, but equally amazing are the giant characters that appear throughout the game. Of particular note is Clanker, the giant mechanical shark / garbage compactor who inhabits his own dirty cavern. The polygonal effects of Clanker are incredible: the shark itself is as large as the levels of some games. And Clanker is covered with detailed and varied textures, a Rare trademark that is taken to new heights here. Banjo-Kazooie is replete with a fantastic variety of textures. Ever notice how some N64 titles repeat the same texture throughout the game? It's not a problem here. Banjo-Kazooie redefines what is possible on the N64. Not only is there a welcome variety of textures, the artists at Rare have outdone themselves in the texture details. Throughout the game are eye-grabbing textures that help to complete a thoroughly immersive environment. Rounding out the package is memorable music that is truly dynamic. Gone forever are the days of the same old MIDI tune endlessly looping in the background. The music here is not only catchy, it actually constantly changes as the characters progress through a level. Different situations produce different music. For example, when Banjo and Kazooie go for an underwater swim, the music assumes a muted, muffled tone as if it were being heard underwater! The impact of this dynamic music is simply a more involving, more compelling, game. Banjo-Kazooie was a long time in development, and it shows. The attention to quality and detail in this game is remarkable. If all companies took the time and possessed the talent to produce such games, we would all lead more interesting (if geeky) lives. Banjo-Kazooie improves upon Super Mario 64 in almost every respect. It represents the best of "quality over quantity" and belongs in every N64-owner's library. This is as good as gaming gets.

Overall 100 out of 100

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