Banjo & Mario: A Prescription for Platform Games / HOTCYDER

By Paul Henry / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Two titles released two years apart and developed by two studios at the peak of their prosperous partnership are perhaps some of the most genre defining games of their time having set the template for open-world sandbox games later codified by Grand Theft Auto 3 as well as being the inspiration for countless other titles both games are some of the most important milestones met in the early stages of full 3D Games Design However, you might be asking the question why nearly 20 years later Should these games be reanalysed? This year sees a revival of this storied genre thanks to two big releases Two titles from their original developers that returned the example set by their
fore-bearers This isn’t mentioned a number of independently developed games built by passionate fans of this long-forgotten genre such as the upcoming ‘A Hat In Time’ For developers who have been inspired by their fond memories for these games It’s important to understand what made these two so popular in the first place but equally as essential to examine whether lessons can be learnt from their strengths and weaknesses In this essay I want to dig into the underlying mechanics and presentation of both games Compare and Contrast them to one another and make some points of their successes and failures I’ll also be making some points regarding both their sequels and spin-offs not to mention other games in this time-frame that embraced elements of their design By the end of it, I hope to bring light to some of the bullet points
that the new wave of 3D platforming game developers could keep in mind when
creating titles of their own Without further ado Let’s get into what makes these games tick First – A Quick History Lesson For the mid-90s the success
Nintendo and Rare’s business partnership had bolstered the profile of both
companies Donkey Kong Country had given the Super Nintendo an edge over
competitors by reintroducing the classic arcade character with a state-of-the-art
presentation The technology that drove its pre-rendered graphics would later
become the backbone of Nintendo’s upcoming hardware and the two companies were already ahead of the curve due to their early exposure Nintendo had already
started to experiment in the third dimension with titles like Starfox and Stunt Race FX But for their next console they were fully dedicated to embracing this new technology Super Mario 64 was developed from the ground up to be a
set-piece game for the upcoming Nintendo 64 and would be Mario’s formal
inauguration into the third dimension Where the character had become beloved
due to Nintendo’s knack for finely crafted obstacle courses – bursting with
personality and imagination The decision was made to rebuild the Mario template from the ground up While still retaining the appeal that all these original games had Perhaps the most important facet of 64’s intentions and one that informed all other design decisions made is in how it presents the
window to its world Where the original single screen arcade games had given way to the side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. series 64 took the camera
placement out of the developers control and gave it directly to players With the opportunity to point yourself in whatever direction you saw fit Changes were made to accommodate this new freedom Levels were redesigned from
linear obstacle courses into wide open arenas Platforming challenge was
balanced with exploration and examination Finally – Mario’s movements were made more expressive and interactive to better make use of these multi-dimensional environments The game became something
quite unlike anything people had seen before Including the developers at Rare Banjo-Kazooie started life as an RPG for the Super Nintendo under the
codename of ‘Dream’ This original game looked to do for the genre what Donkey Kong Country had done for platforming games A highly ambitious title that built
on the team’s aptitude for pre-rendered graphics stunning soundtracks and fantastic world building and taking ques from both role-playing and
point-and-click adventure games Its development would quickly move to the
Nintendo 64 as it proved too large for the Super Nintendo’s capabilities and at this point took on further iterations With its cast of characters, World Design and even Protagonist transforming into what would reflect the final game According to the developers After seeing an early build of a Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 The team were inspired to hone upon a new intention for the game To create a 3D Adventure title Built around the interface of a platforming game Both titles were released to critical acclaim and stand is two best-selling games for
the Nintendo 64 Nintendo would later expand on the outline of 64 with ‘Super Mario Sunshine’ for the Gamecube and then re-imagine it for Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii Rare – on the other hand Followed up Banjo-Kazooie with the comparable ‘Donkey Kong 64’ and a true sequel – ‘Banjo-Tooie’ – in the year 2000 Before eventually partnering with Microsoft as a first party developer in 2003 Nearly 20 years on The games both remain influential and have seen re-releases:
both unchanged and reworked for new platforms and it goes to show that these
games still remain completely playable *pause* Though with varying levels of fortune It’s hard not to start comparing these two So perhaps I should jump straight
into my analysis of these two Titanic Titles Secondly – Some Clarification An argument can be made that the two
games shouldn’t be compared due to their ideological differences That came about as circumstances of their development Super Mario 64 was designed to be a
reevaluation of Mario’s 2D Platforming in a 3D space While Banjo-Kazooie came about as a transformation from a Role-Playing Game into an Adventure Game Yet – beyond their intended deviation The two are built on a very familiar
framework Whereas a traditional platforming title would follow the task of completing levels in a linear fashion Both games use levels as hubs to access
objectives with tokens awarded as your prize for completion These tokens are then used as currency to access more of your central hub and new levels as a result If you could imagine a conventional 2D Platforming Game As a line drawn from the start of the level to the end goal Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie instead is a series of lines draw from a single point to multiple end points Each level can be thought of like a Snow Globe Separate from the main hub with a unique landmark or gimmick at the centre of its design This could be the mountain of each games’ first levels The snowman at the centre of a winter themed environment an Egyptian desert – complete with Pyramid or a nautical level with a pirate’s ship as a central focus Rooted in theme park design These junctures can both be the setting of objectives as well as starting points for others due to their proficiency of capturing a player’s attention Both games are built
around using: and basic NPC interaction as your main form of influence on the world An obvious holdover from the 2D age But reworked to better fit the scope of an open environment With full 360 degree of movement thanks to the n64 s inclusion of a thumb-stick Not to mention a trigger
button at the back of the controller that allows for quick access to an
all-purpose modifier Finally – both games follow an analogous presentation and narrative Set in bold and abstract worlds that play on well-known images with the
ground homes of the female leads used as as a hub between fantastical levels Graphics pop with bright colors and strong character design and music by Koji Kondo and Grant Kirkhope respectively perfectly sets the mood for each level Both protagonists are heroic misfits that use their special abilities to solve problems on a quest to save damsels in distress from the clutches of monstrous villains that not only pose a physical threat but taunt you on every step of your journey However – below the surface of their
comparable appearances the moment-to-moment game play of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie couldn’t be more conflicting Using an open world and multiple objective designs as their template and making the in-between of objectives a
key point of its design Super Mario 64 makes its mechanics the star of the show while Banjo-Kazooie makes context a more important facet In other words If Banjo-Kazooie is a Theme-park Then Super Mario 64 is a Playground To best explain what I mean We’ll have to retread a few of these common points and expand on them Your main input with both games are ‘Jumps’ and ‘Attacks’ as previously stated but how
detailed they are a very unalike Mario’s jumps are perhaps the most important aspect of the game as they should be Expanding on the original leap
Mario can also perform: and your proficiency with these abilities can make the difference
between solving puzzles the intended way and high-level mastery the developers didn’t intend on the other hand Banjo-Kazooie gives you a larger suite of
abilities and some of which you unlock later on in game in order to explore more of a level are just some of the special abilities you’ll unlock and this isn’t to mention character transformations that retool your protagonist and control
scheme in order to solve even more objectives Of course – Super Mario 64 also
includes some transformations but these come in the form of special caps these grant temporary changes to Mario’s physical attributes and controls such as turning him into heavy metal that sinks and walks across the sea or grants him the ability to take to the skies and like Banjo – these are used to solve a
number of objectives How the two games handle flight in particular shows the difference of their intention In Super Mario 64 -once you grab onto the flight cap you can activate a glide either by shooting yourself from a cannon or at the arc of your triple jump Once you are in the air You have to manually maintain
flight by pitching Mario like a scoop Pushing down into a dive and then
pulling up as he plateaus for a burst of speed The inbetween of these objectives aren’t then just about meeting check boxes but also about keeping Mario in flight and at the right elevation Meanwhile – Banjo-Kazooie’s flight is as easy for standing on a special marker and pressing a button Where you’ll quickly translate from normal controls to flight in a slick animation You’ll constantly have a forward momentum and can use the control stick to change your direction You slowly loose elevation over time but you can use a currency known as feathers to remain in the air and gain height In most cases, the game fully intends for you to use this ability to solve a multitude prescribed challenges but you can also use it to skip the in-between of other objectives Super Mario 64’s controls then are best
built for platforming challenge and perhaps capitalise the best on the benefits of full 3D control as stated previously – there’s a lot of headroom to their execution and it explains why the game has managed to maintain a healthy competitive scene since its release Returning to both these games I was surprised by just how much more I could do with Super Mario 64’s control scheme than I could previously and this feeling of mastery in particular was incredibly
satisfying On the other hand – Banjo-Kazooie’s controls are more of a means to solve prescribed problems with very little room for improvement which is an absolutely fair intention though one that I didn’t quite appreciate on returning to the game however where this latter game benefits isn’t in the actual
physical interaction of this in-between but in context of it Whereas many of Super Mario 64’s challenges are often dry affairs Such as: Collect Eight Red Coins Kick an Enemy into a Lava Pit Climb a Mountain The imagination behind
Banjo-Kazooie’s objectives do a lot to make up for that very simple design in the first level alone you’re asked To collect an Orange for a Chimpanzee Feed at Totem Pole with Eggs Climb a Termite Mound and collect five colourful mascots
hidden in the environment It also says a lot that Outside of the dry descriptions of Super Mario 64’s level introductions Characters and anthropomorphised objects in the environment always intend their purpose
in Banjo-Kazooie including filling you in on their purposes within an objective the reason that this game still continues to resonate with so many isn’t because of how the objectives were designed or how they were presented but it was how they use strange characters plagued with even stranger issues that you were asked to solve As expected – when compared to one
another The two games falter in areas the other succeed Banjo-Kazooie – especially on replay suffers somewhat from its approach to gated to design that practically forces players to fine comb levels for tokens either primary or secondary Whereas Super Mario 64’s Castle allows a player to access an entire third of games content including a third of its level count after completing only a small handful of objectives at the start Banjo-Kazooie separates Grunty’s
Lair and its associated levels behind Note Gates, Special Ability Checks and
Puzzle Boards for every single level While it’s possible – due to their small
size and simple design to grind every level to 100% completion in order to meet these check and if you’re playing well sometimes avoid them altogether the game sometimes throws a spanner in the works by asking you to collect special
abilities of secondary tokens from future levels in order to fulfil
content in the previous ones This disruptive design can be something of a pain to deal with especially in later and more convoluted
levels that require more backtracking and exploration to complete Super Mario 64 – on the other hand feels far too much like a technical demo compared to the presentation associated with the previous Super Mario games Of course – as the launch title for the first system of its kind this lack a Polish is to be expected but you do feel it become more apparent as levels go on as musical motifs and graphical assets are reused and objectives become more obtuse and
harder to parse some in particular seem utterly unfathomable to complete without a strategy guide and you’ll find yourself hitting a brick wall on some of its more confusing challenges especially if it’s your first time playing the game Unlike the locked-down nature of Banjo-Kazooie’s levels Super Mario 64’s looser game play can be both a blessing and a curse Where there is Headroom for high-risk high-reward game play There’s also a small number quirks to the controls that when left unchecked can hinder progress despite no fault of your own And perhaps that’s the biggest
difference between them both Banjo-Kazooie is a game that you can
appreciate immediately for the creativity of its challenges and the
worlds they take place in but one that – on replay loses its luster when you can no
longer be surprised and presentation becomes secondary to play Super Mario 64 is a bold and confident game when you start it up One where using only a limited range of moves and basic problem solving is only half the fun When you get used to its systems and start to take a few more chances the game suddenly takes on an entirely new identity A toolkit where problem solving
can be as creative or convoluted or quick as you can imagine So Which one is better in the long run? Well Take your pick Since their release Title have picked and choosed elements of both games design to expand on and some have used them the
seeds of entirely new ideas Even Nintendo’s closest competitor – the Sony Playstation had its take on the open-world platformer formula with titles like Spyro the Dragon an Ape Escape and third-party developers soon followed suit Super Mario 64’s allowance for high-level play through the mastery of your controls set in open arenas and tied between simple objectives Gets systematised for an arcade sensibility in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater Franchise Which takes its Mario’s game play and staples a high score system to it Whereas platforming high-risk manoeuvres was once for your own enjoyment in Super Mario 64 Tony Hawk actually rewards you for doing so and a strict time limit perfectly encapsulates the speedrun sensation of risky Mario play Donkey Kong 64 takes the gated progression of Banjo-Kazooie and ramps it up to its logical extreme With five main characters with five special weapons five musical
instruments five sets of coloured bananas and special objectives to complete and five suites of special moves you’re asked to collect from level to level The sheer amount of padding is quite something to behold and the game never quite manages to make any of its systems particularly interesting Either using them as checks to push buttons or hiding tokens behind abstract mini-games totally disconnected from the whole Banjo-Tooie expands on the size of Banjo-Kazooie and actually becomes something more of a half step between the original game and the open-world sandbox that would become codified in Grand Theft Auto 3 The hubs and levels in particular presented be part of a large, single world and some object are design to take place across multiple settings like its predecessor, these are all steeped in context and some of the most memorable interactions have you affecting one level through another or bringing a transformation or token between them Super Mario Sunshine carries on much in
the vein of his predecessor but makes presentation a more important part of its package The main hub and its levels are designed to be part of the same island setting Progression follows a narrative – book-ended with voice acted cut scenes and set-pieces and levels and objectives are more tightly integrated than they were in Super Mario 64 Where environments change drastically between challenges Its inclusion of a water jet also adds an extra wrinkle to the original games control scheme Making jumps easiest to commit to – thanks to generous hovering As well as adding third-person shooting that feels well integrated within the game Finally – Yooka-Laylee commodifies the difference in level size between Kazooie and Tooie By letting you choose between using your main tokens to unlock new levels or expand previous ones adding new landmarks with new objects does do a lot to refresh old levels though their sheer size both before and after transformation spreads the banjo formula a bit too thin Objectives and their tokens are too far apart and some of the tasks you’re asked to complete haven’t improved in sophistication since the days of the N64 It doesn’t help the game’s sarcastic tone comments frequently on poor design decisions but doesn’t subvert expectations by improving on any of these problems The upcoming Super Mario Odyssey looks to take the franchise’s current 3D design
and rework it for an open-world formula It’s telling that – from the footage so far Levels are used more as hubs between the standardised obstacle course design of the newer 3D Mario games as well as being the setting for Scavenger Hunt and Exploration objectives that better fit the formula So Is there a right way of creating a new 3D platformer in this day and age? Well, it ultimately comes down to the intentions of the developers Though – the strengths and weaknesses of Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie should be points that every designer looks at and reacts to Banjo-Kazooie could have been
improved by making its design a little looser If its inputs could have had more unintended side effects that gave players more options when using them or even in reducing the restrictions of its gated progression Maybe by giving players more choice between what levels they’d want to complete first or let them solve objectives without needing certain abilities or tokens to do so Super Mario 64 on the other hand just needed a lot more character That its objectives had a little more imagination to match the creativity of his problem solving That the worlds and challenges were a little better contextualised and you were given a much a much better sense of what you were being asked to do So – where both games succeed and the bullet points of great design
that you should follow are as follows A strong central mechanic that the entire game is built to facilitate Where soft modifiers and contextual
interactions only adds additional layers to what this mechanic can do Platforming game play that challenges this central mechanic and objectives that ask you to use it in an interesting way or for an interesting purpose Use an open-world structure only if necessary The benefits of one is letting players choose their own objectives and how to go about completing them So problem solving shouldn’t be locked down to a single solution There’s no right answer to whether you should have a lot of a little or a little a lot in levels or objectives but the important point is that they’re satisfying to engage with Levels should only be as big as you can fill them and the in-between of objectives
should be as interesting as their prescribed problem If your game is about climbing mountains or solving mazes then have challenges built to make the most of these landmarks not just the satisfaction of completing
them Mini-games are a good palate cleanser between platforming challenges but the best use the game’s central gimmick as your main mode of interface for these divisions There’s no need to add a first-person shooting section or a racing game diversion If you make these mechanics work in a different viewpoint or make them satisfying for circuit gameplay A support for new players to
understand the game from the get-go but without locking down the design to deter high-level exploits The game should be as fun to play the third time as it was the first time and finding the perfect balance between polish and implications in your mechanics can help foster a community around the title Finally – high-quality graphics and sound are amicable goals for presentation But characters, world building and writing can do a lot more to make these worlds more inviting It shouldn’t be overly juvenile or painful mature and should match the spirit of the game born from this central mechanic and game play Too little can sometimes be as bad as too much but letting the player craft their own stories through their problem-solving as much as the games prescribed plot Is a powerful tool to build good memories in the player Of course – these points aren’t a silver bullet for great games design But they can be a starting point for thinking about how you can achieve similar results in your own games and maybe question some decisions you might be thinking of when it comes to creating the next big 3D platforming game However If you’ve sat all the way through this video and were waiting for an answer to which game is better Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie Well I have Good News for you In the pantheon of 3D Platformer games Now and Forever The one true title holder is of course Buck Bumble

13 thoughts on “Banjo & Mario: A Prescription for Platform Games / HOTCYDER

  1. I never really noticed how plain Super Mario 64 was until after I played Banjo Kazooie, but it definitely looks like it's world and obstacle courses were made for playgrounds or something. Super utilitarian.

  2. As a super mario 64 speedrunner I can't avoid being a little biased towards it, but the way mario controlls is so satisfying, it gives me something that bk games don't, as the latter even feels slow for me.
    Even as a child, I'd just spend hours running around not even collecting stars but just enjoying the way mario moves.
    And as you said, all the creative and unintended ways you can use sm64s mechanics to get the objectives feels so incredible, and it does this without gimmiks like the water hovering in sunshine or bk transformations, it shows a strong base to build upon and I hope they follow this path in odyssey. Can't forget about a hat in time neither!
    Also, good video as always, keep up the good work!

  3. honestly, it was the opposite for me.
    i hit a brick wall and got stuck on banjo-kazooie quickly.
    i never use guides and i sure as hell wouldn't start to use one now.

  4. Really like your final decision on which is the best game. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    BUT FOR REAL. This was a great discussion and dissection of the 3D platforming genre. I really enjoyed this as it's something I'm just now getting into – I really fell off video games when 3D Platformers were in their prime. As someone who played through Banjo Kazooie a few years ago, I gotta say I'm really not a fan. I think most of the gameplay is solid and it feels good to play, but it just felt like a slog to get through. Mario 64 on the other hand, I haven't really played a whole lot of. I wish I could say I'd prefer it, but I haven't finished it so I don't know how tiresome it can be. I will say, like you said in your video, the mechanics of gameplay and learning how and when to use certain maneuvers is VERY satisfying and it's even fun to watch. So in the very least I think I'll always appreciate that about Mario 64.

  5. I don't why nobody mentions the speed run community for Super Mario 64 it's community is largest for the speed run community.It is also a game that is heavily optimized by that community.Especially when it comes to reviews of this game it's not mentioned anywhere either.

  6. Brilliant video. The rare comparison that focuses less on an arbitrary, binary judgement of which is superior, and more on a deep exploration of the reasons why each game succeeds or fails, and how they both take a different approach to the same core concept. Critique this nuanced and rational is disappointing rare in the field of video game discussion, and this video as well as others like it teach that, if we want to learn why some games are good and how we can continue to make good games in the future, it’s less important to talk about WHAT a game is and more important to talk about WHY it is the way it is. An objective judgement is meaningless if we forget the reasons behind it.

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