Banjo & Kazooie: The Ultimate Beginner Character

Banjo & Kazooie have been out for about a month as a playable character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. In looking at how they play and thinking about the purpose of their moves, I’ve come to the conclusion that Banjo & Kazooie are perhaps the best beginner’s character that Smash has ever seen.

Super Smash Bros. is a franchise that emphasizes an “easy to learn, hard to master” approach to fighting games. To this end, the games often have more beginner-friendly characters who are more forgiving to the unaccustomed—Kirby with his multiple jumps to help new players survive offstage is a key example. But it can be hard to balance a beginner character such that their easy-to-use tools are effective at more advanced levels of play without making them too powerful in the hands of an expert. Cloud in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is an arguable instance of being too strong in this respect. He was designed with large, generous hitboxes and a Limit Break system to power him up, all to help fans more familiar with role-playing games than fighting games, but those things ended up being absurd in mid to top competitive play.

Banjo & Kazooie have a lot of things that make them fairly simple to understand for new players. They have three jumps, which makes getting to the stage easier. They’re fairly heavy and fast, making for a durable and mobile character. But the key to their ability to help players of all levels is their special move Wonderwing.

Wonderwing is a versatile forward charge that works as a panic button, a recovery, and a kill move. Newbies don’t need to understand about hitboxes; Wonderwing beats or ties with everything in a direct confrontation. If Banjo & Kazooie are offstage, it lets them recover horizontally and defeat virtually any challenge. It also does over 27% damage, and can close out stocks reliably. While the move is extremely good, however, it comes with a couple of weaknesses that keep Wonderwing in check while giving room for players to learn, optimize their play, and for more experienced players to really use their brains.

The first flaw is that Wonderwing leaves Banjo & Kazooie vulnerable if the attack is blocked. It’s not a huge window, but it’s enough that an opponent who can predict Wonderwing’s usage from being rewarded well benefit from doing so. The move is still a Swiss army knife, and can do a lot for new players, but this flaw should theoretically teach caution.

The second and more significant flaw is that Wonderwing only has five uses per stock, and can only be recharged by losing a stock. This is extremely smart from the developers for a number of reasons. First, it prevents players from spamming the move to no end. They can do it for a short while, but then they have to deal with the consequences. Second, rather than a comeback mechanic, which can teach new players the wrong lessons, it’s a resource that comes at a cost. Every time they use the move, regardless of effectiveness or efficiency, it means they’ll have less of a chance to rely on Wonderwing when they need it most. In other words, it becomes a built-in lesson on resource management and looking at the long-term.

At higher levels of play, Banjo & Kazooie players basically have to know when to utilize Wonderwing and when to keep it in their back pocket. It’s a ridiculously good move that would be the envy of any character, but the fact that its depletion affects so much (disadvantage, neutral, recovery, kill power) means there’s an interesting back and forth that can occur between two players where good usage is immensely rewarding and good counterplay against Wonderwing similarly so.

Through Wonderwing, Banjo & Kazooie give inexperienced players a tool that can help them out in nearly any situation in a fun and rewarding manner. But at the same time, the caveats on the attack, namely the limited uses, encourages players to be smart about its use, thus fostering improvement. More than any other character, I expect Banjo & Kazooie players to grow.

Banjo-Kazooie, Dragon Quest, and the Precariousness of Nostalgia

The dual Smash Bros. Ultimate character reveals of the Hero(es) from Dragon Quest and Banjo and Kazooie have gamers abuzz with excitement. While I didn’t quite get the DQ villain I wanted, I’m no exception when it comes to riding the hype train. However, seeing some of the negative reaction among English speakers online over the Hero’s entry into Smash makes me realize something: a lot of fans care less about video game history as a whole and more about their own video game history.

This is not unexpected, nor is it inherently bad. The games we grow up on and love are going to get a stronger reaction than things we only have a more academic understanding of. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and when people engage in hype, they’re not necessarily engaging their intellectual side. Even the Japanese fans who are freaking out over Dragon Quest are doing so because of emotional attachment. DQ crosses generations and is an indelible part of Japanese pop culture on a scale that few things can compare to. If Banjo-Kazooie fever is a combination of 1990s gaming nostalgia and the return of a prodigal icon, then Dragon Quest in Smash is just plain nostalgia for a perennial favorite, transcending gaming and any specific time period. It popularized the RPG as a genre in Japan, and its simple gameplay made it accessible to audiences young and old in ways few games ever have.

Where I take umbrage with some of the reactions I’ve seen from some vocal Smash fans is a combination of entitled behavior and the seeming inability to engage that intelligent side of their brains that can allow them to appreciate things that aren’t necessarily connected directly to them. Just because there’s no deep, emotional bond doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of attention or fanfare. Smash Bros. is in many ways a celebration of video game history, so to see fans willfully reject that history is sad to see.

Dragon Quest has the potential to expand the reach of Smash Bros. far beyond what anyone has seen. Few characters can reach literal sixty-year-old Japanese businessmen the way DQ can. World-famous manga artists like Kishimoto Masashi (Naruto) have written about their experiences with the RPG. Toriyama Akira (Dragon Ball) has been responsible for the art since the franchise’s inception!

Banjo-Kazooie and Dragon Quest are both important new titles for Smash Bros., and I hope as many people as possible appreciate that.

PS: The Japanese trailer for Hero actually has him saying the names of his spells, so a silent protagonist he is not. I wonder if this might change the impression people have of the character if this difference sticks.