Rescuing Link in Banjo-Kazooie: The Bear Waker, a Romhack by Kurko Mods

Full disclosure: I’m presently making music for many of Kurko’s upcoming projects. However this isn’t a sponsored article or anything, I simply hadn’t played this romhack yet and figured now was a better time than any!

Back in July when this mod was officially released, The Bear Walker was being discussed by many, many gaming circles. I’m talking headlines on N64Today, NintendoLife, even USGamer wrote a piece on this. All for good reason; so I final sat down and 100%’d this Banjo-Kazooie x Wind Waker crossover delicioso and oh… oh baby is it satisfying!

If you’d like to skip the review and just get right into playing this bad boy, then snag a download from the trailer, boot up Project 64 1.6 and make sure you have the Glide video plug-in pre-installed. Aside from a controller probably, you’ve got everything you need to start questing.

Right when we load a new save file, we’re standing on the dock of Outset Island, being greeted by a familiar face. The King of Red Lions, Link’s companion and dinghy, informing us that something has happened to Link and it’s up to us to rescue him. He was last seen going into his house but his door has been locked and nobody’s heard of him since. This is a problem because him and his cruise ship companion need to head out right away in search for his sister Aryll!

Aesthetically, this mod knocks the look and feel of Wind Waker out of the park. What’s most impressive about this accomplishment is how Wind Waker was built for the Gamecube and thus has a significantly higher polycount and texture resolution demand than what the N64 is capable of running. Despite this perceived setback, Kurko Mods was able to recreate Outset Island with so much detail that it’s very easy to forget this level was never meant to be rendered on actual N64 hardware.

A major aid, underlying aid that I’m sure lent Kurko some confidence when recreating a playscape as vast as Outset Island is how The Wind Waker uses a visually striking, cell shadeded art style. The vibrancy of texture for grass, sand, stone, ect… found in the Wind Waker are some of the best executed in all of game. This helps out tremendously when porting environments over to N64 hardware because despite the stretch applied to already low-res textures, the iconic look of these elements still convey a lot of detail without disrupting players’ perception of how Outset Island’s geography should look.

A great example of this technique can be found in the worn, walking trails through the grass all over the island. Kurko prioritized having distinguished fringes on the trails knowing that the extra definition here can be spared thanks to the stretched, vibrant grass textures previously mentioned.

Anyone who played Wind Waker absolutely remembers the iconic tunes that game gave us. BK fans like their music too and so incredibly, covers of the themes for The Great Sea and Outset Island along with a few others were arranged and performed beautifully within the Banjo-Kazooie soundfont. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at how little was lost between the original game’s CD quality audio and Bear Waker’s midis.

With a firm trust that this mod knocks out all the little things the will trigger nostalgia, I think it’s time we check out the exploration and gameplay.

Taking a peak at our level stats shows that across our journey (which took me about an hour to complete) we’ll need to collect…
– 200 music notes,
– 10 jiggies,
– 5 Jinjos, &
– 2 honeycombs.

Let’s get it cracking.

I’m not going to lie, the 200 note limit kind of intimidated me the first half of play; especially when I found the 180-note door. Collecting wasn’t ever hard, but there was a lot of it. I’d say I found about 60 notes just on the east side of the island before venturing over the water. I believe I cracked over 100 notes when heading up to the Forest of the Fairies — the locale where we become acquainted with the pirate leader Tetra for the first time in Wind Waker.

This was around the time that I noticed I was running on just a few honeycombs of health. Suddenly those 100+ notes I collected felt like a great responsibility I had to bare. Every move I made with Banjo seemed like a test of my ability to stay calm and collected. This reminded me of navigating an easy environment in Dark Souls where you’re carrying 100K+ souls. Often times the biggest run killer is simply false confidence.

Collecting Jiggies during all this was nonexistent. It wasn’t until I reached the Forest of Fairies that I collected my first. With all the exploration from the note hording I was doing prior, I wasn’t even entirely sure why I needed the Jiggy given to me here. But the game’s hand revealed itself shortly after and I didn’t feel so unknowledgeable about the hints given to me prior. From this point on, my focus shifted away from snagging notes to unravelling the mystery of where our green clothed hero could be.

Quite a few of the puzzles in The Bear Waker take inspiration from events that occur on Outset Island during The Wind Waker. To explain further would be a bit spoilery so I’ll stay vague. Quite a few elements of this rom hack caught me off guard in a great way! Each Jiggy I collected felt like a nod to story beats from Wind Waker and I found myself saying ‘no way’ out loud. Thankfully, you don’t need to have played the Gamecube Zelda game to enjoy this one. Every Jiggy is still possible to collect useing visual and contextual clues specific to this mod. Really cool clues, too, like paintings and NPC dialogue!

Another easy recommendation from your boy; this romhack is seriously amazing. It a single level but it’s big, immersive and ever so sweet to sink your beak into. Once again, you can find a download links from the trailer here, though do be careful because the trailer wasn’t made to be spoiler free. You can follow the works of Kurko easiest through his very active twitter account, @Markus_Kurko.

Stay tuned, an interview with Markus Kurko should be up soon!

For the latest romhacking info, follow @SheeshFr on Twitter!