As I mentioned in my '10 Things About’ blog, I am currently working on a novel. I finished the first draft about a month ago and have been letting it sit since then, to look at it with new eyes for revision. In between then and now, I challenged myself to a mini writing project, and this fan fiction is the result. As a disclaimer, this is the first piece of fan fiction I have ever written, outside of assorted stories about Star Wars and Pokémon when I was a kid. Yet, I thought it would be a fun writing exercise. While I was brainstorming what to write about, the idea for this story slowly developed. Getting the details right and completing it required a bit of research, but I had a good time doing it. I hope you enjoy it.
As the snow fell lightly upon the village, he stood at the street’s corner, eyeing the brick and mortar restaurant across the street. The neon sign naming the restaurant emitted a dull yellow hue in the advancing evening darkness. After waiting for an aged sedan to slowly meander by, he readjusted his backpack and crossed. He had adjusted and readjusted the blue pack more times than he could count as he made the trek from the hotel to here; there was an emptiness he wasn’t used to.
He stood at the door, momentarily pausing before starting to enter. With his hand halfway to the door’s cold brass handle, something stopped him and he was unsure just what it was. They all want me here and I want to be here. We don’t get to see each other that often. Yet, there was an undeniable feeling that he didn’t belong there. The thought passed quickly, as he realized that the wide windows nearby gave the patrons within a clear view of the sidewalk. They would have seen him walk up to the door; pausing like this would look silly.
With a short breath to ease his nerves, he grinned and stepped out of the chilly winter evening and through the hefty wooden door. The warm air hit him like a wave, joined by raucous cheers from a host of remembered voices. Stepping into the foyer, he wondered why he had hesitated in the first place.
“Banjo! It’s good to see you again, my friend,” the kindly blue elephant exclaimed, the first to greet him. “Gee, Taj, this is quite the welcome,” Banjo replied, offering the elephant a firm handshake. “Come, you must be hungry. Let us catch up over a meal,” Taj replied, leading Banjo across the room.
On that night, an anniversary celebration was being held at Ashby’s, a restaurant and hangout spot that most, if not all of the attendees that night had frequented over the years. While many restaurants had an “evolve or die” attitude, Ashby’s was strictly traditionalist; its menu had not changed in the more than thirty years since it had been in business and the décor looked unchanged as well. Banjo didn’t mind. It was nice having something constant in an ever-changing world. As a final touch, a familiar blue and gold neon sign hung above the entrance, placed there many years ago in honor of the establishment’s most valued patrons.
As Banjo followed Taj across the large restaurant to where provisions had been laid out, their movement was slow and deliberate due to the mass of attendees that night. For the entire night, Ashby’s was operating solely for the party. Even with no outside guests, the establishment was packed with people of all shapes and sizes.
Well, perhaps “people” isn’t the right word. There were some people, to be sure, but they were by no means the majority. A host of animals were in attendance that night, including lizards, turtles, moles, toads, and many more, all standing, talking, and enjoying themselves. Banjo himself was an anthropomorphic bear, so it didn’t seem that strange to him. Many of the humans there weren’t quite normal, either. Banjo had already passed up a magician, two blue-haired people dressed in apparel from outer space, a secret agent, and a walking skeleton, just from walking from the door to there. He assumed Spinal had been human, but had never exactly asked him before. Perhaps he might that night, he decided.
As he passed by so many familiar faces, Banjo offered a handshake and a short, polite greeting. With his stomach rumbling, longer conversations would have to wait until later. After what seemed like a nostalgia-inducing eternity, Banjo and Taj finally reached the meal, which had been arranged buffet-style and was being refilled by a team of servers as they approached. Banjo could smell the delectable aroma from across the room, making the wait that much worse.
Arranged in deep serving trays was a collage of eclectic foods, many of which were out of place at a traditional buffet. Yet, for that evening, Ashby’s had catered to the broad tastes of its guests, offering an assortment of fresh foods. Of the four lines, Banjo and Taj chose the fruit and desert line. Platters of walnuts, peanuts, pineapples, grapes, melons, oranges, and coconuts lay in the line, with a host of sweets at the end.
Banjo waited patiently in line, his eyes glued to the bowl of honey sitting enticingly at the other end. He was so preoccupied with this sight that he didn’t notice who was directly in front of him in line. Immediately before the honey dish was an arrangement of cakes, most of which were half-eaten. One plate was completely gone, save for a few drops of icing. The patron in front of Banjo called out, “More, more! We’re all out of cake. Bring some more here for goodness sake!”
In his hunger, Banjo had overlooked the fact that Gruntilda the Witch stood in line right in front of him. She hadn’t changed at all in the seven years since he had last worked with her; she wore the same black dress, purple scarf, and tall black hat and she was the same bleached skeleton as before. She turned around, glaring back at the kitchen entrance in a huff of rage. “What fools they are that run this place. Won’t they let Grunty stuff her face?”
With arms crossed, Gruntilda looked down and noticed Banjo’s presence for the first time. Her countenance lightened and she planted her hands on her hips and peered down. Banjo readjusted his backpack and offered a small wave. “Hi there, Grunty. How are you?”
“The bear asks how I am, how absurd! My, where on earth is that meddling bird?”
“Kazooie couldn’t make it. She had, uh, other plans.”
That wasn’t exactly true, and Banjo knew it. Months ago, when the invitations to the party had first been sent out, Banjo had called Kazooie and the topic of the party had been raised. He started talking about how good it would be to see all the old friends from Rare on the assumption that Kazooie would most certainly be in attendance.
“Are you really going to the reunion party?” Kazooie asked.
“Well, of course,” Banjo answered incredulously, “why wouldn’t I? It’s been so long since we’ve seen most of the folks. Don’t you want to see Bottles and Cheato and everybody else again?”
“Why, to talk about a life that doesn’t exist anymore? That’s all it’s going to be, you know.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Come on, Banjo, are you going to spend the rest of your life in the past?”
Kazooie was a feisty bird and one of Banjo’s oldest friends. Insults were the norm with her, he knew, but her last comment before hanging up had really hurt. Ever since their last game had come out, Kazooie had acted strangely, leaving Spiral Mountain and swearing to make a name for herself outside of Rare. Whatever it was, she hadn’t told Banjo. Some of my favorite memories are working with friends at Rare. Why would I pass up seeing them again?
Gruntilda shrugged at Banjo’s answer and seemingly forgot him as a fresh cake was brought out. After she had taken a slice or four, Banjo advanced and picked out some honey and warm apple cider for himself. Despite their many battles over the years, Banjo bore Grunty no ill will. After all the unintentional self-harm she had caused herself, he pitied her more than anything. Besides, a long enough time in between games was enough to mellow even the crankiest witch.
Banjo and Taj moved out of the horde and into a less crowded dining area. For the first time since arriving, he could hear music playing through Ashby’s sound system. Banjo smiled as he recognized the Spiral Mountain theme from his first feature game. Though he had heard the song more times than he could count, it sounded especially energetic tonight; the balanced melody of the banjo, horn, and flute was always his favorite part. The song transitioned into the catchy percussion of Jungle Groove.
As Banjo and Taj found an elevated seating section to set their grub down, Banjo realized that he had not seen a single Kong yet. He had spied a few kremlings socializing, but no Kongs. The Kong family sure did a lot to make Rare into what it is. Same goes the other way. From the mid to late 90’s, from even before Banjo’s time, the Kongs had become a household name, taking part in a series of adventure games that were legendary. I never thought I would go on an adventure like that. It took some time, but I had that chance.
Almost in answer to Banjo’s thoughts, a familiar persona approached him, having just come from the buffet line himself. “Well, hey there, Kiddy. Gosh, you’ve really changed.” The fully grown Kong stared at the floor and replied, “Please, call me Dennis. I haven’t been Kiddy in almost twenty years.”
“Oh, sorry there. Gee, no matter how many times you’ve told me, I still call you by your old name. Old habit, I guess.”
In truth, he bore little resemblance to his younger self. He was all grown up, clad in a blue blazer that covered his thick muscles. Plus, his exaggerated childhood facial features had softened over the years. All in all, Kiddy was a Kong grown, forever stuck in the public’s mind as a bumbling baby ape, much to his chagrin. Unlike the more famous Kong, Kiddy never had his own game after infancy and was always seen as such, if he was remembered at all.
“So, did any of your folks get to make it?” Banjo asked. Kiddy shook his head. “No, it’s just me, I’m afraid. They’re all pretty busy nowadays.”
As much as the Kongs had been part of the Rare family for so many years, there was an unspoken knowledge that they had come from a different, bigger family. Rare had done much to bring the Kongs to the forefront of video games, but Nintendo was their real family. After a long dry spell in which the Kong family had been almost forgotten, they had had rejuvenation in recent years, bringing much of the family back, including Dixie, Cranky, and even Funky. Yet, in all the recent activity, Kiddy was one of the few Kongs not to be asked back.
“I, uh, only got here a little while ago,” Banjo explained, “Is Conker here?” He braced for the answer, nervous of a reply in the affirmative. He thought back to the reunion party from five years ago, where Conker had proceeded to get heavily plastered and cause quite a scene.
“No, I don’t think I’ve seen him,” Kiddy replied, “We would probably know if he was here or not. Have you talked to him recently?”
“I heard from him last summer. He didn’t take the news very well,” Banjo said.
That was a vast understatement if ever there was one. Like many others in attendance that night, Conker had seen his creative output dwindle over the years; though he had had four games in the span of eight years, there had been nothing in almost a decade. When called upon by the higher-ups at Microsoft, Conker leapt at the chance to have a new starring role. When he found out that he was instead only in a small supporting role, Conker fell back into alcoholism. The whole case made Banjo sad. It doesn’t seem so long ago we were racing karts together. What happened? He knew the answer to that question plain as day: Berri died. Conker wasn’t the same after that.
“Hello, everybody!” A giddy voice called out above the cacophony of sound. Conversations softened and the music came to a sudden halt as the master of ceremonies stepped forward into the center of Ashby’s. Just looking at the man, one would not assume that he held as much respect from Rare characters as he did. Banjo couldn’t help but smile at the cheery face.
It’s Mr. Pants, Banjo recalled with satisfaction. Outside the world of Rare, the sight of a pudgy, middle-aged cartoon man garbed in just a bowler hat and red underwear would be a source of discomfort or confusion, or both. Though only starring in a single game, Mr. Pants was the glue that held Rare together, making cameo appearances in many Rare adventures and holding the honored title of Rare mascot.
“I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing so many old friends gathered together again. As you all know, this is Rare’s thirtieth anniversary and I couldn’t be any happier to be here with each and every one of you. So as not to take up any more of your time and to get back to the festivities, I would like to propose a toast to you, the faithful Rare family. May the family keep growing!”
A host of voices echoed the sentiment, as the guests downed whatever drink was in hand. Banjo’s chest warmed and not only from the hot cider. It was nice seeing Mr. Pants again, as excited and upbeat as ever. Through every rough patch Rare had gone through and in the face of a host of unknowns, he had been there to raise hopes and make the disparate gang of characters feel like a family.
Conversations started back up again and the music resumed. Banjo excused himself and made his way to Mr. Pants. The man’s face brightened upon seeing Banjo and he extended a pencil-thin hand to him.
“Oh, it’s so good you’ve made it, Banjo!” The man professed.
“That was a good speech, same as always, Mr. Pants.”
“Oh, you’re too kind. Have you been enjoying yourself?”
“I have. It’s good seeing folks after so long. Do you know if any of the Bigs have made it? I can’t really tell with so many people crowded here.”
Though Mr. Pants’ countenance remained unchanged, his tone noticeably softened. “None this time, I’m afraid. You know how busy they can be. I sent the invitations out, same as always, just to let them know we still appreciate them.”
The Bigs were characters who had at one time or another joined the Rare family, if only for a brief time. Rare had taken on many licensed projects, particularly in its early years, before moving on to more original works. They worked with already established personas with shows, films, and a following of their own. This included the Sesame Street gang, a host of professional wrestlers, Roger Rabbit, Spider-Man, Beetlejuice, James Bond, and even Mickey Mouse. They had not been Rare family, but they were certainly treated like it. That was not to say that the Bigs never came to the reunion parties. Some usually attended the next anniversary party after their game had been released.
Banjo fondly recalled the 2000 Rare end-of-the-year party. Banjo’s second game had just released and Conker’s adventure was soon to follow. The Kongs, Joana Dark, and the Jet Force Gemini trio were still enjoying the successes of their games released the previous year. To everyone’s shocked delight, James Bond and many of the characters from Goldeneye attended. Even more unexpected was the fact that a Disney cast was also in attendance. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy were all there, marking the first and last time that Disney characters made a showing. There was an undeniable energy and vivacity that was felt that night, as things seemed to be on the up and up. Expectations for upcoming projects and anticipated creative work were through the roof.
Yet, as Banjo admitted, things were never quite the same after that. Within two years, Rare was bought in whole by Microsoft, the most ever paid for a developer. It was hard saying goodbye to the Kongs after working with them for so long, but most were cautiously optimistic about Rare’s future. Yet, certain projects were cancelled or shuffled about and most characters were unsure when their next game would be or if they would get another game. Throughout it all, Banjo had remained cheerful and hopeful; others less so.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Banjo. Enjoy yourself!” Mr. Pants proclaimed as he left for another round of well-wishing. Banjo wished him well in return and found himself alone for a few moments.
From across the room, he spotted a familiar white-spotted red bow moving side to side among a crowd of faces. Complementing the bow were a set of large yellow ears. Among the crowd of tall humans and nonhumans alike, the tiny, bow-wearing individual was almost invisible.
Banjo smiled and made his way across the room, eager to meet another old friend in a sea of acquaintances. It had been years since he had last seen her, as she decided not to attend many of the reunion parties and their paths did not cross very often. “Sorry there. Please excuse me,” Banjo said as the group consisting of a battletoad, kremling, and a monk let him through.
Hidden by the crowds of much-taller people, the yellow mouse’s face lit up when she spied Banjo. “Hey there, Pipsy. I’m glad you made it.”
“Oh, Banjo, it’s so good to see you again. I’m sorry; I know I haven’t stayed in touch. You simply have to tell me what you have been up to,” Pipsy replied in her squeaky voice.
“Oh, the same as always. You know me. I, uh, only got here a little while back,” Banjo admitted. “Have you seen any of the old racing gang?”
“Let’s see: I passed by Timber and Bumper not too long ago. Diddy and Conker aren’t here, I’m afraid. I haven’t seen anyone else.”
“Those sure were fun times, weren’t they?”
Pipsy’s face lit up. “Oh, they certainly were. You should find Timber; his island hasn’t changed a bit. You should come visit sometime. I’m sorry you couldn’t join us for our reunion game those years ago. It wasn’t the same without you and Conker. You… had your own racing games, didn’t you?”
In truth, two of Banjo’s most recent adventures had been racing games. “Yep,” Banjo replied, scratching his head, “I guess I just have that racing bug. It sure has been awhile since I had my own project. I would love to get out there again.” Banjo chuckled and a long silence ensued.
Just as Banjo was about to speak, he heard a voice call out from behind. “Oh, the bear’s here. You know, some of us haven’t had a game at all,” it said in a flat voice, devoid of emotion.
Amongst the volume of the crowd, Banjo almost hadn’t heard it. In fact, if nearly anyone else had said it, the dialogue would have been lost to him. Banjo’s heart pounded and his palms started sweating. There was no forgetting that voice.
“Oh, uh, hi there Edison. I didn’t know you were there,” Banjo said politely. He turned around to see a pale-skinned teenager, arms crossed and blue eyes glaring. Despite the chilly weather outside, the boy wore the same garb as Banjo remembered: a light green jacket over a black undershirt, orange pants, and a pair of brown boots.
“Where else would I be, huh Banjo?” Edison retorted, “It’s not like I have anywhere else to go.”
Edison had been Banjo’s ghost for years, constantly accusing Banjo of jeopardizing his career and stealing his game and glory from him. It had all started with Project Dream, a game intended to be the biggest and best experience on the SNES, something to surpass Donkey Kong Country. Edison was tagged as the game’s star, a boy set on taking on a band of pirates on a grand adventure.
In all of Banjo’s success, he never forgot where he had come from. In Project Dream, he had been a secondary character himself, a companion on Edison’s journey. Ready to make a name for himself, Edison waited for his time in the limelight. Yet, as development of the game shifted, Edison was dropped and Banjo was given the main role in a completely redesigned game. Edison never got another chance at video game stardom.
Edison unfolded his arms and pointed an accusing finger at Banjo. “Oh, you’re one to talk, aren’t you? Feeling that urge to get back out there? Want people to love you again? Well, guess what: not all of us are as lucky as you!”
Conversations in the immediate area came to a sudden halt. Edison paused a moment as the Battletoads theme started through the sound system.
“You’ve been in six games. Six! And you’re boo-hooing about not getting another one? Where do you get off?”
A green, slimy hand reached out to Edison’s shoulder. “Hey man, take it easy, all right?” Rash the Battletoad towered over nearly everyone in the room. His face was grave, his dark sunglasses hiding his eyes. Edison looked up at Rash and slapped his hand away. “Don’t you touch me! You’re no better than him. How’s that cartoon series and toy line coming, eh buddy? Quite a franchise you’ve got there, Ninja Turtle rip-off.”
“Edison, it might be best for you to step outside and cool off,” called Mr. Pants, rushing to the scene. “Please, this is supposed to be a celebration, a party.”
Edison stormed through the gathered crowd and made his way for the exit. Before reaching the door, he wheeled about and shouted, “A ‘celebration’ huh? Of what?” With a smirk, he continued, “All of you are in the same boat as me, now. All your precious games and success are gone. Your futures are dead, same as Rare. And good riddance.”
Edison stormed through the door and slammed it shut. The room was deathly silent. Breaking up the long silence, Mr. Pants said, “Now, we won’t let one troublemaker ruin our fun, will we? It’s not often we get to meet like this. We’ll enjoy it, won’t we?”
With the calming and authoritative words of Mr. Pants, the crowds returned to their revelry and fun. Banjo, on the other hand, worked his way through the shifting crowd and toward Ashby’s backdoor exit. He heard Pipsy calling after him, but didn’t stop. He hefted the large door open and stepped into the employee break area outside, where snow flurries continued to fall. He sat down on a wooden bench and rested his arms across his knees.
All was quiet for a few moments. Banjo heard the distant, muffled hum of traffic and the sound of wind blowing through the close-set buildings. He sighed, content to at least be by himself for a little bit. That came to an end as the door slowly opened behind him. Banjo knew who it was before she spoke.
“Banjo, are you alright?” Pipsy asked.
“He was right.”
“He was right, you know. Now I understand what Kazooie tried to tell me. I am living in the past because things won’t ever be as good as they were back then; I’m past my prime and won’t get another game again.”
“Neither will I,” Pipsy said, taking a seat next to Banjo. “I was lucky just to get two. That’s a lot more than most characters get, if they ever make it to one.” Banjo didn’t respond, but he knew it was true. Edison is living proof of that.
“I can’t compare myself to you. I’m just a single character in a big cast of racers. You’ve had your own series. People remember you, while most haven’t heard of me. But, I’m grateful for the two games I did have. Racing with you and the others was the best experience of my life. Besides that game, I had a family at Rare and made lifelong friends.”
“We won’t have anything like that again.”
“Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. Even if we don’t, that doesn’t matter at all. What matters is that it happened in the first place. Just because it doesn’t happen again doesn’t make the memories go away. We have our place in history. Millions of people have played and loved our games.”
“I guess so,” Banjo admitted.
“I know so. And all those copies are still out there, waiting to be played. Every time someone plays a game again, the years fade away. It’s as if they’re taken right back to the first time they played it. Our games are part of many, many happy memories. No matter what happens, that can’t be taken away. The past might be getting farther away, but it happened, and that’s what matters.”
Banjo let out a labored breath and said, “I’m sorry for how I’ve acted, Pipsy. You’re right. I might not have another game, but I can always remember the ones I’ve been part of. Thanks, Pip. It still feels sad, but I’d be a fool not to make the best of it.” He rose to his feet and stretched out a hand to help Pipsy up. “I don’t want to miss a moment of seeing my family. Come on, let’s go back inside.”