The shark. One of nature’s most misunderstood animals? Or an unfeeling, destructive force of the seas? Maybe it’s best not to judge, especially since folks who have played Banjo-Kazooie know all too well just how tough it can be to be a shark, and a mechanical shark that’s used as a garbage disposal, at that. Okay, so maybe his actual “shark”-ness is in question, considering he has a blowhole, but still, pitiable Clanker is a sympathetic creature. And while he may look scary, as does the rusty, junky cavern in which he lives, Clanker is a nice shark(ish) automaton who just needs Banjo and Kazooie’s help to feel better, what with all the garbage he’s had to eat. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to mostly do that, and it’s by swimming around Clanker’s insides…and that’s when things get scary. The Duck provided plenty of visuals in her Let’s Play of part of the level (Clanker’s Cavern) below.
Have I ever mentioned one of my least favorite things about DOOM II? It’s roaming around some of the game’s later levels where the interiors have a bizarre and grossly visceral fleshy texture. Eww. Those visuals have been forever stamped as memory, and whenever I’ve encountered anything like them in games since, they tend to set off that “fear factor” quality in my head. So upon first seeing similar images in Clanker’s insides, I was immediately put off. Not only that, but as the Duck readily pointed out, he has some dangerous guts! Guess it makes sense since he’s a garbage disposal, but still, that mix of organic musculature and mechanized weaponry make for an eerie experience. Oh, and not to mention that there are other oddities hiding in and among his “freshly ground beef” insides, like the angry tentacles in Clanker’s rib cage (seriously??), and the rotating blades of death (after his mouth? Jeez, I hope it’s his mouth…) through which Kazooie must run for her life…literally! And the bright red spotting even pervades Clanker’s exterior, making the poor thing look like he’s covered in sores. Even if Clanker is the sweetest garbage disposal in the world, it’s all so…unpleasant.
When I recently replayed Banjo-Kazooie, thanks to Rare Replay, Clanker’s Cavern stuck me as far more disturbing (though much more fun) than I originally remembered it. In a game that has a literal haunted house, complete with ghosts and bats and all that stuff we might think of as traditionally spooky, I never would have guess that it’s all be outdone by giant, mechanical shark with a stomach ache. Ultimately, the frightening aspects of Clanker and his cavern spill forth from decay. Take my least favorite scary thing – the skeleton. A plain skeleton isn’t so bad, conjuring up images of those anatomical models one might have seen hanging around in science class. But add to that skeleton signs of decay – pitting, discoloring, moldiness, dregs of its former life – and suddenly you’ve got yourself something that’s much scarier and awful than that science model whereby you learned the “Dry Bones” song. (Or was that just me? Oh…) This is where the “magic” of Clanker is, in his rusty and horribly unkempt state. The fact that he’s been ignored when he desperately needs some TLC, that’s what’s truly scary. Banjo and Kazooie did their best to help him feel better, and one can only hope that his owner, mean ol’ Grunty the Witch, learned from their example.
Lede image © Rare, 4J Studios, Nintendo (1998)