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If you weren’t around or didn’t play games in the 90’s, I’m sorry. It was a time when you could put a game in your system and just play. If playing on consoles, you didn’t have to connect to the internet to get the most out of the experience, you didn’t have to wait for an update to download and install, and most games came with a detailed manual rather than hold your hand every step of the way. I was around in the 90’s and basically envied anybody who had a Nintendo 64. After the Super Nintendo, my parents deemed the gaming hobby too expensive and I was pretty much on my own. I always wanted a 64 growing up and by the time I had enough money to get one, the Dreamcast was out and I was convinced the get that instead. In the end, my parents were right, this hobby is expensive but it wasn’t going to stop me and I didn’t regret the purchase but I still wanted a 64. Fast forward to 2010 and I finally got one. I was finally able to catch up on some of the games I’ve missed and on their original hardware. Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Super Smash Bros., man it was an exciting time for me. Back when the 64 was in its prime, I would say the system was known for two reasons – Nintendo and Rare. Rare was on fire in the 90’s releasing one game after another, hit after hit. GoldenEye 007, Killer Instinct, Diddy Kong Racing, and even Perfect Dark which released in 2000. Sadly, I missed out on all of these but I was aware of these games since everybody would talk about them, I was an envious little boy. Developed by Rare and published by Nintendo, Banjo-Kazooie was released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64. For some reason, this game never interested me until I acquired the Rare Replay collection released for Xbox One in August, 2015. The version of Banjo-Kazooie in this collection is actually the remastered version, originally released in December, 2008, and can be downloaded on Xbox 360 from the Xbox Live Arcade. This remastered version includes improved performance and visuals, some minor gameplay changes, and even some minor visual changes.
The story follows protagonists Banjo, a bear, and his pal Kazooie, a female bird kept in Banjo’s backpack. An evil witch named Gruntilda learns that Banjo’s younger sister, Tooty, is more beautiful than she is so she develops a machine to transfer a person’s beauty and then proceeds to kidnap Tooty while Banjo is sleeping. It’s the basic “damsel in distress” premise and your ultimate goal is to defeat Gruntilda and rescue Tooty. You’re introduced to Banjo’s friend Bottles in the beginning of the game and he teaches the duo all kinds of new moves and abilities as you progress. There is no spoken dialogue but each character will make noises and grunt when they speak, accompanied by subtitles. The grunts do give the characters personality and the dialogue is humorous overall, specifically the dialogue exchanged between Kazooie and Bottles. They’ll often tease each other with one wisecrack after another. Banjo and Kazooie are a team and I found them to be both likeable and memorable protagonists.
Throughout the environments are molehills and interacting with these will reveal Bottles who will teach you new moves that can help you navigate the worlds and defeat enemies. You have the option to skip the basic tutorial at the beginning of the game where he teaches you all of the basic moves but I would suggest playing through it if it’s your first time playing. Although, you can view instructions on the basics from the main menu. Banjo can run, crouch, roll, swim, jump , and double jump with the help of Kazooie’s wings but these basic moves will only get you so far. Mastering the rest of the move set is what will help you succeed. The Claw Swipe is when Banjo swipes with his claws. Beak Barge is when Banjo crouches, Kazooie emerges from his backpack and they lunge forward for a powerful attack. Rat-a-Tat Rap is when Banjo jumps and Kazooie attacks with her beak while they’re in mid-air. Beak Buster is an extremely useful move where Banjo jumps, flips upside-down and Kazooie will pound to the ground with her beak, useful for killing enemies and pushing buttons. Talon Trot is another useful move and I found myself using it more than any other. Kazooie will stick her legs out of the backpack and carry Banjo around, letting you run faster than normal and it also allows the duo to run up steep slopes. Flap Flip involves Banjo crouching and then with the help of Kazooie, doing a flip to jump high into the air. The Wonderwing move involves Kazooie shielding Banjo with her wings, making the duo invulnerable, but this move requires a stock of gold feathers. You’ll learn to shoot eggs from Kazooie’s mouth or even from Banjo’s butt in which case they will bounce. This is a very useful move, great for attacking enemies at long range or even activating things, but does require a stock of eggs. Bottles will also teach you different abilities that require the use of something else found in the environments. For example, the duo can fly but only after jumping from a Flight Pad and red feathers are required to fly higher. Eventually you learn the Beak Bomb move which can only be utilized when flying and lets the duo fly at rapid speed into a target, attacking it with Kazooie’s beak. Shock Jump Pads allow the duo to perform the Shock Spring Jump to jump even higher than normal. The Wading Boots enable the duo to walk in hazardous liquids. When finding the Turbo Trainer shoes, you can use the Turbo Talon Trot which basically means you can run at super speed for a limited time. There’s plenty to see and do in Banjo-Kazooie and you’re always given the proper tools to accomplish your goal. Thankfully, the controls are responsive and should never be an issue, although aiming to fire eggs can be a bit of a bitch. The camera, on the other hand, while fantastic in its day, feels dated now. Just like Mario 64 that came before it, the camera is controlled independently of the character, however, it works against you often. The camera will position itself accordingly, depending on what you’re doing, but sometimes that means objects or structures will obscure your view or it forces an angle that’s not ideal. With some angles, it can be hard to judge perspective. Don’t get me wrong the camera works well most of the time and it was pretty great back in 1998 but nowadays its flaws are a bit more obvious.
Banjo-Kazooie consists of nine worlds, each with their own theme and secrets to uncover. Every world can be accessed through the hub world, otherwise known as Gruntilda’s Lair. Gaining access to a world requires a specific amount of Jiggies to fill in the missing pieces on that world’s puzzle picture. Ten Jiggies can be collected in each world either by discovery or by completing objectives. Now the puzzle pictures are not always near the world’s entrance which leads to one of my minor gripes, a confusing hub world. Gruntilda’s Lair is rather large with different areas, paths, and tunnels to explore that lead to different worlds, secrets, and even cauldron’s that can warp you to different parts of the Lair. But you can only warp after discovering two of the same colored cauldrons. Even with the cauldrons, the Lair can be confusing to navigate, making it easy to get lost, and even forget where world entrances are. This is probably a bigger issue for first time players but it does get annoying if you need to revisit a world you haven’t been to in a while and don’t remember where the entrance is. The worlds, themselves, are large and open but not so huge that it’s easy to get lost or confused. Although, Click Clock Wood does kind of drag on. You can’t have a good 3D platformer without two things – responsive controls and good level design. Luckily, Banjo-Kazooie delivers on both. Now I’ve always loved platformers but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to dislike the minigames many 3D platformers seem to employ. I just want to explore levels, collect items, kill enemies, and discover secrets. Some of the worlds here do consist of minigames but it’s nowhere near as rampant as in Banjo-Tooie. You’ll have to protect Twinklies from getting eaten, solve basic puzzles, and there’s even some racing thrown in here because why not? Unfortunately, you need to complete the minigames to be rewarded with Jiggies but at least they’re not too difficult or tedious. Other than minigames, you’ll need to explore the worlds to find Jiggies and for the most part, it’s all good fun. Every world has five different colored Jinjos that need to be rescued and rescuing all of them rewards you with a Jiggy. Many of the worlds have friendly NPC’s that are usually in need of your assistance and they will reward you with Jiggies if you help them. For example, in Gobi’s Valley you’ll need to find a way to get Trunker some water, you’ll need to find all of the presents for the kids in Freezeezy Peak, and you’ll need to free Snorkel whose trapped under the boat in Rusty Bucket Bay. Most of the NPC’s are easy enough to find since they’re usually out in the open but figuring out what you need to do to help them or where to find the items they require will take some thinking and exploring. Scattered throughout the worlds are Mumbo tokens that act as a form of currency. In some worlds, Mumbo can be found in a hut and if you give him the required amount of tokens, he will transform you into an animal and in the Mad Monster Manison world, a pumpkin. Transforming into these creatures is necessary for gaining access to specific locations, not normally accessible by the duo on their own, usually to acquire a Jiggy. In fact, you can leave the world as these creatures to acquire Jiggies in Gruntilda’s Lair usually revealed by finding and pressing the hidden Witch Switches in each world. Scattered throughout each world is one hundred musical notes and you need a certain amount of these notes break the seal of note doors in Gruntilda’s Lair which grant you access to new areas of the Lair. And unlike the original game, this remaster saves how many notes you collected so you’re never required to collect them all in a world in one run. In addition to the major collectibles are other items and things to discover like Cheato who will provide you with cheats if you can find him hidden in Gruntilda’s Lair. There’s also the extra honeycomb pieces and after collecting six of them, you’re health or energy meter is permanently increased. And lets not forget the infamous Stop ‘n’ Swop items. Hidden throughout the game are mystery eggs and a large key made out of ice. Back in the day, it was planned that these items would unlock things in the sequel, Banjo-Tooie, and required the player to quickly swap game cartridges but due to, I think, hardware limitations, this concept never happened but the items are still in the game. However, collecting these items in this Xbox Live Arcade version, including the one found in Rare Replay, unlocks vehicle parts in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Apparently they also unlock extras in the Xbox Live Arcade version of Banjo-Tooie.
Now if there’s one thing I dislike about this game it’s Grunty’s Furnace Fun which is a game show of sorts. Before you can battle Gruntilda, you need to complete Grunty’s Furnace Fun and it’s just awful. The furnace is laid out like a game board with different panels and each panel is either a challenge to complete or question you must answer and failure will subtract a honeycomb piece from your energy meter. A skull panel can be anything but failure results in an immediate death. You’ll need to identify worlds based on pictures, identify different sound effects, and even answer personal questions about Gruntilda. You may be wondering, how could I possibly know the answers to the personal questions? Well in different spots throughout the hub world is Brentilda and she normally provides you with three secrets about Gruntilda. Write these down because these secrets are the answers to the personal questions in Gruntilda’s Furnace Fun and worse is the secrets are different for each save file. I had no idea about any of this the first time I played this so I had to find Brentilda again in every spot and write down the answers. The questions are timed, too, so you have to be quick, maybe even study. It is horrible. The idea of Grunty’s Furnace Fun is obviously to test your knowledge of the game but its just not fun. I play platformers to explore, collect shit, and to have fun, not to compete in a tedious game show. It’s just so unnecessary, it’s a terrible addition, and sadly, it brings down an otherwise fantastic game, but only slightly. Only because it’s required to actually beat the game. I do know that in the original, there’s an exploit to bypass Grunty’s Furnace Fun, but I’m not sure if works in the remaster.
The worlds, themselves, are excellently designed and memorable. Banjo-Kazooie is more about exploration than it is about engaging enemies. The worlds don’t have many enemies and the ones that are here, usually don’t pose much of a threat and can easily be defeated. Fallen enemies do drop honeycomb pieces that will restore your health so they do serve their purposes. You’ve got giant insects, crabs, bulls, and even apes that flail their arms as they come charging at you. Some of the more dangerous enemies include sharks that appear when you enter certain bodies of water and even floating aquatic mines that will slowly move towards you if you’re detected and explode upon impact. Other than Gruntilda, there’s no real boss battles but some worlds include what I’ll call minibosses since these enemies are large and take more than one or two basic attacks to defeat. Now each world’s theme is unique and the themes are what make each of them stand out. Treasure Trove Cove is my favorite. It’s sunny, tropical, and surrounded by the ocean. Mad Monster Mansion is filled with ghosts and skeletons and you can even flush yourself down a toilet. Gobi’s Valley is a desert world complete with Sphinx’s and magic carpets. Even if you don’t like the theme, every world is fun to explore for the most part and as you progress, the worlds become more challenging. You’ll need to press buttons, break things to gain access to new areas, interact with things, and check every nook and cranny to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you’ve been around a while or played platformers before, figuring out most things should be easy but not everything you need to do is obvious. The final two worlds, Rusty Bucket Bay and Click Clock Wood, are a bit tedious. Rusty Bucket Bay consists of nasty water that will deplete your air meter twice as fast and one of the Jiggies is just a real pain in the ass to acquire. Click Clock Wood is a forest world with its own little hub world of sorts. There’s one main area where you have to do everything but each door you walk through to get there will change the season. You’ll need to do things in one season to reveal or change something in another season and if it’s your first time playing, it may require a lot of backtracking. The platforming in this world also requires more precise jumps so completing this world could take you a while. Maybe double, even triple the amount of time it would take you to complete another. The changing world is a cool concept, I probably would have appreciated it more in 1998, but the way its done, it just feels like a drag to get through.
This remastered version of Banjo-Kazooie obviously looks better than the 64 original but even with the improved visuals, its age shines through. Character models are blocky, the textures are blurry up close, and even the backgrounds are blurry which can end up being an eyesore if you notice it. I’m aware this is originally a 1998 game and the visuals are more or less improved rather than overhauled and in 1998, this game was actually quite the looker. I’m playing the remaster found in the Rare Replay collection so it does display at 1080p, everything is vibrant and colorful, and it’s just a very pleasing game to look at. The music is one of the best things about Banjo-Kazooie and we can thank Grant Kirkhope and his incredibly memorable and catchy music score for that. The sound effects match the cartoony aesthetic the game is going for and the overall presentation was just incredible in 1998 and for the most part, it still holds up today. This remastered version runs much smoother than the original ever did. I didn’t notice any serious glitches and can’t say I experienced any real hiccups on the technical side.
Banjo-Kazooie is often considered one of the greatest 3D platformers ever made and I would agree with that. Sure, it has some issues but what game doesn’t and as a platformer, it delivers on all fronts. There’s plenty of worlds to explore, secrets to find, items to collect, and it provides a great sense of discovery. Mario 64 revolutionized the platforming genre and Banjo-Kazooie follows in its footsteps which isn’t really a bad thing. If you were around in the 90’s, you should know the platforming genre was huge and Banjo-Kazooie is one of the best in the genre. It’s one of those games that I can revisit frequently and still have fun. That seems to be the case with many games from the 90’s, at least for me. There’s just something about them I guess. And, no, I can’t say it’s nostalgia for me since I didn’t play this for the first time until I acquired Rare Replay. Other than Nintendo keeping the genre alive, I would say the platforming genre really died down after fifth or maybe even the sixth generation era of consoles with few quality platformers released here and there and because of that, many of the classics like Banjo-Kazooie still hold up today. The platforming genre is special because unlike some other genres, the gameplay can remain consistently fun for years to come if it’s designed right. If the game is designed well in terms of controls and camera, the gameplay will be just as fun and exciting as it was the day it released whether that was a year ago, ten years ago, or even twenty years ago. Yeah, that could apply to any classic game but I find that some gameplay mechanics age better than others, depending on the genre. I think it’s more or less the simplicity of the core gameplay of platformers that can keep the genre going for years without requiring much change unless it’s trying to innovate. Sure, the presentation will show its age but, for me, that doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Other than some minor camera issues and the horrible Grunty’s Furnace Fun, Banjo-Kazooie encapsulates everything I love about platformers. I don’t really care much for minigames in my platformers and thankfully there’s not many here but what is here is a fun overall experience that anyone would enjoy, even today.
Ultimately, Banjo-Kazooie is incredible game and I would say its definitely one of the greatest 3D platformers of all time. It’s definitely in my top ten. It’s got likeable protagonists, humorous dialogue, it provides an excellent presentation, and it’s one of the many gems Rare released during the fifth generation era of consoles. I still say Mario 64 takes the top spot but Banjo-Kazooie may be a close second. Back then, Mario 64 set the standard for 3D platformers and Banjo-Kazooie just built upon that but didn’t really innovate and did nothing that would really turn the gaming industry on its head. It’s just a really fun game with a lot of character and charm. Grunty’s Furnace Fun is really a sore on an otherwise incredible experience and it’s one of the reasons I would never put this game in the first place slot of any favorites or best of lists. I can also do without the minigames but other platformers seemed to have gone down that route as well so I guess people enjoy them. Banjo-Kazooie is a must-buy if you love the platforming genre or just fun in general. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already.