You will believe a bear can fly
Hello everyone how are you? It’s been 20 years since the release of the amazing Banjo-Kazooie on the N64. Like with any game having an anniversary, I would like to share my thoughts on it, be it 5, 10, 15, or 20 years old. Get your blue back packs ready and hope you gathered enough golden feathers, and get ready to read my thoughts on Banjo-Kazooie, 20 Years later…
Rareware at the time was a well-known for their work on Nintendo platforms, arguably Nintendo’s best developer at the time. Prior to BK’s release, Rare was well-known for the amazing Donkey Kong Contry games and legendary shooter Goldeneye 007 and the fantastic Diddy Kong Racing. I think Rare had pretty much worked on nearly every type of game out there but no other game stands out as much as Banjo-Kazooie. Banjo-Kazooie was originally a different game a very long time ago, so click on that if you want to know more.
I remember going to my friend’s house after school once. She had a younger brother and he said if I wanted to play some video games, and I said sure. We played some Star Wars Episode 1: Racer which was really fun. I remember renting that one often as well. He also had Banjo-Kazooie and it looked fun. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try it for myself till years later. I remember getting the game and when you start it up, you are greeted with one of the coolest intros out there. All the characters are playing the instruments to the theme song of the game and it is magnificent. They don’t make intros like this anymore.
The game starts off with Gruntilda the witch asking her cauldron, Dingpot, about which girl is the prettiest (I assume in the game at best). Dingpot says it’s her, which Gruntilda is pleased, but Dingpot then says it’s Banjo’s sister Tooty, and thus Gruntilda gets moody and is displeased. You will notice it is reminicent of a Disney Classic, and Gruntilda plans to switch beauty with Banjo’s sister, which is sick. She hops on her broom to kidnap Banjo’s sister, she see’s her outside Banjo’s house and then swoops down and proceeds to lift her. Kazooie wakes up Banjo and the bad news is heard by the bear and bird, then they must go on an adventure to rescue Tooty inside Gruntilda’s Lair.
One of the things you’ll notice about the characters is the way they talk, they don’t speak words like a fully voiced game, but rather they have this mumbling voice. Think of it like Animal Crossing or the original Star Fox game. I think it’s a great way of having them “speak” without ruining the character. After the opening cutscene, you start off in Spiral Mountain and the area serves as a training ground of sorts to get your bearings (get it because you are using a bear?) and to get used to the various mechanics in the game as well as Banjo and Kazooie’s moves.
From there on, you’ll proceed inside Gruntilda’s Lair. Think of it like Princess Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64. It’s the hub world of the game and you’ll be spending quite some time in there going through the levels and uncovering the various secrets of Grunty’s Lair. The Lair much bigger than Peach’s Castle and definitely has more secrets and hidden areas. One thing that makes Grunty’s Lair unique over the Castle is that the main theme in the Lair changes depending on the area you are in. Let’s say you are at the entrance of a snow level, the Lair theme has this snowy theme to it. It does this for all the entrances of the levels in the game. That is a very nice touch and helps with the atmosphere of the Lair.
Now let’s talk about the levels. There are 9 levels in the game and each one has their own themes. That may be low compared to Super Mario 64’s 15 levels and it’s 9 secret courses, but sometimes less is more. The levels themselves are fantastic. The first level you go to in the game is pretty basic but it’s meant to test what you learned in Spiral Mountain and apply it to an actual level. It’s pretty fun though, but everything after that is really good. You’ll be going to a beach, a cavern with a giant mechanical shark, a desert, a swamp, a haunted mansion, and more. Each level has their own challenges and collectibles to collect.
Like Stars in Super Mario 64, you collect golden jigsaw pieces, known as Jiggies. These are the important collectibles in the game that you’ll need in order to unlock more levels. What’s different here is that unlike in Super Mario 64, when you collected a star, you would be warped back outside the level because you completed the main objective. Not here, when you collect a Jiggy, you can still continue going through the level. You get Jiggies for completing various objectives in the levels and each of these levels have their own objectives to obtain said Jiggies. They can vary by just solving a puzzle, to fighting a boss, to helping out some of the various npcs in the levels and more. It never gets boring.
There are more collectibles too like Jinjos, which are these colorful creatures that you must rescue in each level. Finding all of them grants you a new Jiggy. Music notes are kinda secondary important collectibles. There are 100 of them in each level, think of the like coins in Super Mario 64. You need to gather a certain number of them in the game in order to unlock more areas in Grunty’s Lair. There are also Honeycomb pieces and collecting enough expands your life bar. As you go through the levels, you’ll gain access to more moves thanks to Bottles the Mole. They are really useful as one of them allows you to fly, another makes you invulnerable for a short time period, and others allow you to jump really high in the air. Some of them are situational depending on the level and some are really useful, but all the moves are really neat.
Aside from that, you’ll meet Mumbo Jumbo, the best Shaman in all the game. What he does is that he can use his magic to transform you into various things. For a price. Some of these forms are really useful because you’ll need them for the level’s various puzzles and in some cases you’ll need them for some parts of the Lair. But be careful, sometimes Mumbo makes a mistake when using his magic…
Now let’s talk about the music and what I think it’s arguably one of the best parts of the game. The music is incredible. It matches the theme of the levels really well and helps set the atmosphere. I already mentioned that the theme for Gruntilda’s Lair changes depending on which area you are right? There is a level named Click Clock Wood that’s really amazing. The theme of the level is centered around a giant tree and what’s neat is that it has 4 seasons, meaning the level changes depeding on the season you go to it. What’s neat is that the layout of the level changes as well, like maybe you can reach newer areas in the Summer that you couldn’t in Spring, and another neat thing is that the overall theme song of the level changes as well. The enemies change as well. It’s these little details that you appreciate.
The sound effects in the game are really great too. One thing that many haven’t touched upon is Gruntilda’s laugh. She sounds just like a witch should sound. They definitely nailed her laugh and it’s definitely the best witch laugh out there. You can’t convince me otherwise on that. One thing with Grunty, is that she rhymes with everything she says. Maybe she should of considered a career as a rapper if that whole evil witch thing didn’t work out.
The final challenges in the game involve a quiz show against Gruntilda. The quiz show involves beating some challenges to basically a memory test of the game. Some memory tests involve audio clips of the various characters in the game to the levels in the game. Others involve images of various things in the game and you have to guess what it is, to general questions of things from the game itself. One of them even involve various facts about Grunty herself. Here is an interesting thing though, while exploring Grunty’s Lair you will encounter Brentilda, one of Grunty’s sisters. What she does is that she tells you facts about Grunty, most which are often really gross and you might assume this is all just random gibberish but in fact, it is crucial to the quiz. It was pretty brilliant on their part because you really have to pay attention to everything.
The final fight itself is basically a test of everything you have learned in the whole game. Everything you used like moves and whatnot will be put to the test. Oh and I forgot to mention, in this game you have lives and if you lose all of them it’s game over. But in Banjo-Kazooie, it actually has a consequence. If you fail, Gruntilda actually succeeds with her plan to switch beauty with Tooty. It’s one of the few games that show you that you’ve failed and shows the villain winning. It’s a nice touch though.
Final Thoughts: In many ways, Banjo-Kazooie is much more superior to Super Mario 64 in many ways. There are plenty of similarities to Mario 64 but like with any game that comes afterwards, Banjo-Kazooie made a lot of improvements to the 3D Platforming that Mario 64 established. At first glance they look similar but I can assure, it feels like a totally different game. For starters, instead of controlling an Italian Plumber from Brooklyn, you are controlling a bear and a bird. Secondly, the music. The music sets itself appart from anything out there. It is incredible, it definitely feels whimsical and magical, just like music in a Disney film. Grant Kirkhope really did really amazing work on it. Every song is just as good.
Banjo and Kazooie have more moves than Mario and each move has its own use within the game and the various challenges and puzzles. The worlds just really pop and feel really different from each other. Having less levels might be a deal breaker to some but that means there aren’t any repeating themes and wont get too repetitive. That and the puzzles are neat and you’re always doing something different even if you are collecting pointless trinkets. The characters are fun and have very quirky personalities and the humor on the game is really good. The graphics aren’t bad for an old game, they look just as good as they did 20 years ago.
I think it has aged better than most 3D platformers at the time and is definitely a classic. Unfortunately it is a crime that it hasn’t been remade, but there are various ways that you can still play it. Obviously if you want to go the whole mile, you can get it on the N64 used. You can also buy it digitally on the Xbox 360, complete with achievements and it even includes the canned Stop-n-Swap feature that they couldn’t get working on the N64. Or you can get it on Rare Replay via the Xbox One. So it really is up to you and everyone should definitely check it out if you haven’t, or if you just want to replay it again. It’s a fantastic game and is definitely one of the very best games the N64 had and one of the very best games Rare made.
Unfortunately it’s definitely a game stuck in Super Mario 64’s shadow since Mario 64 pretty much changed the world and showed what a 3D platformer should be. Banjo-Kazooie ran with that formula and improved upon basically everything. No matter which of the 2 you like the most, definitely give them a go. They are both great games. You won’t be disappointed. But honestly I’m just happy that 3D platformers are making a comeback.
Will the bear and bird ever make a comeback? I don’t know to be honest. Microsoft has been very chummy with Nintendo recently and who knows what they have planned. But if I can see Banjo and Kazooie back on the Switch, even if it’s remakes of the first 2 games, then that’ll make me a very happy bear that has just obtained a Jiggy. And those are my thoughts on Banjo-Kazooie, 20 years later.
So, what do you think of Banjo-Kazooie? Did you ever play it? Thanks for reading and happy 20th anniversary Banjo-Kazooie!