The N64 historically bloomed dozens of genres that have become staples of gaming today. A transitioning period with many duds, but just as many gems. One company consistently crowned king of the N64 is Rareware. Rare popped out some of the most acclaimed games in history on this platform. Banjo, and Rare’s other characters, are considered as important to the N64 as Nintendo’s first parties themselves. These games are historic, they are important, and they are beloved.
I wanted to make sure I got to Banjo-Kazooie very early on. I want to make a bigger effort to connect with classic games. You must understand I’m experiencing these titles from a lense after they’ve left a legacy. Whereas I need to grasp the fact that nobody is going to get it right with the first shot.
Banjo-Kazooie is the world’s first collect-a-thon platformer. Banjo builds heavily off of the framework of Super Mario 64 while taking extreme measures to differentiate itself. While Mario only hunts stars and red coins, Banjo has quite the number of treasures to find. All of which incredibly important.
You gain new abilities after finding Bottles the mole in different levels. Most of the time said abilities come with an item to use them. Sometimes it’s limited time power-ups like the wading boots. The most important moves have different collectibles attached to them. Such as the eggs, allowing Kazooie to shoot eggs at enemies, assuming you’ve got the ammo to spare.
This system, in particular, has had a very notable impact on gaming today. Collect-a-thons may not be as widespread as they were in the ’90s, but these item management systems still exist in today’s 3D platformers. Banjo-Kazooie does this a lot.
Not every collectible has to do with special abilities. Banjo does have his own version of coins and stars. The musical note is the average collectible, one hundred in every stage, but it’s become iconic in its own right. The main collectible on your adventure is the jiggy. Easily the most recognizable symbol from this game. Perhaps one of the most recognizable symbols from this era of gaming. You can also collect honeycomb pieces. After getting six Banjo gains an extra hit point.
Banjo is much slower than Mario on his own. Yet is in no way lacking in ways to traverse the many worlds. From flying with Kazooie and red feathers to a backflip of incredible height, it never really felt like a slog. Mario is a lot more agile, but Banjo certainly has a bigger arsenal.
The witch-doctor Mumbo Jumbo has a presence in most of the games levels. If you collect his mumbo tokens he will reward you with some transformations. A bee, a crocodile, and a couple more neat forms. An interesting concept on paper, but each transformation feels very one-note. They don’t really do much outside of the one or two jiggies per transformation. You can’t even take them into other levels.
Banjo-Kazooie is the first 3D title to truly incorporate the hub world. Super Mario 64 featured Princess Peach’s Castle. A decent little hub for your adventure, but what’s in it? Some nooks and cranny’s that are hard to jump up? Yoshi on top of the castle? Peach’s Castle is but a prototype to Gruntilda’s Lair. A labyrinth twice as big as any world with many secrets, and interconnected portions. While it doesn’t feature any notes it contains ten jiggies of its own.
Enough with the water-cooler talk. Banjo-Kazooie is an N64, and N64 games usually suffer from various degrees of jank. The camera often gave me trouble but wasn’t awful to control. It took some getting used to, and quite a bit of guesswork, but I was usually able to fumble my way around. It never got stuck on anything at least. I can’t stand the swimming or flying controls in Banjo-Kazooie. I never enjoyed levels taking heavy advantage of these mechanics. I never really mastered them, but they never gave me a reason to keep messing with them either.
Banjo-Kazooie has some of the most inventive levels I have ever seen. Beautiful environments that feel fun to explore and, even on the N64, give a sense of wonder. I’m not a fan of ice levels, or vertical climbs, but I never found myself disliking Freezeezy Peak or Click Clock Wood. I don’t know how to properly explain what I felt traversing the landscape. They truly threw their best at this.
Perhaps the only thing given more attention than the worlds are the characters that inhabit them. From Guntilda’s rhyming mayhem, to Kazooie’s abrasive personality. The world of Banjo-Kazooie feels lived in, and natural. Such a surprising feeling from an N64 game. You will meet specific characters in one world, who crop up again later on. An especially nice treat considering how wonderfully written this game is.
Banjo-Kazooie goes for a country-style of presentation. It wants to feel natural, quirky, but exhilarating. It’s music and sound design reflects this. With Masahiro Sakurai even going as far as to call Grant Kirkhope a “country music artist”. I’m never letting that go. Banjo-Kazooie has this homey feel to it. Like it easily could’ve come out of something Nintendo themselves made. Fitting considering Rare is responsible for the Donkey Kong series as it stands.
All of that in an early N64 title. A miracle by proxy of how rocky this period in gaming was. Nintendo laid a very stable foundation, but Rare perfected that craft. Rare took the cake, decorated it, and ate it too. This game is not without its flaws. Every cake will have a not so smooth edge of frosting. That doesn’t ruin the taste though.
With all of that laid down how is Banjo represented in Smash? Requested since the first Smash was released. Banjo was a character originally chosen for Melee. He wasn’t included due to rights issues as the Microsoft buyout occurred. Of course that all changed with the Fighter’s Pass. Where Banjo was revealed to be the third DLC fighter included. Back again amongst Nintendo, amongst Donkey Kong, where he should be.
Banjo in Smash feels like he’s ripped straight from the game. The eggs, the wonderwing, the shock pad recover, and it all feels special. This character is beloved by the team. Clear that they wanted to do their best by him. They poured everything into him. A wonderful treat to fans of the series. It’s reassuring to know that he’s home. Don’t worry, he’s not leaving any time soon.
I like Banjo-Kazooie a lot. It had a few sections that got on my nerves. Quite a lot of jank that annoyed me, at times even felt unfair. Yet I never wanted to quit. I always wanted to go back, to finish what I started. That’s “rare” for me with retro titles. I highly recommend Banjo-Kazooie if you have Game Pass. It’s cryptic at times, but what 90’s title wasn’t? Banjo-Kazooie charted the course for the future, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.