Rare Review: Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo and Kazooie in their charming starting area of Spiral Mountain.

Banjo-Kazooie is possibly my favourite game, something I utterly love. I play it around christmas every year and never get tired of it. But why is this? What makes Banjo-Kazooie such a lovable game to play?

For starters, Banjo-Kazooie has a lot of character, from Banjo-Kazooie themselves to the worlds, settings and music. Even characters like Colliwobble (a giant cauliflower with googly eyes) has a magical style and charm to it. I think it’s Rare’s love for googly eyes, so much stuff has it, including boulders, blocks of ice and boxes of TNT. The world of Banjo-Kazooie is just alive in a joyful way.

Then you have the heroes Banjo and Kazooie. Banjo is a fairly straight character. For the most part he’s kind and gentle and wants to do good. If he was completely on his own, he may be a bit bland, but luckily his trust friend Kazooie lives in his backpack. Kazooie is rude, sassy and will mock anything. Together, it makes for great banter between them and other characters. And all dialogue is text with grunts, which helps make their world remain unique. I really hope any (if there are any) future games keep this as I’m not sure how I’d feel about proper voice acting.

Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D collect-a-thon platformer, which doesn’t go overboard on its collectibles. Banjo and Kazooie have a lot of moves crammed onto a controller, but they all work really well. There are some slight niggles, like trying to change the camera while aiming an egg can activate your golden feathers, but the platforming itself feels extremely precise, with any missed jumps never feeling like the game’s fault. The camera also functions fine for the most part, but there’s a couple of areas with some forced angles that don’t work, such as the path to Mad Monster Mansion which is a narrow walkway that can be difficult to see.

There are 9 worlds in Banjo-Kazooie. These each have 10 jiggies to collect, 100 notes, two honeycomb pieces (which increase your health). One jiggy in every level will be finding all five Jinjos hidden in each level. The levels will be considered small by today’s standards, but I think that they are ideal. It’s a size where you can search for everything without tedium or growing tired of it. Each world has its own charm.

Mumbo’s Mountain is a great introductory world. It’s a great introduction to how jiggies are hidden. Some are out in the open, some given to you by characters, some by activating switches and some by smashing things or just trying to shoot eggs into any hole you find. It sets you up for handling the later levels. It also introduces the important Talon Trot move, which allows you to use Kazooie’s legs to traverse steep slopes, and the layout of the level encourages heavy use.

Also here is the first Mumbo Skull. Enter here and you’ll find the crazy shaman Mumbo Jumbo. If you’ve found enough Mumbo tokens, he’ll cast a spell on you and you’ll turn into a termite. These transformations are another wonderful thing about Banjo-Kazooie. They’re not in every level so aren’t overused, but they turn you into different animals (or objects), which is required for certain jiggies. They’re all wonderful to use and are simply a joyous thing to have in the game.

After Mumbo’s Mountain, we get Treasure Trove Cove, a beach level filled with crabs. Mambo’s Mountain also introduces you to a pound attack (using Kazooie’s beak), which is used here for enemies and tasks. Flying is also introduced, as Kazooie can use red feathers to fly around the map. Treasure Trove Cove is quite open, with a jiggy that encourages flying around it. There’s also a very scary shark in the water. It’s a really wonderful level.

Next up is the weakest part of Banjo-Kazooie: Clanker’s Cavern. It’s a murky underwater level, and looks fairly dull. I do like Clanker – a big whale that has been turned into a horrifying trash disposal monster, but is actually a nice but depressed individual, but there’s a lot of swimming in this level, including a very deep dive that terrified me as a kid.

Bubblegloop Swamp swiftly returns to form, especially because of adorable crocodile Banjo.This level is split up into segments, and then croco Banjo can traverse new areas, including a fairly difficult minigame with Mr Vile, sneaky crocodile (although a move from a later level can make this easier if you wish)

Then the wonderful wintery world of Freezeezy Peak, a level revolving around a giant snowman. One slight niggle for me with this is that you can’t finish the level initially, so I’d recommend a quick trip into the next level to grab the speed trainers, but it’s only a minor hassle. In Freezeezy Peak you get to climb the giant snowman’s scarf, have aerial fights with aggressive smaller snowmen, turn into a Walrus and take part in races – WAHEEEY!

From the snow straight to the sand of Gobi’s Valley. This is one of the more challenging levels, with pyramids, temples and sphinxes holding challenges you need to complete. One of these requires a perfect run with the speed boots, and still takes me multiple attempts each playthrough. That said, there is still a load of fun and charm.

Up next is for some halloween fun in Mad Monster Mansion, a haunted house and grounds. Initially, I found this level to be incredibly daunting, but traversal isn’t as difficult as initially seems, and getting around the level is quite fun. There’s lots of rooms to explore and even a toilet to explore. Brilliantly, the toilet itself is also a character called Loggo. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is that Banjo-Kazooie loves puns. Some people may pretend to groan at puns, but everyone loves them.

Rusty Bucket Bay is the penultimate level, with some very tough challenges. The water in this level drains your air much faster than previous levels, so even though there’s a lot of water, you only spend small stints in it. There’s lots of hidden rooms to find, with some fun and cute details hidden in them. The transformation in this level is also super adorable.

And last is the seasonal Click Clock Wood. This is split into four “sections” that you open up over time, each is the whole world in a different season, and some jiggies require doing parts in each season, although if you fully explore each season before moving on, you don’t have to go back and forth. It’s lovely to see all the changes throughout the seasons.

Connecting these together is Grunty’s tower. Grunty is an evil witch who wants to make herself beautiful (by stealing the beauty from Banjo’s sister, Tooty, who became a staple of all future Banjo games…either that or she was relegated to a missing person’s poster and forgotten about). You explore the tower, finding jigsaws to fill in with the jiggy pieces you collect to open the main worlds. There are also 10 jiggies hidden here, which require you to hit a switch in each level to reveal (except for one, which is given to you at the start of the game).

And once you get past all the levels and go to defeat Gunty, it doesn’t go straight into a boss battle (that comes later), instead you have to complete Grunty’s Furnace Fun, a trivia board game where you have to answer questions about the game (or complete some mini games from previous levels). These questions could be about Grunty herself, pictures of places in levels to identify, trivia about characters or identifying sound and music.

Music. That’s a very important part of what makes Banjo-Kazooie work. Composer Grant Kirkhope did an absolutely phenomenal job of creating some tunes that you will be humming for the rest of your lives. They also work with the levels extremely well, adding to the magical experience. The music will also vary slightly based on different locations of each level or going underwater, all with perfectly smooth transitions between them. The music to Banjo-Kazooie is simply heaven for your ears, and will put a smile on your face for the entirety of your playthrough. Even other people in your house will start humming the tunes.

Replaying Banjo-Kazooie takes between 6 and 10 hours, although this will be a lot longer the first time. It’s a great length for annual revisits and is an extremely well-contained piece of media. You can follow it by its sequel, Banjo-Tooie (as I do every few years), but it works extremely well on its own. The entirety of the game is just full of joy, accompanied by very happy tunes and a sense that everyone working on the game was enjoying themselves.

There are two versions of this game, the original on N64 and a remaster version on Xbox. I highly recommend the Xbox version, as the better controller design helps a lot, and the widescreen HD image is much nicer to see. The main other difference between the two is that the Xbox version is easier, as it saves what notes you have collected. In the original, you need to collect all 100 in one go, which I believe was mainly due to memory limits on the N64 and not the original intention.

Banjo-Kazooie is my perfect game.

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