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Retro Review: Banjo-Kazooie

Nintendo lost a gem when they sold RARE to Microsoft, losing the best platforming series of the 90’s. Banjo-Kazooie is an essential to any gamer’s library.

A Game with Rare Quality

By Corey Dirrig
Twitter: @RogueSpartan4

Back when the Nintendo 64 was in it’s prime, Nintendo was giving the system all it had, revolutionary titles like Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Mario Kart 64.  But there was one studio that was pumping out equally revolutionary, or arguably more so, software for Nintendo, and that company was the UK based studio, Rare. They were responsible for some of the most important titles on the platform, especially since most third parties jumped ship to the cheaper-to-develop-for PlayStation, including GoldenEye, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark.  The one game that stood above the rest was Banjo Kazooie. Rare brought along a lovable bear who carried an annoying bird in his trusty backpack, and the two set out on an extraordinary adventure.  Gaming’s most famous bird and bear’s first adventure set a new standard in 3D platforming, beating even Nintendo’s famous plumber’s first couple of outings in the third dimension.  With a massive world to explore, tons of collectibles, and some of the most engaging, charming characters, Banjo-Kazooie is hands down one of the best games of all time.

The set up for the story is fairly simple: Gruntilda the Witch is old and ugly and wants to make herself into young and beautiful, so she sends her trusty minion to Spiral Mountain to kidnap Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Shocked by what has happened, the dynamic duo set out on an adventure to defeat Gruntilda and save his sister and the day. They travel to Grunty’s castle, where she set up booby traps and puzzles to solve.  Each world is hidden behind a puzzle, and only having the required amount of puzzle pieces, called Jiggies, will allow you to pass, similar to the star system in Super Mario 64. The music-sealed doors are what prevent Banjo and Kazooie from getting to Grunty, and to break these seals the player must collect the music notes scattered throughout the game’s 9 levels, 100 on each. Some of these notes are just lying around the world, but others are in secret hiding spaces, on top of high ledges, and some even require Mumbo’s magic.

Each of the worlds the players get to explore has their own unique design and aesthetic, ranging from mountain ranges to beaches and so on. Within each world, players will find a lot of the minions sent to protect Grunty’s spell but also will find a few friends along the way. The most inportant of these friends may be Mumbo Jumbo, the skeletal shaman who has the power to turn Banjo into certain creatures to solve certain puzzles.  Players must first find a certain amount of Mumbo Tokens to “buy” his magical spells. The transformations that Mumbo will perform are charming and fantastic as the duo will turn into a bee, walrus, termite, crocodile, and even a pumpkin. Bottles, our thick-glassed friend, is also essential to the progression of the game. Players can find him in his molehills in each, where he will teach them all the moves they need throughout the game.

There is so much diversity in each of the levels that collecting each of the worlds that finding all of the Jiggies can be a time consuming process. Each world has a standard set of goals such as collecting Jinjos (colorful birds standing around the world), a Mumbo Magic Jiggie, and using the special move Bottles has just taught you.  But there are various other missions, often hilarious and sometimes juvenile, but those are the missions that add to the charm.  Whether it’s  stealing from a sharp-toothed treasure chest, and then there is turning into a pumpkin and getting flushed down a toilet. The vast variety to collecting all the Jiggies is what makes the process forever interesting and never a chore. Combine this with smart level design and thoroughly enjoyable dialogue, Banjo-Kazooie will have you laughing out loud.  Banjo-Kazooie not only has amazing level design, charming characters, and a top-tier soundtrack, it also has some of the best mechanics  of any platforming game to date.

Not only do you have the musical notes, Jiggies and Jinjos to find in each level, but you also have eggs, feathers, honeycomb pieces, Mumbo tokens, extra lives, caterpillars, and much more to collect. All of these items will provide some sort of assistance along your adventure.   There is so much to do that it really makes the game feel more immersive and involved, even if the experience only lasts about 10 hours.  What’s really great about it all is that nothing ever feels like a chore. 

As I sat down and booted this game for it’s review, I instantly realized what made growing up with Nintendo so great. Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favorite games of all time, constantly making my top ten list every time I make one.  With it’s witty humor, charming characters, and unique level design, rivaling Nintendo’s own mustachioed mascot in every way.  There is nothing quite like it as you can really feel Rare’s love and passion for games in this one.  There were many collectathon character platformers on the Nintendo 64, but none of them stood out like Banjo-Kazooie.  This is essential for anyone who cares about the evolution and history of gaming, as well as gamers who enjoy a good laugh while playing an amazingly designed game. 

9.5/10 – The DNA Network

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