The 'Shroom:Issue XXXVIII/Non-Marioverse Review
Banjo-Kazooie is a 3-D platformer that was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It was developed by Rare, which had previously created the Donkey Kong Country series and, a year later, gone on to make Donkey Kong 64.
Very rarely does a platformer take everything that makes the genre familiar – timing jumps, beating every enemy in your path, etc. – and put a spin on it fresh enough to make the game really stand out on its own. Banjo-Kazooie is an exception. Previewed a year before its release, the goal in developing the game was to expand upon the “Banjo” character Rare created for its 1997 racing game, Diddy Kong Racing. Banjo-Kazooie featured bright, cartoony graphics and characters, similar to those found in Super Mario 64 before it. This caused many to feel skeptical about the game, thinking it to be merely a copy of Mario’s 64-bit masterpiece. The end result? Everyone was blown away. The game was not only original, but it in fact expanded upon the concepts explored in Super Mario 64.
It all starts when Gruntilda, the evil witch living up high in her tower, looks into her pot and discovers she is not the fairest in the land, but rather, Banjo the bear’s little sister Tooty is – a clever parody of the fairy tale Snow White. Grunty flies off to kidnap Tooty in a fit of greed. This sends Banjo and his trusty sidekick Kazooie the breegull on a huge adventure from his homeland of Spiral Mountain all the way to the dramatic final battle with the witch herself on top of the tower.
The player must collect jigsaw pieces, called “Jiggies”, to complete the portraits of upcoming worlds so they can enter them. In these worlds, the main aim is to get the 10 Jiggies hidden in them, but another important goal is to find the 100 Music Notes, which have the ability to break down Note Doors, allowing Banjo to access other parts of Grunty’s Lair. In these worlds we bump into many strange figures: Freezeezy Peak, for instance, has a fat polar bear dad with a jiggy lodged in his stomach; Gobi’s Desert has a rather irritable camel who must use his hump full of water to help Nubnuts the tree grow, etc. Unlike many other games of its genre and time, Banjo hardly drags or loses its touch, and the imaginative worlds and funny characters are some of the key reasons that it doesn’t.
Not only must Banjo collect the notes and jiggies, but he must learn new moves and strategies that Bottles the mole teaches him. These “moves” typically involve Banjo and Kazooie joining together to perform some special technique, like the Beak Buster, where Banjo takes hold of Kazooie and uses her beak to ram into the ground. Similar to Wing Mario in Super Mario 64, Banjo will take flight on several occasions using Flight Pads, where the duo can soar almost endlessly into the big blue.
There are some twists in Banjo-Kazooie that just reek of genius. For instance, the fake final battle with Grunty is actually a game show laid out like a board game, except it’s levitating over a hot lava pool – Grunty quizzes the player on things found in the game, e.g. the names of characters, whose voice is whose, and so on. This was not only a comical idea, but it’s almost just as challenging as the real deal.
With its quirky British humour, wonderful game design and cheery look, Banjo-Kazooie stands out as one of the greatest 3-D platformers, not only of its time, but to this day. The beautiful Grant Kirkhope score sticks out in your memory like a sore thumb, as does the game’s brilliant level design.
The Final Verdict: 9.7/10
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