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Banjo-Kazooie Package Art
 GENRE
  Platform
 DEVELOPER
  Rare
 PUBLISHER
  Nintendo
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1
 CONTROLLER PAK
  no
 RUMBLE PAK
  yes
 RAM PAK
  no
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Banjo-Kazooie

When Shigeru Miyamoto wrote the book on 3D platformers with Super Mario 64, it was widely heralded as the greatest videogame of all time. Months later, Rare finally revealed that its first entry into the genre would star a goofy-looking brown bear in yellow hot-pants that carried a bird named Kazooie in his backpack, and the world rolled its collective eyes. Why was the same developer behind Goldeneye now going back to cutesy animal mascots? At least Diddy Kong Racing had the Kong brand name going for it. Who wanted to play a second-rate Mario with nobody characters, even if it was being developed by ‘Golden’-boys Rare?

Then, of course, we got to play it. Never again will we doubt the power of a bear and his bird. Just how good is Banjo-Kazooie? Why should you bother picking it up when there’s a ‘new and improved’ sequel in the not-so-distant future? And does it still hold up against heavyweight newcomers like Donkey Kong 64? Let me count the ways…

Banjo-Kazooie’s plot is standard platformer fare: an evil witch named Gruntilda kidnaps sweet and innocent Tooty to steal her beauty from her. As Tooty’s brother Banjo and his sidekick Kazooie, you must wind your way through Gruntilda’s Lair and rescue Tooty from certain doom. What makes this rather generic plot unique is the humor and wit that Rare has injected every step of the way. While the good-hearted sweetness of the game will appeal to kids, the wicked British humor keeps adults engaged, too. The characters, dialogue, audio, and visuals that you encounter throughout the game are twisted just enough to set themselves apart from other games and bring a smile to your face in the process.

Banjo-Kazooie features a large ‘overworld’ linking the 9 worlds, a smaller ‘training’ level, and a final showdown that’s so unique it deserves mention from the top. There are three slots to save games in, but no mechanisms to set options beyond that. You won’t miss that option menu at all, though. Banjo-Kazooie is so perfectly refined that you wouldn’t want to change a thing, anyway.

visuals

Banjo-Kazooie shows the world once again why Rare remains the premier 2nd-party developer for Nintendo. Few N64 games look as lush and refined as Banjo-Kazooie, and it’s a significant leap from even Mario 64. Colors and textures are sharp and rich, blending together without a hint of seams. Camera work is as perfect as they come, never disrupting the gameplay and fully adjustable when necessary. The character design is technically flawless and wonderfully original, toying with cliches but always managing to turn it into something new. Cinemas even show off impressive touches like Gruntilda’s independently movable fingers (by having her pick her nose and fling it across the room).

The levels themselves are all so huge and unique that you can’t help but wonder how Rare packs so many textures into a single cartridge. They’re rich with atmosphere and go deeper than the standard desert/ice/water worlds so many platformers have used to death. You’ll climb through the gooey bowels of a mechanical shark, transform an entire world from summer into winter, and sneak around a haunted house that’s populated with talking toilets. Above all, Rare has used their mastery of the N64’s hardware to place us smack dab within an original and believable world that’s actually worth visiting.

audio

Rare is also one of the few developers out there that understands just how important sound and music are to games. Banjo-Kazooie shines in every way that so many others have failed. The audio is all crystal clear, and few games have ever been so busy aurally. Absolutely everything in this game makes noise, from your own footsteps through grass to the sound of wooden beehives stacking themselves on top of one another. The sound effects are as unique and amusing as come, and even intertwine with the music itself. As you approach characters like the ants, you’ll hear them chanting ‘hup-two-three-four’ along with the music. Walk a few feet away, and you’ll hear their voices fade into the distance.

The music itself has few equals on the N64, including other Rare titles. Not only does every single world have its own theme song, but moving from area to area within the world triggers variations upon that theme. All of it blends together so seamlessly it can even take a while before you realize just what’s going on. Now add to this technical skill the fact that each of these compositions is original and enjoyable. The music adds richness and atmosphere to Banjo-Kazooie, and its constantly shifting nature never grows stale.

The one point of contention in Banjo-Kazooie’s audio is the ‘voice work’. When characters within the game speak, a series of multi-pitched sounds which represent their voices occur as text scrolls across the screen. The result is probably closest to the way that adults used to talk in the Charlie Brown specials – ‘wah-waaaah wah-wah’. Now imagine that technique used with farts and belches and you’ll have an idea of just how strange Banjo-Kazooie can be. Personally, I love it. I think it’s one of the most hilarious and original work-arounds for the N64’s difficulty with speech that I’ve ever seen. But with the heavy use of dialogue throughout the game, it can get a little grating if you’re bothered by it. Me, I’m hoping they keep this system for Banjo-Tooie despite advancements in audio made since the original’s release.

gameplay

Of course, none of this audio and visual flare would matter if Banjo-Kazooie wasn’t fun to play. But Rare didn’t earn its name for nothing. Banjo-Kazooie is packed with absolutely countless goals and mini-games that show such a wide diversity of gameplay you can’t help but love it.

Each world contains 9 major tasks to be completed, for which you are rewarded with a puzzle piece, or ‘Jiggy’. Hidden in hard-to-reach places on each world are 5 multi-colored ‘Jinjos’ for you to rescue. Find all 5 of these odd creatures and you’ll be rewarded with a 10th puzzle piece. These puzzle pieces are then used to open up new worlds and progress through the game. Finally, 100 musical notes are scattered throughout each world, and these notes open up new areas in Gruntilda’s Lair. It isn’t necessary to find every single note or puzzle piece to reach the game's end, but if you want to access everything, you’d better get started early. Though similar to Mario 64’s structure, Rare manages to keep things so fresh and original that it never feels like a rehash of its predecessor.

The controls are tight and responsive, wisely emulating much of Mario’s system while adding to its depth. At the same time, a gentle learning curve keeps players from ever feeling overwhelmed. By games end, though, it takes every combination of moves in your repertoire to work through puzzles and defeat enemies. You’ll even get the chance to transform into other animals thanks to the resident Voodoo witch doctor, Mumbo Jumbo. Last but certainly not least, the ending of Banjo-Kazooie is as brilliant as the rest of the game. You’ll be treated to a quiz show gauntlet that challenges you to remember where you’ve been and what you’ve done before you’re admitted to the final showdown with Gruntilda.

multiplayer

There may be no multiplayer options in Banjo-Kazooie, but you won’t miss them. Rare wisely chose to keep this a one-player affair and avoided lessening the experience by tacking on generic multiplayer games.

overall

The spice of any big platform adventure is variety, and Banjo-Kazooie simply never becomes tedious. It’s this aspect that, in my opinion, sets it apart from even ‘bigger’ successors like Donkey Kong 64. While Banjo-Kazooie is big and has a huge range of gameplay styles rolled into one package, it doesn’t suffer from the sense of repetition and overkill that ruined DK for many players. That massive all-things-for-all-people approach may have served to justify DK’s hefty pricetag, but it didn’t help the gameplay.

Banjo-Kazooie is the kind of game that sends reviewers thumbing through their thesaurus in search of new words to describe its greatness. I can honestly say that it’s as true today as it was the day of release. Few games on any system have approached the combined quality of its visuals, sound, and gameplay while remaining enjoyable for kids and adults alike. If by some tragic oversight you have not played this game yet, you’re missing out. Next to Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie is still the only other platformer for the N64 that deserves to be in the collection of each and every Nintendo fanatic.
final score 9.5/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Jon Griffith
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"You know what I'm going to get you next Christmas? A big wooden cross. So that the next time you're feeling unappreciated for all your little sacrifices you can CLIMB ON UP AND NAIL YOURSELF TO IT!"


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