Bits & Bytes: Banjo

Robert talks about the return of Rare’s famous bear and bird duo on Nintendo Switch!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 01/23/2022 23:40 Comment on this     ShareThis

Bits & Bytes is a weekly column where Editor-in-Chief Robert shares his thoughts about video games and the industry on a lazy Sunday. Light reading for a day of rest, Bits & Bytes is short, to the point, and something to read with a nice drink.

It’s simultaneously cool and weird to be playing Banjo-Kazooie on a Nintendo console again. When developer Rare, the masterminds behind the Banjo-Kazooie series, were sold to Microsoft back in 2002, I’m sure I wasn’t alone among the legions of Nintendo fans whose heart was broken upon hearing the news. Sure, Star Fox Adventures hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it never felt like Rare had run out of good ideas. It felt bizarre to see Nintendo let go of a studio that had produced so many amazing games over the years.

20 years later, the loss of Rare still stings, especially when it comes to the back catalogue of classics games that are largely inaccessible as a result of that sale. It took eons to finally get the Donkey Kong Country trilogy of games back in action, but others like Diddy Kong Racing, Goldeneye 007, Killer Instinct, and countless others are down for the count or exclusive to Xbox. Thankfully, in recent years Nintendo and Microsoft have entered into a surprisingly cushy relationship that has seen a number of Xbox properties come to Switch. Now among them is Banjo-Kazooie, the Nintendo 64 classic that Nintendo fans have been clamoring to get another crack at for many years.

Released as part of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack subscription service, Banjo-Kazooie went live on January 20. Since then, I’ve found myself plucking through the game’s enormous quest, collecting Jiggies, freeing Jinjos, and chuckling at the crude humor throughout. The comedy, especially, is peak Rare—a mix of potty humor and pure wit that only the British could conceive. I lament that its reintroduction at this point in time might set a few pundits ablaze on social media, but I think the jokes are hilarious and have been enjoying them as I make my way through Gruntilda’s lair. I’m also pleased with how strong the collectathon elements of Banjo-Kazooie remain. They’re not too overwhelming as some of Rare’s later efforts became, with just enough to see and gather to feel engaged without being inundated.

Although I have played the Xbox 360 remaster of Banjo-Kazooie, which is largely more polished from a visual and performance standpoint, this iteration on NSO is nonetheless well done. Everything is crisper and clearer than it was on N64. What’s more, it never fails to impress me how ahead of its time many of the visuals in Banjo-Kazooie were. Sure, in some ways Banjo-Kazooie looks like a product of the era, but in others it’s every bit as bright and vivid and engaging as you’d expect a contemporary platformer to be. There are a lot of wonderful character designs to soak in, and both Banjo and Kazooie persist as some of the most iconic heroes in all of gaming. If you have yet to play Banjo-Kazooie or if it’s been a long time since you have, I heavily recommend trying it on Switch. And it’s portable, to boot!

I’ll leave with this: there is still no better splashing animation in all of video games than the little droplets that scatter across the surface of water in Banjo-Kazooie. Gorgeous.

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