Best of ND 2013: Pipe Dreams: Banjo-Threeie

Will we ever see a true Banjo sequel back where it belongs?

By Kyle England. Posted 01/01/2014 11:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

This story was selected as one of our best from 2013. It was originally published on August 1, during Issue 164.

If you spend too much time hung up on things you can’t change, you’ll probably go insane. But I’m hung up on Rareware, and there’s nothing I can do about it; perhaps I’m crazy. I seriously consider the buyout of the legendary British company by Microsoft in 2002 to be one of the biggest squandering of video game talent in the industry’s history. In fact, I listed as one of Nintendo’s biggest missteps.

Rareware was one of the world’s most prolific developers in the 1990s, cranking out hit after hit for Nintendo. And then… the studio fell down with a dull flop. We saw some decent attempts at recapturing Rare’s charm on the Xbox and Xbox 360, but the company we once knew is long gone. What remains is a dead husk, a zombie that lives on with nothing but greed in its veins, devoid of all that ever made it great when its blood still flowed. The vast majority of the key staff of Rareware left after a few years under Microsoft, you see.

The company’s founders, the Stamper brothers, departed in 2007 and haven’t been involved in the game industry since. Most of the other big names from the studio jumped ship sometime after Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. There are only a scant few staffers left from the Nintendo days at Rare now. The name of the great company might live on, but the people who made it what it was have moved on to other things. Here, Microsoft has this titan of gaming history, and it’s hoarding some the greatest games away in coffers, never to be seen again. All of Rare’s legendary IPs are being held hostage by the Xbox corporation, in the hands of people who don’t know what to do with them.

So that’s brings me to my pipe dream game. We know that Rareware can’t be saved at this point, but maybe its legacy can be recovered. Ex-Rare developers have expressed interest in reviving one of the best platforming franchises ever in recent times. Of course, I’m referring to Banjo-Kazooie— the game turned 15 years old in 2013, and the fans and developers behind the Nintendo 64 classic are louder than ever. Folks like Grant Kirkhope are wishing for a new Banjo game, back in the hands of the old team with Nintendo once again. It would be a miracle if it really happened. But let’s humor the idea for now; this is a dream, after all.

It’s a year or two into the future. The Wii U has built up a respectable library of titles as the newest generation of consoles is well underway. The face of gaming is much different than it was years ago. The big companies making the consoles are actually listening to what fans and developers want, and delivering the goods.

Behind the scenes, Nintendo starts making deals. The internet starts with rumblings of an interesting rumor. Is Nintendo reaching out to old supporters of its platforms? Finally, the truth is revealed. Reggie Fils-Aime sits in his office in a new Nintendo Direct, grinning from ear to ear. On his desk are the usual Nintendo toys we have come to expect, but there’s a new one. It looks like… a bear.

“Hi everyone. Reggie here,” he says. “Here at Nintendo, we’ve been listening to what you want. And we’ve gone to some great lengths to make it happen. I’m pleased to announce that Nintendo has acquired the IP of Banjo-Kazooie. The series is coming back to Nintendo after all these years. I’m also very excited to confirm that a new Banjo game is in development, and the team working on it is incredibly talented. I present Banjo-Threeie, a game coming from Retro Studios in collaboration with the original development team from Rare.”

People are moved to tears from the announcement. Banjo-Threeie is coming exclusively to Wii U, developed by Retro Studios and the team from the Nintendo 64 days. The game will feature the legendary polish of two of Nintendo’s greatest studios ever.

Is this too far of a dream? Companies buying intellectual properties from other publishers isn’t unheard of. Nintendo definitely has the money to buy the Banjo brand, provided Microsoft is willing to play ball. Fans and developers across the industry have already demonstrated receptiveness towards an earnest new Banjo game, so it would be guaranteed to sell. Something like this could be Nintendo’s ace-in-the-hole, and a true return to form for the bear and bird.

So, what would this new Banjo game be like? It would have to be a traditional 3D platformer, obviously. No car-building will be allowed in this sacred place. Banjo and Kazooie would be able to traverse lush and interesting worlds, just like the first two games in the series. Rare’s trademark wit would be left intact, with potty humor and jokes at their own expense. The involvement of Retro Studios could serve to modernize the game, and make it a totally reinvigorated experience. Tweaks should definitely be made to the old collect-a-thon formula while keeping the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie. If any studio has proven that it can totally re-energize old gaming franchises, it’s Retro. Just look at what those guys did with Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns, and imagine the possibilities.

Like this, but so much better.

Banjo-Threeie‘s presentation would have to be nothing less than phenomenal. The saccharine visuals from Nuts & Bolts would be improved on even more, giving us a game that looks just as good as it plays. The music, of course, is being composed by Grant Kirkhope, and it’s fully orchestrated. Imagine something like the Banjo Symphony by Blake Robinson, fully produced at the scale of Skyward Sword or Super Mario Galaxy. It’s going to be awesome.

And imagine all of the creative ways the developers could utilize Miiverse, Nintendo Network, and the Wii U GamePad! A successor to Stop ‘n’ Swop is in order I do believe. Strange fourth wall-breaking gags need to be plentiful as well. Between the ex-Rare devs and Retro Studios, there’s talent in spades, so Banjo-Threeie would be a game for the ages. Just like on the Nintendo 64, Banjo would be able to outshine even Mario in some respects.

Sadly, all of this seems far-fetched, and it is. Most Rareware alumni have moved on to work on their own projects. Who knows what Nintendo plans for Retro Studios after Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. But deep down in my heart I’d like to think Nintendo has thought about snatching back Banjo once or twice. If only.

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