Banjo Kazooie: Weep for classic Rare.
In life there are a few universal truths that we all hold to be self evident. Men can’t wrap, women can’t throw overarm, DC is better than Marvel and Super Mario 64 is the best 3D platform game ever madeâ€¦ WRONG!
How is it that SM64 became the yard stick that every 3D platformer since ’96 is measured against? Awkward camera controls, bland barren levels and repetitive gameplay and the same shitty shroom characters as always, yet somehow it has become one of the few sacred cows of videogames simply because it came first. I’m not here to take a hatchet to a beloved game (I’ll do another time) I’m going to preach to the converted about what could in reality be the best 3D platormer of all time, Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64.
‘another overly cute family’
Made by Rare the developer behind GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong Country, Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the height of their powers and before they started turning out crap like Starfox Adventures and Perfect Dark Zero. Despite looking like yet another overly cute family friendly Nintendo release with its anthropomorphic animals and colourful graphics it has a cynical undertone running through it and lashings of British toilet humour thrown in for good measure.
The basic gameplay template is the same as Super Mario 64 with eight differently themed worlds all reached from a large ‘hub’ world, in this case Gruntilda’s liar. Gruntilda is the villain of the game having kidnapped Banjo the bear’s sister Tootie to steal her youth and beauty during the game’s introduction. Waking up to find his sister taken to Gruntilda’s lair, a castle atop near by Witch Mountain. To get there Banjo and his buddy Kazooie must travel through the lair and the eight connecting worlds collecting all manor of jiggies and things on the way.
In each of the eight worlds there are ten golden jiggy-wig pieces to be collected with each world requiring a set number of jiggies to be opened from just one or two for the early world to double digits for later worlds like Click Clock Wood. Along with the ten jiggies every world also has one hundred musical notes to be collected and added to your overall total for opening doors with a minimum note count inside the hub world and five Jinjos, magical creatures that reward you with a jiggie when you find all five in each world.
‘forms like a termite ‘
Exploration is the name of the game here with you constantly on the look out for jiggies, notes and Jinjos to add to your totals along with any expendable items like eggs to shoot, red feathers to fly or precious golden feathers to bestow temporary invincibility. You’re also taught how to use these by Bottles, a bespectacled mole and ally of Banjo who can be found inside molehills dotted around Gruntilda’s lair and the various worlds.
Banjo’s biggest ally along with Bottles is Mumbo Jumbo the shaman who once given the perquisite number of Mumbo Jumbo tokens can polymorph Banjo into different psychical forms like a termite to scale sheer surfaces, crocodile to swim through swamps or airborne honey bee. Right that’s enough dry and technical explanation of the game lets talk about why it has its own little space in the Perfekt Past vault.
First there’s how it plays, Banjo has compared to some 3D platformers a fairly limited range of moves but they all have a purpose. When you spot a jiggie above you, you rarely think â€œhow am I meant to get to that?â€ You think â€œOk super jump to that ledge then flap to that block then use the green jump padâ€ puzzles never require strange leaps of logic or having to resort to use every move you know until you find the right one everything is clear and intuitive.
‘your brain and a tap’
Then there’s how it looks, sure there’s the fogging effects, jaggy lines and Vaseline colour smudging found in almost every N64 game but all the models are well built avoiding polygon intersecting and hollow spaces (god this is getting a bit technical) putting aside such nerdish terms you just have to glance at it to see how beautiful it looks, even more so when its moving. Every character is full of life and personality, every texture and graphic matches from wet cobble stones, to desert sand to creaky wooden floorboards.
Things get even better on the sound front with every character having a unique ‘voice’ to the dozens of spot sound effects sounding like they where taken from a cartoon (they probably where) but most of all the bright, breezy and down right catchy tunes that blend seamlessly into another as you exit one area and enter another. This is best demonstrated as you explore the hub world with each of the eight worlds main theme tune becoming louder as you approach the entrance to it or its jigsaw picture ‘key’. From banjo (the instrument, not the bear) lead tunes in the early stages to Caribbean drums for Treasure Trove Cove, haunting piano for Mad Monster Mansion and orchestras strings and sleigh bells for Freezeezy Peak. Every tune will leave an indelible mark on your brain and a tap in your foot.
Almost nine hundred words in and I haven’t even had a chance to talk about the board game section in the final act that has you answering questions about the game. Or the hard as nails confrontation with Gruntilda atop her castle and how the Jinjos you rescue save the day. Or what about Gruntilda herself with her rhyming taunts and lumbering comedy sidekick Klungo. Or even the two endings the first once you rescue Tootie then the final one once you’re reminded to get off your arse and defeat Gruntilda once and for all (well until the sequel Banjo-Tooie).
‘Rare are now owned’
Or even (I’m almost done, honest) the Stop ‘n’ Swap fiasco. During the games ending you where shown two eggs and a mysterious ice key you had ‘missed’ and told you that by playing Banjo-Tooie you could unlock new areas in Banjo-Kazooie. This turned out to be untrue and even a decade later Rare refuse to clarify what they wanted to do with the concept. You could get eggs and even the key in Tooie but they only unlocked new cheats not new areas for Banjo-Kazooie.
Theories range from Tooie being a ‘piggyback’ cartridge much like Sonic & Knuckles was on the Megadrive to you entering new codes in the Treasure Trove Cove sandcastle. The new Banjo game coming out at the end of the year might (but probably won’t) shed some light on this so don’t hold your breath as Rare are very hesitant to talk about past games, Mire Mare anyone?
Playing Banjo-Kazooie now requires tracking down an N64 and a BK cartridge* which shouldn’t be too hard given its good sales back in the day. An Xbox Live Arcade or Virtual Console release is unlikely given that Rare are now owned by Microsoft and the amount of recoding that would be needed to remove all the Nintendo references in the game. So there we go another classic game for the vault and once again, just so we’re clear, BETTER than Super Mario 64.
* As I said during my review for Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, LOL at me. You can now download a HD version of Banjo Kazooie on Xbox Live! Arcade and it looks and plays even better than the original N64 version. So much so that it scored 10/10 but stay away from Nuts and Bolts it’s rancid.