Banjo Kazooie (1998)

Rare was at one point, possibly the biggest, or at least well known developers in the world. Churning out basically hit after hit for Nintendo for both the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. Platforming was their specialty, and when Mario 64 changed the world and gave us 3D platformers, it was only a matter of time before Rare got their crack at it. Banjo-Kazooie sounds like a ridiculous title, but it is not just a spectacular platformer, but also an excellent example of gaming comedy.

Banjo-Kazooie follows the adventures of Banjo the Bear and Kazooie the bird as the duo sets out to save Banjo’s sister Tootie who has been kidnaped by the evil witch Gruntilda. About as basic a premise as there can be, but Banjo really does have plenty to not just do, but quite a few things to collect in the game, giving way to the term “Collectathon” as a sub-genre of games.

The game has a hub world that allows players to hang out in the world and explore the many various hidden passages, and find secrets, but really the hub world’s purpose is to give the player a way to travel back and forth between the nine different levels the game has to offer.

Banjo has a few different attacks, but as you progress, Kazooie far outshines with the more useful moveset. Invincible shield, a flutter backflip, shooting eggs forwards and backwards, and the most useful, a “Talon Trot” that allows Kazooie to use her longer legs to speed walk much faster than Banjo’s jaunty jog.

On the way to rescuing Banjo’s sister, there are nine unique worlds that are inhabited by some fun and interesting characters. Each world is specifically themed, and has 10 jigsaw puzzle pieces, called “Jiggys” that need to be collected. Each Jiggy is earned by completing a special task in the world. Sometimes a character has you fetch an item, or sometimes a character needs you to break an object to add water or remove water from an area. These are usually the most fun parts of the game, as you can see the developers come up with more clever ways to integrate the setting into the objective.

The haunted mansion level has you play Simon says with a ghost hand, as he plays the piano, and you have to repeat the same notes within a set time limit. Another level has you set in an Egyptian pyramid, and have to navigate a maze that reveals a sarcophagus that holds the jiggy.

Within each level, not only will you collect all 10 Jiggys, but can collect 100 musical notes scattered throughout each level, and 5 colored Jinjos. Blue, Red, Yellow, Green and Purple. They also are littered throughout each level, and can be noticed by their whistle and “Hey!” call to get you to notice them.

I never completed the game back when it was new in 1998. I only rented the game a few times, and always had to return it before I was able to finish it. Along with not owning it, the game has some frustrating tightly timed puzzles and jumps. Missing a single jump can set you back several minutes, and failing a boss fight or dying in the middle of trying to get a Jiggy will reset the entire level, making you have to complete each step. An example was in the Rust Bucket Bay level, there is a large boat that has a Jiggy tucked behind the spinning propeller blades, underneath the water, which is coated in oil.

To reach the jiggy, you must shut off the spinning propellers. To do that, you must go into an exhaust stack, and press a button that slows down spinning fans in the boiler room. Then go into the boiler room, and navigate through a treacherous and tiny pathway to get past the fans that both speed up and then slow down for a very small window of time. Once you press two more buttons, located on both sides of the room, you must backtrack all the way back to the rear of the ship and dive into the oily water and get the jiggy all within a small time limit before the blades start up. Doing this perfectly usually results in around 2 seconds left on the timer before the propellor blades start back up. This is just a single example, and one that took me around 45 minutes of replaying over and over again to get. One that I was half a second away from getting several times, only to drown or have the propellers or fall to my doom many...many times.

The ending of the game is quite unique and has one of the more creative ways to finish out a game and get you to the credits sequence. Once you finish the ninth and final level, you unlock the final area, where Gruntilda the witch is hosting a game show, complete with a board that Banjo and Kazooie must travel across to win the prize. The prize being Banjo’s sister Tootie. The game is played by stepping on a single square at a time, each square has an image which corresponds to a type of challenge. A musical note is an audio challenge, where they play an audio clip, and you must guess what that sound indicates in the game. It can be a background song of a certain level, or a powerup. Another one is a quiz about Gruntilda herself. Throughout the hub world, as you play through the game, Gruntilda’s sister, Bruntilda is found and can give you trivia. This seems random at the time, but helps at the end during this quiz portion. Other challenges might be a Title Match game, or Simon Says, or even a picture of a level in the game that makes you guess where it was taken.

All of this is incredibly cool and interesting as a final section to the game. Once the board/game show is completed, You win the prize and credits roll as Gruntilda runs away higher into her castle. Once the credits are finished, you can run up to the top of Gruntilda’s castle and battle her in a final showdown on the top of her castle. If you went above and beyond, you can unlock more ammo and even double health to balance the scales out of the fight.

The final fight utilizes all the major moves, and has several different phases to the fight. My main issue was that when I did die, I had to restart the fight from the very beginning. As with a lot of other boss fights in game, the first phase is usually incredibly slow and very easy. So you just put your mind on autopilot for around 5 minutes of the fight and might make a few errors, because you are so bored, that you aren’t really paying attention. Which causes minor mistakes that take away life, that you’ll need later on in the fight.

Once the fight ends, You are treated to the real ending and final credits/character roll. Which seems pretty long and boring, but there is some good back and forth with the characters enticing you to find all the notes and jiggies in the game to unlock some special pictures of secret areas.

I remembered renting this game from Blockbuster when it first came out, and staying up extremely late multiple days in a row during the summer. And along with playing Wayne’s World on repeat and my uncle’s mixtape he made me… it was one of my favorite gaming memories and the game, with its few minor issues, stands up even now over 20 years later as a great 3D mascot platformer.