Banjo-Kazooie
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Rare
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US 05/31/1998
    • UK 07/17/1998
    • JP 12/06/1998
Score: 85%

This review was published on 07/10/2009.

Back when Rare didn't suck, they developed a game for the Nintendo 64 by the name of Banjo-Kazooie. It was quite obviously modeled after Mario 64, the 64's highly successful launch title that forever changed the face of gaming. Rare was adept at showing the technological prowess of a console, and did just that with Banjo-Kazooie. Even famed game designer Shigeru Miyamoto was impressed with what resulted, stating in an old interview that he was intimidated by Rare's platformer. While I think the man was merely being modest about his own accomplishments, Rare did do a mighty fine job.

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Starring a banjo playing bear that hides a feisty bird in his backpack, Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D platform game with the same world setup of Mario 64. It distinguishes itself by the comical characters, quirky dialogue, and pseudo voice acting in the form of audible gibberish. The opening sequence starts with Banjo's hot sister, Tooty, being kidnapped by an ugly broomstick riding hag. A green-faced witch utterly obsessed with grunting rhymes, Gruntilda wishes to become beautiful by sapping away Tooty's hotness with some weird mechanical contraption. This would render Tooty an ugly oaf, so Banjo must waste little time on his impending rescue mission.

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Gruntilda's lair is where you'll be spending most of your time, as it's the central hub that branches off into all the individual worlds. To unlock a world, you must insert golden jigsaw pieces, dubbed "Jiggys," into picture frames representing the area you're about to enter. You don't have to worry about finding the right pieces; they automatically take the shape you need during insertion. Jiggys are the main items of interest gathered in the worlds, serving as a measure of your progress. There are ten per world, and you get them by doing all sorts of things. Sometimes they're just lying there, other times you need to help a character with a trivial task to be awarded with one. This is pretty much a carbon copy of Mario 64's method of advancement. It works, for the most part, but can be confusing with the less-than-obvious design of Gruntilda's lair and how the world entrances are rarely nearby the picture frames you insert Jiggys into.

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Also on your plate are magical golden notes, referred to as simply "Notes." These are like coins from Mario, but instead of merely being used for high scores and extra lives, there are 100 of them hidden discreetly in each world and amassing a large stockpile is necessary to advance in certain points of the game. Due to being more numerous and deviously hidden, Notes can be pretty annoying to scrounge up, especially late in the game when you might be missing a small amount from every world. It is not necessary to collect all of them to beat the game, but you still need about 90% of them.

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An educated mole, Bottles is a guru when it comes to bird on bear martial arts. A meeting with the mole teaches you a new move, adding to your bag of acrobatic tricks. The first couple of worlds are packed with new moves to learn, giving the player a growing sense of excitement as he or she makes way through the game. In addition to the new moves, a particular fellow will inhabit some of the worlds, by the name of Mumbo Jumbo. For a modest amount of silver skulls, he'll use his shaman magic to transform you into a different critter possessing special skills not available to you normally. My beef with this is that all of his transformations are utterly useless outside of getting you access to a few small areas, which inspires a sense of betrayal. There's just too much build-up to getting the next Mumbo Jumbo transformation, with all the silver skulls you must collect and how you need to locate where his skull-shaped house resides. Then again, that seems to be the effect Rare was going for, as Mumbo Jumbo himself jokingly comments on the underwhelming nature of his transformation magic.

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There's a decent mixture of original and cliched world themes in Banjo-Kazooie, leading to a large variety of environments to explore. For instance, you've got your prerequisite ice and desert worlds, but also a ship docking world and a damp cavern that revolves around swimming through the insides of a large mechanical beast. I give them props on how the hub's music changes slightly whenever you get near a world's entrance or when you swim underwater; it's a nice transitional effect. What I don't give them props on is the collect-a-thon mentality the game takes on. I mean, you have to collect Jiggys, Notes, Jinjos, eggs, red feathers, gold feathers, silver skulls, and some world exclusive items. It's just overwhelming the amount of stuff you need to find. In comparison, Mario 64 only tasked you to find Stars, some of which were obtained through collecting red and gold coins.

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Banjo-Kazooie may be a Mario 64 clone, but it's one of the best out there. And, to be fair, it does have its own way of doing things. It's not like you'll be stomping goombas and saving the princess, after all. Still, if you liked Mario 64 (and who doesn't?), then there's a good chance you'll appreciate Banjo as well.

Word Count: 888

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