Juxtaposed against the bright and cheerful hillside of Spiral Mountain is an expansive lair, violently contrasting a local which is otherwise brimming with joy. Plotted amongst the lower-lying fields of flowers and stretches of grass is the colorful home of our protagonist. Meet Banjo, a heroic bear who comes to find that his sister Tooty is being held captive by Gruntilda, an evil witch who plans to drain Tooty of her beauty in order to become the fairest of them all.
Grunty’s capacity for evil extends even further as she produces line after line of poetic riddles to stump Banjo throughout his journey. What could be distilled down to keeping a hostage behind closed doors with a lock and key is instead made into something of an item finding excursion, as Gruntilda has secured her castle with many doors which will open once a set number of jigsaw pieces and musical notes have been found in the preceding areas. In order to access many different hard to reach locations, Banjo looks to his friend Kazooie for assistance, shoving his sidekick into a blue backpack prior to setting off on his journey.
Kazooie is a bird with a quick tongue and lethal beak. He’ll make for a formidable adversary as he quickly reverses roles, taking to his feet and holding Banjo’s weight on his back in order to climb steep hills with ease. Along the way, the duo of fur and feathers will be guided by a wise groundhog who has a firm grasp on their abilities. As he is summoned from the many holes he digs into the varying terrain, the groundhog will rule out a move-set with a lot of range: flying; shooting eggs, techniques for jumping, and several other moves are learned, each brought on over time, so as not to overwhelm.
The tag-team makes their way through a set of levels which start with sensible layouts, all of the collectibles packed together conveniently, and lead to confusing architectural nightmares that are deadly by design. Obviously the work of some twisted, nefarious mastermind who is in the midst of a well-thought out plan to distract our heroes as she… awaits his triumph, patiently. Standing in a long lineup of ne’er-do-wells with a plot to remove an important feminine character from some unsuspecting good Samaritan’s life, Gruntilda follows the clichés that her predecessors helped to establish. Bowser and Donkey Kong are the hall-of-fame pioneers who set the stage for Banjo’s adventure. What’s different now is Gruntilda has motivation, which hopefully gives the player motivation to try a little harder, to play through knowing that there’s some semblance of a storyline attached.
Prior to BK few games truly lent themselves well to solid storylines and smart in-game progression. It’s likely a symptom of being under Nintendo’s roof at the time, but Banjo Kazooie compounds the awesome brand of gameplay found in Mario 64 with not one but two likeable main characters and a plot that almost makes sense. It’s clear that the Rare which handled their earlier titles is not quite the same Rare who created Perfect Dark Zero.
Poor transitions be damned. There isn‘t much wrong with Banjo-Kazooie, for the Nintendo 64. Thus, it’s a pretty safe port. Its age doesn’t show too much. The camera may be worth griping over, now that we’re spoiled with perfect angles and views which rarely conflict with the walls in our games. We might just attribute this fault to the frustration inherent in finding out that our favorite games from the 90’s are peppered with graphical hiccups and glitches which should’ve never been there. It’s really nothing worth lingering on about, as BK is every bit as playable on the 360 as I remember it being on the Nintendo 64. Considering that it’s available for the fraction of the price of most full Xbox 360 games, it’s probably a much better avenue for quality gaming on a budget, also.
When it was released, this game was clearly one of Rare’s hottest new properties. It’s tough to say whether this is good or bad, but it’s largely still one of their greatest achievements, as developers. Banjo-Kazooie may be more of an homage to Nintendo’s first 3D romp through the mushroom kingdom than a pioneer of the same genre, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying.