Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D adventure platforming collect-a-thon on the Nintendo 64. It was developed by Rareware, a company well-known for having some of the best games on the system, such as Donkey Kong 64, Goldeneye, and Killer Instinct Gold among others. The story of Banjo-Kazooie is much like a fairytale. The evil witch Gruntilda wishes to be the fairest in the land. However, she finds out that Tooty, a youthful bear, is prettier. So Grunty kidnaps Tooty and places her in a machine that will transfer their beauty. Too bad for Grunty that Tooty has a big brother, Banjo, and his bird buddy Kazooie that will come to rescue her. The duo head to Grunty’s lair (conveniently located within walking distance of their house) to get Tooty back, aided along the way by Bottles the mole.
The gameplay is based around collecting items and defeating enemies. After getting a tutorial on your basic jumps, attacks, and other moves in Spiral Mountain, you will enter Grunty’s Lair. The lair is a large hub world that houses the game’s levels. You unlock levels by collecting golden jigsaw pieces and placing them into incomplete puzzles throughout the lair. There are ten jiggies in each level. To get to new parts of the lair, you will need to open note doors, which you do by collecting musical notes within the worlds, 100 in each. These are the main ways of progressing through the game. You will also need to collect more things along the way like eggs and feathers in order to use your new abilities, which Bottles will teach you along the way. You need to collect Mumbo tokens to give to Mumbo Jumbo. Mumbo is the game’s shaman that can be found in the levels. If you have enough tokens, he will transform you into a special creature for that level, which will generally help you get more notes and jiggies. There are also five Jinjos in each level that you need to save for one of the jiggies. Plus there are extra life tokens, honeycombs for health, and empty honeycombs that will increase your maximum health when you get enough. And there are even some level specific items to collect! So you see, it really is a collect-a-thon.
So what makes this game so great? Well, it’s a very well-designed game. The characters are original. The dialogue is goofy and gives the characters some personality and life. The story is simple yet effective. The soundtrack is as quirky as it is catchy. The cartoony graphics have let the game hold up well over time in the visual department while also being bright and pleasant to look at. Perhaps the best part of this game is the level design. The levels all have easily recognizable themes, but they also are put together in a smart way. The levels aren’t really all that huge. However, while the levels are rather small, they’re compact as the space is utilized very wisely. If there’s somewhere to go in a level, you can bet there’s something to do there. From collecting a jiggy to getting a simple egg, there’s always something to obtain everywhere you go. This really makes you want to explore every inch of the levels and appreciate what’s there. Also, without giving too much away, the final boss fight forces you to use many of the skills you learned throughout the game. Another nice thing, for comparison’s sake, is how efficient the levels are. Look at Super Mario 64, where you had to enter a level, get a star, exit, and enter it again starting all over just to get the next star. In Banjo-Kazooie, many levels can be fully completed in one go. You exit the level only when you die, or when you go back to the exit point. It gives you the control on when you want to be done with a level or keep going. Oh, and there’s also a neat area before the end of the game where you are faced with a board-game-style series of challenges. There are a few minigames to play here that are rehashes of parts from the actual levels, but a majority of the board is filled with trivia questions about the game. Things like the names of characters or specifics on levels will pop up to test how well you paid attention to the game you just played. This part rewards you for fully exploring and experiencing the game. It’s a nice touch.
Banjo-Kazooie combines great gameplay with a level of polish and originality that has turned it into a classic. Even the Xbox Live Arcade release was largely unchanged from the original. You don’t fix what isn’t broken. Sure the camera isn’t perfect, the Stop N Swap feature was never realized, and there’s absolutely no multiplayer to be found… but none of that is anywhere near enough to bog down all the things this game does right. Banjo-Kazooie may not be perfect, and calling it a masterpiece would probably just be me drooling over my favorite game of all time, but there’s little argument against it being both a classic and a great game in general. If you can find this game, pick it up for sure. I cannot recommend it enough. Banjo-Kazooie gets a 10 out of 10.