Banjo-Tooie is the sequel to Banjo-Kazooie on Nintendo 64. Like its predecessor, Banjo-Tooie is a 3D platforming collect-a-thon adventure. The story picks up two years after the events of Banjo-Kazooie. We open to a cutscene of Mumbo, Bottles, and our main heroes in a card game when out of a wall in Spiral Mountain appears a giant drilling machine. It turns out the drivers of this device are none other than Gruntilda’s sisters. They free her from her prison underneath a rock that her minion, Klungo, has been unable to move all this time. She emerges as a predominantly skeletal figure. Two years under a rock will do that to ya. But her sisters reassure her that they have a plan to fix this. The group hears the commotion and Mumbo volunteers to check it out. After witnessing all of this, he goes back to warn the others. Grunty spots him and attempts to stop him with her magic. He warns the others to ditch the house as Grunty is preparing a mighty blast. Bottles believes it to be a lie to sabotage the card game and refuses to fall for it. The three witches make their exit as Klungo tries to follow. The scene flashes to the light of day with Banjo, Kazooie, and Mumbo all standing outside of the now-smoldering house. They look around to make sure everyone got out alright when a burnt Bottles stumbles out and breathes his last. His ghost floats up from his body and the group decides this means war. There is a bit of a refresher course around the mountain for newcomers or those that have become rusty with age, but it’s entirely optional. You then have your first boss fight with the abandoned minion Klungo to introduce you to the new feature of boss battles in general. The duo arrives in a place called Jinjo Village where they meet with the king before he meets his own fate. It turns out the witches have created a machine that can drain the life out of living things and transfer it elsewhere. The machine’s capabilities are demonstrated by zapping King Jingaling’s palace and turning him into a lifeless zombie by sucking out his life. They plan to use this power to get Gruntilda’s body back, but as she isn’t the smallest person it will take a good amount of power, which means the machine needs to charge. And now we have the stage properly set. Avenge Bottles, save the land from certain doom, and peck some witch butt.
Banjo-Tooie definitely sports its fair share of similarities to Banjo-Kazooie, such as all of the techniques you learned before, but it also has many changes as well. The major change in this game is the shift in focus. You’re still out collecting notes and jiggies, but doing so requires more puzzle solving and minigame challenges. Things like eggs, feathers, and notes are all put into bunches to be collected in quantities at time rather than being spread out individually across the levels. Another collectible this time around are Cheato pages. For every five you collect you can bring them to Cheato and he’ll tell you a new cheat that you can then type into a code area on Mayahem Temple. These can be turned on and off in a menu here as well. Along with a new adventure comes new techniques. That’s right. You keep all of your old moves AND learn many more new ones. The most notable one is the ability to split the duo up and play as each one individually. They can even learn their own solo moves, giving each one their time to shine in solving puzzles and accessing areas. Most of the minigames in here are timed, point-based challenges made to test different skills. Pretty much all of these are also available to play in a multiplayer mode against friends, which is a welcome addition. There are also some interesting abilities like shooting eggs while airborne or underwater and a first-person shooter type of mode in some areas. Many of the old characters come back, along with a wealth a new ones as well. The locations are all new. The levels are quite large and will often require you to come back later to finish them once you have progressed a certain quest or received a new technique. Many of the levels are also connected to other levels as well. A new character, Humba Wumba, takes over Mumbo’s role in the first game. For the price of one glowbo she will transform you into something for the given level. Mumbo is now a playable character, though still at the price of a glowbo as well. He can run, jump, and attack with his staff. His key use is to go to Mumbo pads to perform his magical spells on various things. Oh, and as far as accessing the worlds, this time around you’ll need to bring your jiggies to the mighty Jiggywiggy who will then allow you to try out a challenge. The challenge is to put puzzle pieces into a partially completed puzzle in order to form the image of the next world you will be able to access. There are tons of new things, but I’ll leave it at that as to avoid spoiling much more for you in the regards to discovery.
Honestly, I do like many of these new things. Having boss battles is really cool. All the puzzles, challenges, and quests are a great way to vary the gameplay. The large hub world feels more natural and the fact that some worlds connect to others just makes it all feel like one big world rather than a bunch of levels in a hub world. And to think that all of this was just beyond the wall of Spiral Mountain. The level of difficulty is much higher in this game, but so is the sense of reward. You have more of a connection with the characters and the game still does the goofy self-referencing and fourth-wall-breaking dialogue we’ve come to know and love. The expansion on old ideas and introduction of so many new ideas creates a great amount of possibilities. The graphics look considerably better too, especially with the neat lighting effects and large, scenic levels. And the trivia game from the first game? My, it pales in comparison to the one you’ll find here, which is wonderful. I think the part that speaks to me the most is the tonal shift. Banjo-Kazooie was a fun, simple, lighthearted adventure. Banjo-Tooie is a darker quest of revenge and a fight for not only your own lives but the lives of all within the island. They make Grunty to be a real bitch this time. She kills Bottles, a character that you spent an entire game with as he taught you everything you know. She zombifies King Jingaling while also threatening to do the same to all the inhabitants. She even kills the entire grey Jinjo family! Not to mention all of the other creatures affected by her other various forms of tyranny. There’s a lot riding on your adventure. Even the music and the visuals make this whole game feel like an open wound. This isn’t a fairytale anymore. This is serious. I think that basically everything came together in this game to make it one of the very best examples of how to make a sequel. However, I wouldn’t say I liked it better than the first.
There aren’t many real problems with this game. The one main issue would be that there are some framerate drops in various places, but they rarely make the game too slow to play. I guess some of the challenges feel very tacked-on as clearly just minigames rather than being anyway related to anything else you’re working towards. And while you do earn most of the cheats through collecting Cheato pages, some of them feel a bit more cheaty than others, most notably the one that will gradually refill your energy. I also think there was some lost potential in the ability to split up. I feel like there should’ve been some bosses to fight as each individual character or possibly some use of this ability worked into the final fight at least. Other than those few things, I think most of my complaints stem from me finding the design of Banjo-Kazooie so perfect. The levels here are bigger, but the items are all grouped together so a lot of the levels consist of negative space for the sake of form over function. The fact that you can’t just totally complete most of the levels without going back and forth to others is a bit annoying. The darker tone is cool, but it can wear on you as well. I also felt that they made Banjo more mean-spirited in here compared to the first game, which is a shame because with both of them being jerks it sort of ruins the good cop bad cop dynamic. Beyond those my complaints would get incredibly nit picky because of how much I absolutely loved Banjo-Kazooie. The kid in me has trouble with little things like that.
So it isn’t perfect, but Banjo-Tooie is probably the best damn sequel I’ve played. It does everything right for a sequel. I may not like it as much as Banjo-Kazooie, but if you like Banjo-Kazooie then you’ll most likely enjoy Banjo-Tooie as well. It’s worth it. I don’t think it goes for too high of a price either. Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s available in the Xbox Live Arcade and in the Rare Replay collection for Xbox One so you have some options. I would highly recommend it both to Banjo-Kazooie fans and fans of 3D platforming collect-a-thons. And Nintendo 64 owners, of course. It’s great. What else can I say? Yooka-Layle is just on the horizon. Who knows? Maybe it’ll spark a revival of the genre. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Banjo-Threeie! (A man can dream)