When I write about or speak of my gaming history, Banjo-Kazooie is a game that comes up… a lot. I’ve found joy in many games, but none of them quite compare to the pure bliss I experienced with in the delightfully colorful world of Banjo the bear and Kazooie the bird. It’s a game that helped me through a real-life rough patch. It’s a game that needled itself so deeply into my mind that I can conjure up the sights and sounds of the game without much thought. It’s a game that continues to hold its own even among 3D adventure platformers of today. It is, pure and simple, Banjo-Kazooie.
Okay, enough with the hyperbole, right? It’s easy for me, for any of us, to sit here and gush about the games we love. But the fact of the matter is that Banjo-Kazooie isn’t just another game. But before I get to deep into investigative territory, if you’ve not played the game, you might be wondering just what the heck is Banjo-Kazooie?
Banjo-Kazooie was a Nintendo 64 game from Rare (makers of Donkey Kong Country) released 16 years ago in the summer of 1998. It presented the story of Banjo, the aforementioned bear, who had to save his kidnapped sister from the clutches of an evil witch named Gruntilda. Banjo did not face his journey alone as he was accompanied by his good friend Kazooie, the aforementioned bird. Along the way, Banjo and Kazooie collected puzzle pieces and musical notes, solved numerous puzzles, defeated sizable caches of enemies, and met up with friends and helpers. Like any good platformer Banjo-Kazooie offered up lots of opportunities for running, jumping, swinging, flying, and swimming in order to navigate the terrain. And there was no shortage of secrets to discover either.
Banjo-Kazooie played out much like Super Mario 64 in a variety of rich and very explorable 3D environments. Each character had different strengths, which you used to your advantage throughout the game. Need to get across a large gap? Just ask Kazooie to stretch her wings! Need to get up a ladder? Banjo is a natural-born climber! Learning each of the moves, as well as the moves they performed together, wasn’t a demanding task, but it was necessary to figure it all out to get the most out of the game. With transformative help from their pal Mumbo Jumbo, Banjo and Kazooie could also take the shapes of various creatures in order to reach a particular destination. And all of it took place inside a game that was nothing short of gorgeous! Seriously, the difference between Banjo-Kazooie and its predecessors like Super Mario 64 is like the difference between Toy Story and Up! The substance remained, but the animations, textures, and overall atmosphere were immensely improved. Plus, it had an awesome soundtrack. Bouncy, bright (and dark at times), lively, all the best things one could ask for in a game soundtrack.
Banjo-Kazooie stands proudly at our #7 spot, which is really awesome — it’s such a likeable game! As far as Rare titles, this one definitely stands out. Though some might say (and I’d probably agree) that it’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie, is the better game, there wouldn’t have been a sequel if Rare (and Nintendo) hadn’t taken the chance on a new IP. They originally planned for the game to be on the SNES, but thank goodness that didn’t happen! Rare took full advantage of the powerhouse of the N64 and made one of the best looking and playable games up to that point. Shoot, it’s still one of the best 3D platformers ever made. Not to shabby for a fun-loving bear and a bird.
*possibly a slight exaggeration