Thanks to Rare Replay and having a little extra time to myself this holiday, I’ve started re-playing Banjo-Kazooie. It is just as great, if not better than when I first played it oh so many years ago. There’s good reason the game remains a favorite of many gamers, including those of us here at United We Game. But what is it exactly that makes this title stand out from other three-dimensional platformers, those of its generation and later generations? Well, I’m no expert, but I have a few ideas that revolve around gaming fundamentals: levels, characters, controls, story, and music. Let #Listmas commence! (And please add you own ideas in the comments!)
1. The overall graphic design of the game is inviting.
When the game was first released, the graphics were one of the things that really made it stand out. A bit blocky they were, yes, but there was no denying the good-time feeling that came from traversing worlds made up of bright, saturated colors. Looking at the game today, it’s great to see that the game looks as wonderful as it ever did, blocky graphics and all.
- The levels feel open and worthy of exploring.
One of the facts of Banjo-Kazooie is that the levels feel rather contained…at first. In fact, when I re-entered Mumbo’ Mountain, the game’s first level, for the first time in a long time, I was struck by how claustrophobic it felt with its tall mountains housing a very vertical world. But as I started exploring, the world seemed to open up, revealing a number of secrets that helped widen the level. And before I knew it, the claustrophobia had dissipated, and in its place was a sense of wonder at how Rare managed to make a “small” world feel suddenly very BIG.
1. The wide-eyed and adventurous Banjo
Banjo is the perfect protagonist. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help save his sister. He never complains or serves up any negativity about his quests. Of course, he doesn’t have to thanks to Kazooie!
- The wise-cracking realist, Kazooie
I’ve heard Kazooie described as Banjo’s “sidekick,” but she’s important if not integral to the game itself! Part of that has to do with her serving as the uppity yang to Banjo’s serene yin. She’s got a quick tongue, and she isn’t afraid to tell anyone, not even the meanest of bosses, what she thinks. Her witty, funny dialogue is some of the best in any game, ever!
- The supporting characters
Every character in the Banjo-Kazooie, from the humble Bottles, who’ll go head-to-head with wiseacre Kazooie any day, from the crazy, evil Grunty herself, is full of personality. Having so many distinguishing personalities in one game is fantastic because each meeting brings something fresh and new to the game. It helps things from ever feeling stale.
1. Moves for two!
With both Banjo and Kazooie at the helm, players have two the moves available to them, and the move set only gets larger as the game progresses. You have Banjo’s moves, Kazooie’s moves, and then a host of moves that the duo performs together. I remember all this working quite well with the N64 controller, but I especially like it now using the Xbox controller. It’s nice how they mapped everything to that controller.
- Easy going, even in battle
Despite having a large move set available, the controls are uncomplicated and easy to manage, even when things get intense. The game doesn’t get in your way either with explaining how to do this and that, it’s all integrated into the gameplay and the levels. Quite ingenious all around.
- It’s old, but it’s also new
There’s nothing new about the damsel in distress story, which is featured in Banjo-Kazooie, but it brings to the table a slight twist in that there are actually two characters to save. There’s Banjo’s sister, Tooty, but then there’s Grunty, the witch who kidnaps Tooty. Granted, Grunty is set up as the evil one, but her story is actually a little more complicated. You learn all sort of terrible things about Grunty’s past throughout the course of the game that reveal her to be a more pathetic sort, someone who desperately wants friendship. Take that as a revisionist version if you will, but one could argue that Banjo and Kazooie save Grunty from herself at the end of the game.
- Banjo and Kazooie, companions till the end
Is there any reason for Kazooie to join Banjo on his quest to save his sister? It’s not like he needs to lug around his backpack, which is also Kazooie’s home, but he does. And the game wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t stress that fact that each of them has each other’s backs (literally!). Banjo and Kazooie’s friendship drives the story as much as the main quest. It’s what makes players want to see the game through to the end, because being there when Banjo and Kazooie succeed is the best!
There’s good reason that Hatm0nster included a song from Banjo-Kazooie in his recent post on the best gaming music – the soundtrack is amazing and memorable. Here are my top three songs from it.
- The main title
Banjo-Kazooie’s main title music is one of my most favorite themes in any game. The music is so upbeat and bright that it immediately sets the tone for what lies ahead: fun, adventuring, and discovery!
- Freezeezy Peak
Just because I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ice/snow levels in games, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good winter-themed tune. I love that sleigh bells keep the beat in the theme of the Freezeezy Peak level. Plus, the song balances well the grand sound of horns against the sing-songy nature of the flute and strings. It certainly keeps you bopping along till the end!
- Click Clock Wood
I have to admit that this song took a while to grow on me with it’s simple, almost silly tune infused with “nature” sounds. Maybe I got stuck in Click Clock Wood for too long, but I now adore the way it rambles along. It’s a very happy and carefree song that makes Click Clock Wood seem like more than just another forest level in a game. It’s a place full of surprises, and this song serves as the perfect accompaniment.
What are some of your favorite games that have stood the tests of time?