Two of my favorite games of all time are the original Banjo-Kazooie games for the Nintendo 64. I started off with Tooie and played the original afterward, and for the longest time, I firmly believed that Banjo-Tooie was the better of the two. It was a time when I believed bigger was better, and Banjo-Tooie definitely felt a lot bigger than its predecessor because of the enormous worlds you got to explore and the vast collection of moves.
After favoring Tooie for the past 15 years, however, it came as a shock when I recently replayed the games, only to find that I ended up having a lot more fun with the original. What foul trickery is this? Banjo-Kazooie has suddenly surpassed its sequel? Preposterous! (Exaggerated response to this revelation added for dramatic effect…) I always preferred Tooie, but I can’t deny the fact that I simply didn’t have as much fun with it, which begs the question: which game is better? It is vital to the human race that I find this out, and so I shall compare the two in this most epic of showdowns on three categories: tone, size/variety, and…a mystery category.
Tone: First off, one gripe I always had with Banjo-Kazooie was its more childish nature. It just seemed to appeal to a younger audience with its brighter graphics, more jovial music, and the rather silly dialogue. (Bottles and Kazooie managed to exchange some of the least insulting insults ever.) And let’s not forget that every single item in the game needs to speak to you. You collect your first honeycomb, and it will introduce itself to you. Same goes with the feathers, eggs, and whatever other items you collect. When I pick up a red feather, do I need this explained to me? No, no, I don’t. I have eyes and am thus able to pick out the difference between a blue egg and a red feather with masterful ease, without said blue egg of red feather feeling the need to point out the obvious to me. Then again, Banjo-Tooie has Jamjars to explain every little detail you don’t need explained. So there’s that. Did those signposts ever reveal anything useful? Did they?
Banjo-Tooie, on the other hand, seems to be directed at an older age group, which I like. Nevertheless, one thing that strangely never affected me until my most recent playthrough was the game’s darker tone. I used to prefer this, but now I have to question the appropriateness of such a thing in an otherwise cheerful pair of games. I mean, Banjo and Kazooie’s house is demolished and Bottles is murdered by Gruntilda. Right during the opening cut scene! How horrid! It would be like witnessing Luigi’s death in the opening of a Mario game! Yes, you can argue that Banjo’s little sister Tooty was kidnapped by Grunty in the opening of the first game, but it just didn’t seem quite as sad as Tooie’s opening. So when it comes to Kazooie’s more childish nature and the inappropriate darkness of Tooie, I suppose I must concede that Kazooie’s is a far more fitting tone for the series than character death within the first five minutes. One point for Kazooie.
Game Size/Variety: As I mentioned earlier, this used to be a big thing for me, but now we’ll see…. In plain and simple numbers, Banjo-Kazooie sports 9 worlds, not including Grunty’s Lair, 100 Jiggies, and 1000 musical notes (each of which is collected individually, rather than in bunches of 5 and 20 like in Tooie). Banjo-Tooie has 8 worlds, not including the Isle O’ Hags, 90 Jiggies, and 900 musical notes. Kazooie wins in that respect, but we cannot forget the sheer size of Banjo-Tooie’s worlds. The locations in this game are just far bigger, and I rather preferred the greater level of exploration this game had as a result. The boss battles for each world are also far more epic. Everyone must surely agree that battling a giant, inflatable dinosaur was far more fun than pecking that silly hermit crab in the eyes a few times. Sorry, Nipper, but you’re in between me and a Jiggy. Tooie also has far more moves than the first game, many of which I really enjoyed, like the ability to split up your characters and control them individually. (And shoot eggs while flying! Wee!)
At the same time, Banjo-Tooie required more backtracking thanks to this greater size, while Banjo-Kazooie was more of a compact kind of fun. Every moment of the original game was fun because you had minimal traveling between locations, while Banjo-Tooie had a lot more walking around. But, if we’re simply comparing the size and variety of each game, Tooie clearly wins. One point for Tooie.
So, we’ve covered the tone of the games and the general features each possesses. That’s the problem, though. You can’t really judge a game just on size, number of collectables, and whether it’s too dark or too child-friendly, as my conflicting views on each topic illustrates. Sometimes the most important thing of all is the least tangible. What about:
The Feel of the Game: Banjo-Tooie is huge, and I loved this. The game gives you so much to do and so much space in which to do it. Nevertheless, having a large area to run around in is not such a good thing if that space is not utilized correctly. On the most part, I thought the worlds were well done, but it is the game’s hub world, the Isle O’ Hags, that I find lacking most of all. As cool as I used to think it was exploring the island on which our heroes lived, of which we only got a very small glimpse of in the original game (Spiral Mountain), it must be noted how barren the Isle really is. Sure, there’s a lot of space, but it’s not really that interesting. There really weren’t any fun challenges, either, making the Isle O’ Hags feel rather boring.
This is where Banjo-Kazooie really shines for me. The entire game just had this special feel to it, a feeling of magic and mystery that was enough to add an extra level of enjoyment to the game that was missing from Tooie. Grunty’s Lair, honestly, may not have much more to do than the Isle O’ Hags, but it felt like a really interesting location. Each room you travelled through was different and had character, from dank, water-filled caverns to a narrow path bordering a room with a pit of lava far below. There were swamps and moonlit graveyards. Hot, desert sands and cool, long grass. (You have to admit, Grunty had a pretty cool pace to live.) Grunty’s Lair alone made for an experience Tooie’s Isle O’ Hags came nowhere near matching.
Even the worlds themselves had a certain air of mystery for me, as well. The worlds of Banjo-Kazooie just felt so remote, while those of Tooie felt almost…commercialized, the way a beautiful beach or the downtown street of a small town loses its charm once the tourists all gather there. Banjo-Kazooie’s worlds included Mad Monster Mansion, Grunty’s haunted mansion in the middle of a dark forest, or Treasure Trove Cove, a sandy island in the middle of the ocean. Or best of all, Click Clock Wood, a massive tree that offers new challenges with each season. Banjo-Tooie included worlds like Witchyworld, a rundown amusement park, Hailfire Peaks, an island bearing opposing sides of freezing snow and scorching lava, or even Cloud Cuckooland, a crazy land of beanstalks and castles made of jello in the sky. And while these are all well and good, they just didn’t ignite my imagination like the worlds of the first game did. Maybe it all just boils down to the fact that the worlds of Tooie are locations in the Isle O’ Hags, while those of Kazooie just felt so much stranger and amazing because they seemed to reside within Grunty’s own magical lair. The locations in Tooie just felt a bit more ordinary. One point for Kazooie.
And this is where Banjo-Kazooie wins. Both games are absolutely amazing platformers, but I have since learned that a game’s size is in no way its defining feature, just as graphics rarely make any lasting impact on a game when we look back on it years later. It’s that intangible, subjective feel of a game that makes it special. It will surely be different to every person who plays it, which only further personalizes the experience and ingrains one particular game into our minds, while another person may adore an entirely different game for their own, personal reasons. I honestly love both games equally, but it is only the first that has that certain charm that leaves me smiling just a bit wider.
The Duck Who Would Like to Ride Around in Banjo’s Backpack if Kazooie Ever Gets Bored of Adventuring