Platform: Nintendo 64
Banjo Kazooie is the first videogame I ever got into as a kid, so effectively its to blame for everything that’s gone wrong in my life because I spent too much time playing video games. I don’t regret it all.
Banjo Kazooie is a surreal, bright and colourful platformer. It tells the story of Banjo, a honey bear, whose sister is kidnapped by an evil witch who lives across the street in a big cavernous lair in order to steal her good looks. So, teaming up with his best friend Kazooie, a bird who lives in his backpack (???), they head off to infiltrate the lair.
The game is an absolute joy, it contains bright and colourful levels ranging from snowy mountains to oily docks to dark mansions. Wait…That sounds like Super Mario 64, you say. Well, yes, Mario 64 invented the 3D platformer style that this game runs on (Collect ____ which enable you to progress further in the game), but Banjo Kazooie improves on it in every way. Mario 64’s 3d graphics were incredible in ’97, but Banjo Kazooie still looks good today. Every level has a huge ounce of personality, every enemy is cartoony and the music is light and bouncy all the way through, collecting musical notes (there are 100 in each level, however if you die, you have to collect them all again) never seems a chore.
The game is also superbly British, which makes sense considering it was made by UK Developer Rare (then called Rareware) who were also responsible for the equally cartoony, but dark Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Goldeneye (you know, the best movie tie-in game ever). The dialgoue in the game is utterly witty and charming, whereas other games have silent protagonists or “the noble hero” type, Banjo, Kazooie and the whole cast have unique personalites. Banjo is a lazy and simple minded, kazooie is rude and abusive (she continually insults everyone else in the game) Grunty speaks in ryhmes throughout the whole game and Mumbo is, quite frankly, an idiot (a good shaman would try to make sure you don’t transform into a Washing Machine). Each character talks by a little picture of their head, some incomprehensible garbling and then the words are written next to them. It’s utterly brilliant!
I touched upon transformation there, this is another brilliant addtion to the games. For whatever reason, sometimes Banjo can’t reach certain items, so he has to visit Mumbo Jumbo, a shaman and owner of the best video game name since Porky Minch. In a similar vein to Mario’s power-ups, Mumbo tranforms you into various creatures (Termite, Crocodile, Walrus, Pumpkin, Bee. Oh and he occasionally screws up and turns you into a washing machine) Which aid you in gameplay.
Rare would later go onto make other platformers for the N64, such as Dk64 quite possibly the biggest game in the genre, Conker’s Bad Fur Day (which is pure evil hidden under a disgusting, bright and humourous shell) and a sequel to Banjo Kazooie, called Banjo Tooie, a game that very nearly was better than the original, but fails mainly because the 3D platformer kind of swallowed itself by the time of BT’s release. So much that both platforming masters (Rare and Nintendo) had to re-invent it the very next generation Nintendo made Super Mario Sunshine, with it’s water device and Rare skipped a generation (following a purchase from Microsoft) and released a long awaited sequel to BT with viechle based missions and levels.
However no 3d platformer (with the exception of one, which I’ll mention in the future) has come close to the brilliance of Banjo Kazooie and it’s bright, cheery and cartoon levels and it’s future-proofing (it even looks good on HDTV as the recent XBLA port shows). Come on, lets all go steal Conga’s oranges, butt slam Gobi’s back, unclog Loggo (Editors note: No…) and finally beat the crap out of Grunty one last time!