Banjo-Kazooie (N64) – A Nostalgic Retrospective
In my youth, I never paid much attention to Super Mario 64 unlike most of my friends at the time. Why would I? I had Banjo-Kazooie, and for me, it kicked Mario and his little red hat to the curb.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with Super Mario 64; after all, Banjo-Kazooie was simply a more bizarre and humorous version of the little Italian’s first foray into the Nintendo 64. There’s just something irresistible and undeniably ridiculous about the pairing of a bear named Banjo and a bird named Kazooie, who just happens to live in the bear’s backpack and helps him fly around a world populated with witches, mummies, and evil vegetables. Think about that sentence for a second.
Yes, the greatest part about the exploits of this furry bear and his backpacking best friend was most definitely the humor. It hits the nostalgia senses hard in reminiscing about the clever yet easy to understand (even for an 8-year-old) jokes that popped out of just about every corner of the game. And more than that, everything in the game was alive and bursting with personality. Everything moved! Everything danced! It was insane!
The storyline was fairly simple, but let’s be honest here: it barely mattered. What really mattered was the collecting aspect of the game. The story was more or less a basic outline to allow the player to explore every nook and cranny in this sprawling, colorful, 64-bit world…but to be fair, I’ll provide the outline, which is summed up too perfectly in the game’s wikia:
“…Banjo and his friend Kazooie must save Banjo’s sister Tooty from the evil witch Gruntilda before she steals Tooty’s beauty.”
The player will spend most of his or her time collecting items in the game and helping NPC’s – but mostly just collecting items in the game. With the help of Kazooie’s wings, Banjo can hover about, or even fly if he finds a red feather; the pair also have numerous attacks that they can use against enemies, who will hopefully drop pieces of honeycomb once defeated to replenish the duo’s lifeforce. Platforming is a big aspect of the game as well, but it all comes back to collecting, collecting, and collecting.
Numerous different worlds were available for Banjo and Kazooie to explore, each one of them becoming attainable through the collection of golden jigsaw pieces called Jiggies. But that’s only one of the things for you to look for. Each level (or world) has 100 dancing musical notes for you to collect, and the game makes sure that you become addicted to retrieving everything it has to offer, including Jinjos (don’t ask) and an array of other random items.
This is made clear by the “ending” of the game, in which you find out that if you only collected just enough to get to the final boss battle, you’ll still have to go back and get everything else because the game is not finished. With this final detail, the game poses an extremely fun challenge – are you really capable of completing the game fully? Or will you be content in just half-assing one of the most whimsical games of all time? The game forced you to kick it into high gear and go back, making you feel like a total wuss if you choose to just leave the game half-finished.
As a kid with probably more attitude than I should have contained at that young age, being taunted like that by the developing team, RARE, worked wonders to turn me into an admitted addict. I remember being obsessed, reading the game manual in school and drawing pictures of the bear and his bird in class, or thinking about ways to complete the tasks that were once thought to be a bit out of my skill level. I was committed to destroying the game, with all of its snarky humor and crazy googly eyes. If there is ever a game to blame for my addiction to videogames, this may be it.
But it’s not like I didn’t mind going back and playing the game over again. The world of Banjo-Kazooie was so laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining that it was always a joy to play, no matter how frustrating the levels could be. There were more than enough worlds to explore, and a dynamic soundtrack on top of it to really keep things interesting.
Looking back, the sheer scope of this game is astounding for the time that it was made. The beautiful textures and unique character designs are one thing, but something that always stood out was the articulate attention to detail that the game developers included. One level, in particular, always stood out; a world in which all four seasons could be experienced, with the level accommodating to the changes in the weather. Even as a kid, I could remember being amazed by the detail that was put into it.
Of course, I’ve always been a lover of all things creepy, and the main antagonist being a witch, plus a graveyard/haunted house level was just the icing on the cake for me. Killer tombstones? Awesome. Chattering skeletons? Even better! There was just about every world imaginable for you to explore – including the arbitrary winter level which had Christmas presents in it. Delightful. Sickeningly delightful.
Banjo-Kazooie was a platformer/action/exploration game with more charm than what should be acceptable, and years later it remains one of the most wistful experiences of my childhood. Yeah, I’m talking about a video game, but sue me. Some people reminisce about climbing trees and making leaf piles while I reminisce about a bear with a bird in his backpack on a quest for jigsaw pieces.
That’s actually really weird. I should have gone outside more as a kid.
Note: screenshots are from the Xbox One remaster, as the original N64 screenshots are, well, pretty nonexistent.