To reach Gruntilda, Banjo and Kazooie had to traverse a variety of worlds and collect a multitude of items, the most important of which were Jiggies – which were required to access new worlds and climb higher up Gruntilda’s castle. The game was a huge success for Rare, heralding a number of successes for the company on the Nintendo 64, and has been a personal favourite of mine for nearly a decade now for its charming aesthetics, catching music, amusing characters, and vibrant worlds.
Back in 1998, Rare developed an incredibly intricate and amusing platform videogame called Banjo-Kazooie. The game starred a slightly slow, but very helpful, honey bear named Banjo, who first featured in Diddy Kong Racing in 1997. Banjo, humorously garbed in bright yellow short-shorts, carried around his friend and counterpart – a Breegull named Kazooie – in a blue back-pack. Together, the two were tasked with rescuing Banjo’s kid sister, Tooty, from the evil witch Gruntilda, aided along the way by Bottles, a short-sighted mole who teaches the two their attacks and abilities, and Mumbo-Jumbo, a shaman who transforms the duo into other forms to aid their quest. In 2000, Rare finally produced a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which was released near the end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan and has consequently become one of the rarest and most expensive videogames around, even when bought unboxed. As a result, obtaining a copy has been a goal of mine for years, ever since I briefly played it in 2001, and in 2013 I was finally able to procure a copy and play the game through to completion. Of course, since then, the title (alongside the original and many of Rare’s top titles from the area, before, and beyond) was given a high-definition remaster that I later picked up as part of Rare Replay for Xbox One.
Banjo-Tooie picks up two years after Gruntilda’s defeat. Trapped underneath a giant boulder, she summons her sisters, Mingella and Blobbbelda, to free her so she can avenge her defeat. Now little more than a skeleton, she destroys Banjo’s house, killing Bottles, and prepares a special ray gun that will suck the life out of the planet and restore her physical form. Eager for another adventure and desiring revenge for he death of Bottles, Banjo and Kazooie head out to travel new worlds and put the witch to rest once and more all. The first thing to note about Banjo-Tooie is how much bigger it is than its predecessor. Not only can players run around Spiral Mountain (the tutorial area from the first game) and re-enter the mouth of Gruntilda’s Castle, the player can explore and travel through an all-new overworld that is intricately connected to the playable levels in the game. For instance, rather than opening up worlds to enter in a central hub as in the previous game, the players go from one hub to the next following the path of Gruntilda’s digging machine through a huge overworld. Whilst exploring each level, the player can open up shortcuts to other levels, the most obvious being Chuffy the Train, but other sluiceways, tunnels, and paths also exist which connect one world to the next and allow players to traverse what now feels like an entire world rather than an enclosed space.
The main aim of the game is still to collect loads of items, but the actual task is much less tedious. Previously, the player was awarded for collecting each world’s 100 musical notes, but the number you collected reset every time you left a world and re-entered it. Now, the number carries over, and they are a lot easier to find and collect. Jiggies, however, are found in a multitude of ways, as before, with each world now being home to a formidable boss battle which will test Banjo and Kazooie’s new skills. Speaking of which, Bottles’ brother, Jamjars, is on hand to teach the duo additional moves. While Banjo and Kazooie are capable of every move from the last game bar one (Banjo’s bear swipes are absent), Jamjars loads the player up with a variety of new eggs to shoot at enemies (which becomes a focal point in the game during its many first-person-shooter sequences), the ever-handy Grip Grab that allows Banjo to hang on to ledges, and the ability to have Banjo and Kazooie separate from each other to tackle switch-based puzzles. Mumbo now becomes a secondary character, as players use his magic to access unreachable areas and acquire Jiggies, while Humba Wumba’s spells are used to turn the duo into new forms, which are new required for a multitude of Jiggy-based tasks and even to conquer certain bosses.
One of the greatest things about Banjo-Kazooie was its many secrets, most of which were meant to be accessed in Banjo-Tooie through a unique “Stop and Swap” feature that, theoretically, would have seen players swap one cart for another to unlock new content. Though this feature was eventually dropped, the ever-mysterious Ice Key and Secret Eggs return in this game, now used to unlock new moves and the awesome Dragon Kazooie, though the full extent of this feature would not be made accessible until the Xbox 360 HD remixes. Banjo-Tooie also features a multiplayer mode, allowing for up to four players to take part in Goldeneye 007-like deathmatches and other modes that, honestly, I haven’t played but I imagine are similar to the same multiplayer modes seen in Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Banjo-Tooie features many recycled characters and character models, as characters encountered in the previous game return to aid or hinder the duo at various points.
In the end, playing Banjo-Tooie was an awesome experience, but a couple of things let it down for me. Firstly, why remove Banjo’s bear swipes? This seems like a nit-pick, but I expected Banjo to have the attack when he goes solo and he never acquires it, meaning that he is limited to his Pack Whack move. Second, when you acquire a Jiggy, Banjo and Kazooie no longer go into a cute little celebration animation; the Jiggy is simply collected and you move on. While I don’t necessarily mind this, as the lack of the celebration means you don’t get any wasted momentum, it kind of makes acquiring Jiggies mean a lot less as the characters no longer seem to care. Next, the game takes a long time to get started – the opening cutscene is quite long and, at various points at the game’s beginning, the action cuts to a cutscene that shows Gruntilda’s plan in motion. Then you never hear anything of her plot until the final boss, which is pretty jarring – Gruntilda uses her restoration ray once and you never hear anything of it again, so the threat seems diminished and an afterthought by the conclusion. You also never confront her two sisters, which seemed a given, though the addition of a boss for each level kind of made up for that.
Certain other aspects are a bit tedious as well; before, when you tried to exit a level as a transformed Banjo and Kazooie, Mumbo’s magic would automatically wear off. Here though, you must return to Wumba to transform back into the duo to exit – similarly, Mumbo and either character alone cannot exit levels and must switch back to do so, which can get a bit tedious. There’s a ton of backtracking in this game, which can be frustrating but it’s great to see how characters and events in one level can affect and influence the other, so I didn’t mind this too much and it didn’t really feel like it was padding the game out, more that the world was big and interconnected, so backtracking is more like a given. Also, in comparison to the first game, the ending felt a little limp and the overall game time seemed less – I finished the entire game in just under 25 hours, whereas I remember working on Banjo-Kazooie for a long time, but that may have just been rooting around for more secrets and such.
In the end, the game is a masterful example of how to make a great action/platform title – colourful worlds, great music, amusing characters, loads (and loads) to do, see, and collect, great controls (flying and swimming can be a bit testy, as before, however), and a pretty simple premise. Games like this aren’t really made much anymore – once you beat videogames these days, there’s not much incentive to pick up and play again, but in the Banjo titles there’s always more to do. As the Nintendo 64 copy is quite expensive, I recommended Xbox owners download both titles (or purchase Rare Replay) and play them to death and think themselves lucky to be able to experience the full games.