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Banjo-Kazooie (Nintendo 64) artwork

Banjo-Kazooie (Nintendo 64) review


"the game provides you with so many memorable, incredibly enjoyable moments that you can't afford to miss it, short or not."



'It's just a Mario 64 clone' 'It's a kid's game, far too easy' 'All you do is collect objects, it's so boring'. This is some of the criticism that has been leveled at Rare's cutesy platformer since release in mid-1998. So I approached this platformer with caution, but soon I just had to let my guard down, I was enthralled. I can safely say Banjo Kazooie is none of the above.

Of course watching the opening story didn't bode too well for the game. The evil witch Gruntilda is sick of being an ugly green hag and so kidnaps little bear-girl Tootie. Once she flies Tooty back to her lair, she describes how she has created a machine that will switch their looks (You'd think she'd go for someone less hairy really). Banjo, big bear brother of Tooty, and his wise-cracking Breegull friend Kazooie set out to defeat the Witch and save Tooty. So yes it's the usual platformer drivel, but things start to look up once the story ends. You are immediately thrown into a large green meadow, surrounding a lake-circled mountain. you are free to explore as you wish, happening upon molehills, out of which Bottles the Mole will emerge. Bottles' job is to teach you the basics of the two in one character system (You control Banjo and Kazooie as one unit rather than a multi-character affair) and how to use their moves. That's one thing that is amazing about this game, the immense amount of moves and how accessible they all are. Kazooie can provide Banjo with a short glide after he jumps and can also help perform various beak-based attacks.

Once you've plodded about 'Spiral Mountain' and learned all the moves, you get to climb the mountain itself, and enter the witch's lair where you realise the sheer scale of the game. The lair is one of the biggest, most complex areas ever seen in a platform game, exceeded in it's labyrinthian nature only by levels in the game's sequel. Finding yourself unable to climb a particularly steep hill in this dark underground cavern, you wander through an almost hidden side tunnel. The lair theme of 'Teddy Bear's picnic' suddenly adapts itself to more of a tribal chant, while still keeping the main melody in place. You see a picture up on the far wall of what seems to be a grassy mountain with a waterfall, it's a picture of the first level. But a piece of it is missing. Return to the lobby with the unclimbable hill and you'll find a set of platforms you can jump up, at the top a shiny gold jigsaw piece. Pick it up and a cheerful country western jingle will sound while the jigsaw piece twirls around you, until Banjo finally picks it up, gives a yelp of triumph and places it in his little blue back-pack (This, along with his bright yellow shorts gives him the look of a distinctly camp tourist). The jigsaw will talk to you too, explaining that there are ten 'jiggies' in each of the nine levels (As well as in the lair) and they are required to complete pictures of levels to open them.

Fair enough, it's a kid's game after all, we ought to be told what to do, but the feeling of being led along by the hand carries on all throughout the first level, not only the training area and lair section that precedes it. The tasks are simple and easy, acting upon them is less exciting than you would have hoped and with the cramped design, it feels as if we didn't get the huge sprawling levels we were promised. Soon after, you move on to level two, Treasure Trove Cove a sandy seaside island with a huge lighthouse presiding over the rocky mountain looming over the center of the island.

You painstakingly climb to the top, learning to fly, breaking down doors and climbing pirate ships in the process, and get to the very tip of the lighthouse. Then you go into first person view and look down, you see a huge ocean full of reachable islands and cliffs, sunny ledges covered in huge mine-guarded pools litter the mountain below, and there's three times as much to see on the floor level. The tasks are now fun and challenging, the promise has been kept. You have a huge world below you, every inch of which needs exploring. You have an upset hippo pirate to help, a giant crab to defeat and a long-kept island secret to uncover, among other things. And you can do it in ANY order you want. Bliss.

It's the stunning level design and inventive tasks that retain this game's wondrous 'new' feeling all throughout. The game isn't afraid to surprise you. After going getting enough jiggies from the gorgeous beaches of level 2, you expect another open air colourful extravaganza. Instead, you are given a murky, absolutely gigantic sewer to swim around in, complete with a depressed, metallic shark of a waste disposal unit. Later levels include snowy cliffs and giant snowmen, hot and haunted deserts and a spooky mansion complete with skeleton-infested maze and a church that plays host to a long dead pianist.

The sense of character and the amazing atmosphere found in each level makes for a truly magical experience. The desert level has ancient mummies woken by just as ancient curses and will have you trapped in a lot of pyramids, faced with a limit to either escape or die in a minute. The snow level is joyfully festive, it has you picking off evil snowmen atop a pile a giant presents, decorating christmas trees and wandering about a village full of snow covered cabins. The characters that fill these levels too are an odd and undeniably endearing bunch. From Gobi the ever-suffering camel to the flowerpots that utter an unspeakably creepy 'Thaaaankyoooouuu' in a British accent once you fill them with eggs, you are enchanted by excellent characteristics of the game, you WANT to help these people.

It's not just an epic sense of scale and clever cartoon atmosphere that make this game a classic. It's also very fun to play. It is NOT just a case of running around and picking up objects as some would have you believe. Indeed, picking up the 100 musical notes in each level is an engaging task that is there to encourage exploration of these vivid worlds offered up to you. And getting the jiggies is just the reward for completing a mission.

These tasks are extremely varied, exceptionally inventive and, almost without exception, an exhilarating experience. Most of them shouldn't pose TOO much trouble, especially in the early levels (Which may be a disappointment for some) but there are some real tricky ones. You'll have to learn how to manipulate the environment around you and put your giant catalogue of moves into use. Also, despite it being labelled as a kid's game, you'll have to use your head a lot more than you might expect. And, although there are plenty of them, it's not just puzzles, if you want frustrating tests of joypad dexterity then you've got them here.

But as I addressed earlier, a lot of the tasks may too easy for some gamers, very few of them need repeated efforts to accomplish your goal. But then you realise it doesn't need to extend it's longevity with a few rock hard tasks, it provides plenty of challenge where it's needed, and there's just such a lot to DO. One hundred jiggies means one hundred individual tasks, not to mention the plethora of mini-tasks and games that provide extra trinkets. And don't be fooled by the general difficulty of the game, when it's hard it's hard. I won't detail the hardest task in the game lest I start maiming again, but needless to say it involves a lot of extremely thin platforms, blades spinning a frightening pace and swearing at the TV. All in a very, very, very tight time limit. But when you get to that golden jiggy with two hundredths of a second to spare and it dances around you accompanied by the relieving sound of the yokel-style 'you've got it!' jingle, you almost want to cry. I hate to repeat myself, but it's got to be said again: Bliss.

So never mind the difficulty or complexity of the task, whatever you have to do you are rewarded so highly that the urge to play on remains until you need sleep or water. The realisation that you are playing such a wonderful game that you'll never tire of may dawn when you are composing a tune with a turtle choir or when you are exploring a huge forest in each season of the year. But trust me, it's a realisation that will come.

As if I haven't left enough clues by now, the presentation is nothing short of terrific. The gigantic levels surprisingly lack any slowdown at all, and the authentic but cartoony textures used help create a magnificent looking world that astonished with it's detail. the character animation too is brilliant. Every feature of every character's face is sharply defined and the comedic body movements never fail to amuse. This is a living breathing cartoon that you are in control of.

As if that wasn't enough the sound is just classic. The jolly tunes have to be the catchiest ever heard, and serve to further to cartoony but also strangely atmospheric feel of the game. Cheesy but still ominous melodies haunt the graveyard, a joyously cheerful christmas theme fills the air of the snow level and delightfully tacky tune plays in the..... Well, I won't spoil one of the biggest joys of the game for you, you can find out where it plays for yourself. As for the voices, well some find them annoying but I love them. You see, instead of just letting you read through mountains of text in silence, Rare have applied up to five syllables of 'noise' for each character. While the text moves across the bottom of the screen, each character will repeat their 'noises' so it basically sounds like gibberish. With Banjo's yokel gulps and Captain hippo's revolting belches this is another charismatic touch.

As I mentioned, some may find the game too easy. It's often said that the game is too short. If you want to find everything (It's worth doing, not only for the satisfying feeling of reward you get but a fantastic secret ending too) then it will take over 20 hours first time through. So it's maybe not as long lasting as you'd like it to be, which is it's main falling. But I've enjoyed playing through this again several times.

But the game provides you with so many memorable, incredibly enjoyable moments that you can't afford to miss it, short or not. But anyone who doesn't enjoy a charming, immense, varied, original, addictive, fun adventure game should stay away from this one. My favourite 3-d platformer of all time.

Bear necessity
+ The feel of freedom you get from the vast, and still thoughtfully designed levels is gaming euphoria.
+ Excellent atmosphere and character
+ A LOT to do
+ Too many original touches, small and large, to list
+ Brilliant control
+ Pleasingly big, but still easy to master repertoire of moves
+ Constantly fun
+ Compelling, involving, mesmerising. It's got it all.
+ Exceedingly impressive graphics
+ Marvellous sound
+ Skillful players are heaped with rewards

Unbearable
- Takes a while to get going
- Bad story
- Not enough of a challenge for some
- Occasionally irksome camera, especially underwater
- There's no option to replay 'that bit' once you've done it. You know, the bit with the tacky music. You'll have to discover it yourself!

If you Like this....
Banjo Tooie - N64: Bigger sequel with more ideas. But a bit overwhelming at times. Still unmissable.
Super Mario 64 - N64: In a lot of ways (But not as many as some would have you think) the inspiration for this game. Absolutely stunning.
Donkey Kong 64 - N64: More an extension on this game than a game in it's own right, DK64 is still a magical, varied and compellingly challenging experience
Rocket: Robot on Wheels - N64: Amazingly overlooked, this is the only third party platformer deserving of comparison to this game. Not quite as atmospheric but it brings in an unbelievable amount of fresh ideas and incorporates them into a action packed, intelligent platformer.

Rating: 8/10

maxh's avatar
Community review by maxh (Date unavailable)

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If you enjoyed this Banjo-Kazooie review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted October 19, 2008:

Another one that seems to have the wrong scoring. Another 0 when it's obviously meant to be... er... maybe an 8?
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EmP posted October 19, 2008:

Let there be scores.

I went through the guy's back catalogue and gave all his reviews scores. Some of them might even be right.
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honestgamer posted October 19, 2008:

For a lot of the unscored reviews, we can probably just compare against their backlogs on GameFAQs. That's what I've tried to do, anyway, and it seems to work. I think maxh is one guy for whom that would work.
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Halon posted October 20, 2008:

Yeah figure out his scores from GameFAQs. MaxH was an active reviewer on GameFAQs around 2001-2002 so his whole catalog should be up there. Since he's a Brit I say we leave this task up to EmP.

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