My backlog of games is very large and I’ve been ashamed of it for years. I have games sitting on my shelf that I’ve owned for almost a decade. I’ve tried to knock them out as fast as I can but sometimes I get distracted or I just..forget that I own them. That fact becomes especially damning when you factor in multiple copies of the same game that I’ve accumulated, which is the case with today’s game.
Banjo-Kazooie is a name that has persisted throughout my life. I’ve always been told that this series is a gold standard among platformers, especially the first game. I completely understand that this duo is undeniably iconic and that the series’ music, setting, and writing stand toe to toe with some of the best of all time. I get it, I truly do. I just couldn’t be fucked to actually start any of them. I wasn’t a big fan of collect-a-thons when I was a kid, I always felt overwhelmed by their size and amount of stuff you had to grab (yes, even the Mario ones). However, after playing through Super Mario Odyssey a few years back I’ve grown an appreciation towards them, probably because I have more patience than I did when I was a kid. If you recall this has happened to me with other game genres. I’ve owned this game on both the Nintendo 64 and the Xbox One via Rare Replay for years and after much deliberation (and playing through Conker first like a fucking dumbass) I finally decided to play through the game so many people have told me is a classic.
And before you ask, yes I started this because he got added to Smash Ultimate. I know. Leave me alone.
Banjo-Kazooie is a 3D platformer released for the Nintendo 64 back in 1998. After Rare’s acquisition (assimilation, really) by Microsoft, they released an HD version of it for the Xbox 360 in 2008, which is the version I’ll be playing since it added some quality of life improvements…and so that I don’t have to play a video game on the Nintendo 64. I don’t like that controller I’m sorry.
The first thing that struck me about Banjo-Kazooie is how great it looks for a game released in 1998. I know I’m playing an enhanced port but all this version does is up-scale the textures the artsyle is still intact and it looks awesome. All the character models look crisp and clean and the display a variety of emotions because of how stretchy they are. The environments and textures as well, while a tad primitive, also look really good in HD. The music as well is absolutely phenomenal. Banjo-Kazooie’s dynamic soundtrack is legendary among video games and after experiencing first hand I can totally see why. HAve the standard track play and then get more and more subdued as you swim underwater and fly high into the sky really adds to the game’s atmosphere and charm. And speaking of charm the writing for the game is *chef’s kiss*. Almost every character in this game is a complete jerk and I love all of them for it. Rare’s signature dry British wit is shown in full force and is chock filled with innuendos, immature humor, and mean spirited sarcasm and I enjoyed every second of it. I love everything about the presentation of this game…then we get to actually playing it.
Age is a constant. It’s something we all face. As time moves forward, our sensibilities change. Sometimes it’s hard to go back to something made decades ago and fully enjoy it due to the clunkiness of the times. You can appreciate it for its historical value, but you’ll always face frustrations for how dated they can be.
Banjo-Kazooie came out 20 years ago and it fucking feels like it.
Now before I start complaining let me just preface this by saying that the game itself plays fine. Walking, running, and jumping all feel great and it’s fun to explore levels with Banjo’s moveset. My complaints mainly lay in the camera and the non-platforming sections. The camera is Banjo-Kazooie has a complete mind of its mind and it makes playing tighter sections of the game extremely cumbersome. It constantly gets stuck on the terrain and switches camera angles at such a sudden rate that it can make platforming way more difficult than it needs to be. The game lets you have full control of the camera but only sometimes? I guess? A lot of the time it uses a fixed camera that tracks the player and it’s so bizarre. It doesn’t really help that when you DO get control of the camera it’s overly sensitive and you aren’t able to turn down the sensitivity. Granted I was able to get used to it after a while but it was still frustrating when the camera didn’t want to cooperate. What I NEVER got used to though were the underwater and flying sections.
Banjo-Kazooie has the worst swimming controls I have ever played in a video game. Ever. I FUCKING hate it so much. Banjo feels weightless and sluggish and you feel like you’re constantly fighting the game for control of your own character. This is especially annoying in areas filled with damaging enemies since you can’t probably control yourself so you’re taking constant hits from stationary enemies when you’re just trying to get a musical note. This problem also persists to the flying sections, but not as severely. Flying around feels fine enough but once you encounter puzzles that require you to dash into them it becomes a complete gamble on whether you’ll hit your target or not. Aiming your shot is difficult because you’re constantly moving and descending from the air and, once again, the camera does not help at all. Like I said I know these problems stem from the era this game was made in but they were prevalent enough to really get under my skin and hinder my experience. Thank god most of the levels are fun.
Aged mechanics aside, the actual level structure for Banjo-Kazooie is something to behold. Every level is so unique from each other and, for better or worse, all memorable in their own way. Each new location essentially serves as a jungle gym letting you do whatever you want and tackle almost every objective in any order you please. Almost every mini-section in these levels are fun to play but I found myself getting frustrated and exhausted with the later areas, especially Rusty Bucket Bay and Click Clock Woods. Click Clock Woods has an awesome gimmick that involves traveling into different seasons for the same stage but it gets mind-numbing exploring the same area over and over and Rusty Bucket Bay just straight up sucks. It’s a small, uninteresting shipyard with almost nothing to do and exploring it is annoying since it -sighs- involves swimming around the ship. Also, I found the last area before the final fight with Gruntilda to just be flat out ridiculous. It’s a stupid quiz show/gauntlet run that takes too long to complete and asks you to remember the most unimportant things about your adventure. Thankfully it makes up for it with a decent final boss and some cool extras if you got everything in the game.
I enjoyed my time with Banjo-Kazooie and I can safely say that I’m a fan of the series now, but it wasn’t exactly the most pleasant experience. For every bit of enjoyment I had, there was a moment of frustration that followed it. For as much charm as the game showcases, there was a section of the game that left me bored to tears. I have nothing but respect for what this game brought to the table and there’s so much that I loved about it and in a general sense, the issues that were there weren’t necessarily the games fault. In my opinion, you can’t really call a game bad just because aspects of it haven’t aged that well. I think Banjo-Kazooie is a wonderful platformer and if you haven’t played it yet, you should. Just be ready to face some minor frustrations along the way.