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In my recent quest to obtain the hardest Xbox Achievement, I had the opportunity to replay Rare’s classic Banjo Kazooie.
The 3D platformer was huge back in 1998, building on Mario 64’s revolutionary mechanics to create a magical world and truly classic characters, all wrapped up in a superbly designed adventure.
But how does it hold up today?
Graphics: The colourful blocky cartoon graphics were second-to-none when released, and they still look fantastic today. The character models are great – everything has the trademark Rare googly-eyes and for whatever reason it just works. The environments are lush and well-textured, and the art-design and direction is great, with every world having a distinct vibe and feel.
Characters: The characters of Banjo Kazooie really shine. From Kazooie’s wise-cracks to Gruntilda’s gruesome rhyming, every character has personality that’ll leave you grinning from ear-to-ear. The character models are detailed and artistically on-point; you can tell Rare spent a lot of time and energy into creating the creatures of BK .
Level design: As I was going for 100% completion when I played, it required going through ever nook and cranny of each level took collect the 100 music notes, and other collectibles. In doing so, it struck me just how tightly designed the levels are, despite being huge. Never is there space for the sake of there just being space – there’s always a reason for a part of the level to be there or be designed the way it is. It’s a satisfying thing to experience.
Music: Banjo Kazooie’s score is possibly my favourite videogame soundtrack, possibly tied only with Ocarina of Time. The music is just masterfully written and executed. The overworld’s tune, a remixed version of ‘The Teddybear’s Picnic’ remains the same melody throughout, but changes in tone, pitch and instruments – going underwater, through a pipe, or entering a snowy zone or desert zone will change the tune accordingly, fitting with the atmosphere of where you are. It’s something I found myself appreciating more now I’m older than I did when I played as a child. Fantastic stuff.
Pacing: Another aspect I was able to appreciate by virtue of playing each level to its fullest was the game’s pace. Almost every Jiggy can be gotten in one sitting in each world, with backtracking to a previous world necessary for only once the entire game. What’s more, each level gets progressively more challenging at a nice pace, with one level slightly more challenging than the last, until the final two of Rusty Bucket Bay and Click Clock Wood providing real difficulty at times. The final boss fight continues this trend, but more on that shortly…
Hidden things: BK is famous for being a ‘collectathon’ – and it is. But that’s no bad thing. I found it satisfying hunting down every note, Jiggy and Jinjo. But what’s really fun is finding the hidden things that aren’t necessary for completion – the Cheato books and Bottles’ hidden jigsaw puzzles – brilliant additions to an already jam-packed game.
Boss fight: Games often get their final bosses wrong, and 3D platformers are sometimes the worst offenders. The final fight with Gruntilda however, is well done in every way – it’s suitably epic, challenging and rewarding. It took me several attempts to beat her, and even when I did I was down to my last shred of health. The gameshow quiz before fighting her is also really clever – testing you on your observation throughout the game, and is a great way to remind the player of the earlier levels they had fun playing through.
Overworld: The hub-world on the whole is really well designed, and I’ve already mentioned the fantastic music. However, once or twice I found myself truly at a loss as to where to go next, which bordered on frustrating. On the one hand it was good that it wasn’t spoon-fed to me, so I didn’t mind it, but I can see some players getting stuck for a while, particularly if they can’t find a certain inconspicuous switch.
Mumbo auto-change: There was one sole design flaw I came across during the whole experience, but it was hardly a game-breaker. Mumbo Jumbo, the lovable Shaman, appears in most levels to turn you into one of several adorable creatures, each with unique abilities. Controlling the creatures is great, but sometimes you’ll want to morph back into BK if you come across something only they can interact with. Annoyingly, you can’t do this with the press of a button, instead you have to trek back to Mumbo’s hut, which is often in a deliberately hard-to-get place. It’s annoying!
Banjo runner: You accumulate moves throughout the game, which is great and they’re all intuitive and easy to remember. However, one move flips the bear and bird over, and has Kazooie running, carrying Banjo on his back. Not only is it much, much quicker to travel this way, but you can also climb steeper slopes. it’s a win-win, meaning you’ll rarely-if-ever travel with Banjo walking again. A minor OP move.
I was surprised just how well Banjo Kazooie holds up after nearly twenty years. I’d even say I enjoyed it more so than I did then. The level design and overall flow of the game and difficulty curve is second-to-none, and is better than most games released today. Couple this with the tight controls and utterly charming characters and you have a game that’s a joy from start to finish. Grab it from the Xbox Live store now or in Rare Replay if you haven’t already.