Screenshot from Flickr User: Tyler Burgess

Banjo-Kazooie, When a Great Series Has Fallen

Screenshot from Flickr User: Tyler Burgess
Screenshot from Flickr User: Tyler Burgess

Sometimes, the past makes me sad. I look back at years that have gone by, and I notice that there were once so many great games back then, of series that are no longer around or have since gone bad. Like cheese. Old cheese. One such series that greatly saddens me is “Banjo-Kazooie”, which held a place of utmost glory during the Nintendo 64 era and has since become…old cheese. Fuzzy, old cheese.

Long ago, by a Spiral Mountain an unclear distance away, lived a bear named Banjo and a bird (guess her name, I bet you can’t, okay, okay, I’ll give you a hint, it starts with a K) that were antagonized by a witch named Gruntilda. During their first quest in 1998, or somewhere thereabouts, this witch decided she would try and steal the beauty of Banjo’s sister, Tooty (who wasn’t really that pretty, but perhaps the graphics were to blame), and so she kidnapped her. Thus began the duo’s first adventure, a wonderful game called “Banjo-Kazooie”, still to this day one of the best platformers of all time. And in this most delightful of games, bear and bird worked together to traverse all kinds of terrain, from the innards of giant metal sharks to a monstrous, towering tree, all the while collecting Jiggies and musical notes and learning useful new moves.

Once Grunty was defeated, however, our heroes’ work was not yet done, as two years later, in 2000 (or somewhere thereabouts), the nasty old witch came back from the dead to wreak more havoc, her next goal to restore her body, as she had since been reduced to a skeleton after years spent under a boulder after a rather bad fall from her lair. (Villains always have lairs. Never cottages or apartments or even warehouses. Just lairs.) And as wonderful as the first game was, I thought “Banjo-Tooie” was even better, with improved graphics and more moves (such as new kinds of eggs, the use of which I’ll get to shortly, and the ability to split up and control bear and bird separately) and more useful transformations (another thing I’ll elaborate a little bit on later), not to mention a tone that was a bit less childish. (I loved the first game, but it seemed to be more kid-oriented, I think.) This game managed to take all the things I loved about its predecessor and improve upon them, quite a feat indeed considering how wonderful the previous game was.

But, just what is it that I love about the series? Well, for one thing, I love the teamwork, the way Banjo and Kazooie would work together to complete different challenges, even if, I must admit, Kazooie was always far more useful than Banjo. I mean, seriously, she could use her talons to go up steep slopes, and she could fly, and heck, she could even shoot eggs from her mouth. And Banjo, well, he could climb trees and stuff. And swat things with his bear arms. Oh, and he could somersault. Was that necessary, though? Maybe. Anyway, I loved the variety of moves in these games, something a lot of platformers don’t really have. Sure, Mario can do different kinds of jumps and good things like that, but what else can he do, really? Nothing! Well, except shoot fireballs from his hands and use a cape to fly and turn into a raccoon… Okay, I guess Mario can do stuff, too, but not the kinds of things Banjo and Kazooie (mainly Kazooie) can.

These games also had humorous characters, including Kazooie and her sassy mouth and Grunty herself, who had quite a rhyming problem in the first game (“I’m still here, I watch you play, but I can’t think of much to say.”), as she made rather poetic comments whenever you journeyed about her lair. The minor characters were memorable, as well, such as Loggo the talking toilet (unluckiest character in the universe) and Bovina, a cow that enjoyed farm-related puns (her puns were neither a-maize-ing nor moo-velous, but they were still rather funny). The environments were also varied and interesting, and in addition to a variety of moves, both games involved transformations into different forms, like a bumble bee or a washing machine that could shoot clothes at people. Possibly undies. Probably undies.

And then came a day that will live on in infamy, the day “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts” was released, proof that the good things in life never last…and a video game series that used to be great can easily be destroyed if you, well, completely twist it beyond all recognition. Yeah, don’t do that. It’s bad. And so was “Nuts and Bolts”. I mean, it was just so…not good. And since it came out probably a decade or so after “Banjo-Tooie”, I can only assume Rare completely forgot how to make a good “Banjo-Kazooie” game. For all I know, they may have even forgotten they had ever created this series to begin with, and this was simply something completely different they decided to make one day, but with the same title and a few familiar characters mixed in, all quite by accident.

But, I have already ranted about how bad this game is in the past, and this is a post about the series, not just this particular pimple of a game, so I will only summarize my fuming hatred of this abomination. In short, it was not a “Banjo-Kazooie” game. All the funny characters were gone. All the awesome moves were gone. The graphics made everyone look blocky. And I’m not even really sure what the plot was. All I know is that this game involved building vehicles to complete various challenges, while Kazooie got to carry a wrench around. Because Banjo apparently no longer has any working hands. Because he probably developed a wicked case of arthritis waiting for a new game to be made. Seriously, you can hardly even tell this is a “Banjo-Kazooie” game, and I just can’t understand why anyone would want to take a series that is so successful and then butcher it.

But, whatever the reason may be, that’s what they did. And while I heard they’re planning on making a new game (I can only hope this is just some kind of cruel joke), I don’t see myself buying it unless they make it like the original games again. But, that’s how it always goes. Good series are created, and they live for a little while, bringing joy to all who play them, only to die a graphic and fiery death, without the fire and the, uh…graphic-ness…. But, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, because at least the first two games (there was a handheld game on the GBA, too, but it’s hardly worth mentioning) were wonderful examples of platformers done very, very right. And I would highly recommend that anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of playing the original two games go check them out, to see what the series used to be like in its golden years (years as golden as a polished Jiggy, they were). And just steer very clear of “Nuts and Bolts”. Pun not intended. (Get it, steer? Because there are vehicles in…oh, that’s even worse than what Bovina would come up with. Hey, new pun! Get it, steer…? Oh, forget it!)


4 thoughts on “Banjo-Kazooie, When a Great Series Has Fallen”

  1. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie are my two favorite Nintendo 64 games and two of my favorite games ever!

    And I agree that Tooie is superior. It just blew my mind how the duo started from all of the moves present on the original game (which were varied and creative) and got another dozen incredible skills through the sequel. Rare’s creativity was apparentl endless back in those days.

    I love the graphics, humor, and astounding sound design in the games. It is just ridiculously awesome how every single side-character, no matter how obscure, has a “voice” of his own. Back in the N64 days, that had to be one of the finest technologic achievements ever.

    The games were packed with great worlds (Clickclock Wood and Jolly Roger’s Lagoon are masterpieces, and the latter turns underwater platforming into something fantastic). And Tooie had the added bonus of connecting every single world through numerous secret passages.

    Many people complain about Tooie’s backtracking, but I think it was a fantastic design choice since most of those backtracking missions took advantage of the connections between worlds.

    I have never played Nuts and Bolts, but I wish to try it someday, even if most “old-school” Banjo fans seem to hate it.

    1. I never minded the backtracking in “Tooie”. Like you, I think it’s cool how the different locations connect, as well. It feels like a much more cohesive world that way.

      And those games truly did have an impressive moveset, didn’t they? More games need to do that. It makes it so much more fun getting places or overcoming obstacles when you have so many ways of doing things.

  2. Banjo-Kazooie was an excellent couple of games. It’s too bad Rare has been relegated to making Kinect games. We’ll like likely never never see the sequel we’ve all been awaiting for so long…*sigh*…

    1. I’ve given up hope on a “Banjo-Threeie”. What in the world has happened to this series? At least I still have the first two games to enjoy. They still haven’t gotten old.

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