As much as I loved my original PlayStation growing up, I can’t help but feel that I truly missed out on some of gaming’s greatest treasures when I skipped out on the Nintendo 64. Seeing as I grew up in the 3D prominence of gaming – with 3D platformers being one of my favourite genres – the N64 had a myriad of golden gems that would cater to my prolific love for jumping and collecting things. The fact that I have just completed Banjo-Kazooie 18 years after its initial release is a sad accomplishment and realization as that should’ve been rectified prior as Banjo-Kazooie, is not only one of my favourite 3D platformers of all time, but is another title that I can slab onto my “favourite video games of all time” list. It’s a nostalgic, yet exquisite, time capsule into a simpler era of gaming that exuded such pristine quality while pursuing new forms of innovation. While its moment to moment gameplay unfortunately shows its age and doesn’t control nearly as well as Nintendo’s iconic plumber, it’s the sum of its parts that stand the test of time and make the titular duo an instant classic.
The single element that sets Banjo-Kazooie apart from the herd is its heavy influence from the adventure genre. While the game is broken down into traditional levels (worlds) within a larger hub world, these levels feel much larger than what I’ve come to expect from traditional 3D platformers, and given the fact that they are ripe with secrets and collectibles to find, I was surprised to discover that each meaty level’s respective elapsed time would clock in at about an hour to an hour and a half. In true adventure fashion, certain levels also require specific moves in order to reach inaccessible areas, resulting in some light and never cumbersome back-tracking. Collecting every last Jiggy, extra honeycomb, musical note, and Jinjo emit a sensation that transcends one’s perception of addiction to a whole new level. Another main attraction of Banjo-Kazooie is Gruntilda’s Lair, which acts as the game’s main hub world; instead of simply selecting the next playable world in arbitrary fashion, you’ll actually have to explore the massive lair – which is chock full of secrets, shortcuts, Jiggies, enemies, and obstructions and ultimately feels like a level of its own – in order to progress further and unlock each subsequent level (world). Banjo-Kazooie’s adventure style hub world struck a nostalgic key with one of my favourite kart racers, Diddy Kong Racing. Just like in Banjo-Kazooie, I absolutely love the explorative hub world, which arguably exudes more personality and gratification than the corresponding levels/worlds. All of these passive design elements polish off Banjo-Kazooie to a pristine shine and simply transform trivial elements such as level selection into a profound and entertaining interaction, which further exemplifies the meteoric results when attuning the smaller details.
Banjo-Kazooie’s moment to moment platforming strays a little more to the rough side of the polished spectrum. The platforming is competent and quite enjoyable for the most part, but once you add precision into the mixture, things start to feel rather cumbersome. Continual platform misses and cheap deaths occurred all because the controls were not nearly responsive enough, and while these little nitpickings do not ruin what is otherwise a phenomenal game, they are still noteworthy to say the least. The flying and swimming controls also leave much to be desired. While no one can deny the 5th generation of gaming’s innovation and importance to the medium’s history, titles released during the generation aren’t the necessarily definition of eye candy. Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon, and Crash Bandicoot are a select few that may retain their gameplay performance, but haven’t aged well in the graphical department. I’m not sure as to what black magic the folks at Rare were using at that point in time, but Banjo-Kazooie surprisingly holds up graphically. While it still contains the idiosyncratic, polygonal character models that are synonymous with the 5th Generation of consoles and textures are still quite muddy given the technical limitations, Banjo-Kazooie’s design still strikes a prolific chord of artistry and its graphical limitations are never a hindrance to the core experience like many other games of its generation.
Banjo-Kazooie is an excellent platformer and is one of my favourite games of the 5th Generation and of all time. Chock full of excellent mini-games, game-changing character transformations, and hidden nooks and crannies simply waiting to be discovered, Banjo-Kazooie is a versatile platformer than constantly fluctuates to alleviate repetition and implore variety. While its core platforming gameplay is cumbersome at times, it still gets the job done and is enjoyable to say the least. However, its true brilliance stems from the curiosity of exploring an engrossing hub world and the pure exhilaration when discovering juicy secrets and collectibles from a previously inaccessible area. It’s the refinement of these smaller elements that make Banjo-Kazooie a special example of its class, further supporting the fact that an emphasis on discovery, collecting, variety, and exploring can match the sheer thrill and quality of traditional, precision platforming. Banjo-Kazooie is an excellent blast to the past that has given me the ability to reminisce on my fostering years as a gamer, simply reminding me as to why I love this medium so much. Now that I have collected every last Jiggy and extra honeycomb piece, my excitement and anticipation for its spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee, has increased exponentially . Here’s to hoping that it will not only capture, but reinvigorate that undeniable charm and polish which made Banjo-Kazooie an absolute classic.