Review by brutusmuktuk
"A bird in a backpack is worth more than two in a bush"
Rare is a master at infusing originality into their imitations. This isn't a knock against them. William Shakespeare pulled stories and plots from other writers and crafted masterpieces. Rare is gamedom's Shakespeare, in that regard. Banjo-Kazooie is obviously influenced by Super Mario 64, although it's always unfortunate for a game to be compared to that masterpiece. While Banjo-Kazooie lacks Super Mario 64's magic and ingenuity, it has its own magic that sets it apart from Nintendo's behemoth.
+ A fun story
+ An imaginative use of its characters
+ Creative worlds to explore
Too easy and short
The few parts that are too hard
? Why is Kazooie so insulting?
The first thing that stands out is the dialogue, especially of the evil witch, Gruntilda, or Grunty, who speaks in clever rhymes. It's refreshing all the more that what she says is often funny. The game begins with her asking her mirror, Who is the most beautiful of them all? Of course, it couldn't be Gruntilda. There's nothing even remotely pretty about a fat, green hag. The most beautiful of them all is Banjo's younger sister, Tooty (who looks similar to Tiny Kong of Donkey Kong fame). So Grunty sets off to kidnap Tooty and succeeds, leaving only the mole, Bottles, as a witness. Bottles must survive a downpour of Kazooie's insults and witticisms to explain the kidnapping to Banjo and Kazooie. The question becomes, can Banjo and Kazooie save Tooty before Grunty robs her of her beauty and transfers it to herself?
I'm sure your suspense has ended there. There's no mystery, nor should there be. The only mystery is why doesn't Grunty begin the beauty transfer right away? The reason is that the kidnapping and looming threat of a beauty transfer are only an excuse for the game. Rare does go so far as to reveal, in a hilarious cutscene following a game over, what would happen in case Banjo fails his mission. The problem for a video game having a macguffin as the center of its story is that the story only occurs at the beginning and the end.
My only question is, why is Kazooie so insulting? For being aimed at children, it doesn't seem to be very appropriate. The only thing I can say in its defense is that Kazooie says some pretty funny things.
Here is the game's bane and boon. Everything else sets it up wonderfully. The soundtrack is great, the visuals are very nice, and the opening story sequence is funny. The game controls smoothly and you have plenty of moves to learn and use throughout. The levels are varied, with plenty of collectibles and other goodies to discover. But these levels are so small, so short, so easy. I never spent an hour and a half on any one level, and most of them took less than an hour to complete. In that time, I could collect ten jigsaw puzzle pieces, one hundred musical notes, and numerous other items such as the Mumbo Jumbo skulls, extra lives, and Jinjos. Compared to Super Mario 64, I can't help but say, is that all?
There are a total of nine worlds, as well as a main hub world, which is too labyrinthine for its purpose. In order to unlock a new world, you need to reassemble one of the many pictures hanging in Grunty's Lair. If you had to then jump into the picture, Rare might have faced another copyright lawsuit. Each picture is really a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, but all you need to do is press the Z button and, voila!, the picture is put together (with the requisite number of pieces, of course). This is the reason for the jigsaw pieces. The music notes are necessary for opening certain doors in the hub world. The problem with music notes is that when you die or leave a level, the music notes reset and you only add to your total the high score of the level. Thus, to increase your music note total, you have to achieve more than your high score. Anything less or equal to it adds nothing to your total.
Rare goes a little overboard as to the amount of collectibles they expect gamers to gather. Unless you use cheats, it takes 94 out of the 100 Jigsaw pieces total to unlock every single world, including the final fight with Grunty. That's not too difficult, as I'd say about 97 of those Jigsaw pieces are a piece of cake. The other three include a mini-game in the swamp level, and a section of the level, Rusty Bucket Bay, where there's an endless pit (and why an endless pit there when there are none in the rest of the game?) beneath a very difficult piece of platforming. As for the music notes, more than 880 of the 900 are needed in order to give you somewhat of a chance against the unfairly difficult fight with Grunty (you just can't count on Rare to make a strictly children's game, see Diddy Kong Racing). And there are the Mumbo skulls, which you take to Mumbo Jumbo so he can transform you into a being, from a termite to a bumblebee. The transformations are all underwhelming and underutilized. In all, there are only three transformations across the nine levels.
These are mostly criticisms, but they comprise a small percent of the game. You will spend most of it enjoyably. Despite the very easy difficulty, it isn't boring. There's plenty to explore in the levels, and as they go on, they become larger and more complex, especially the sprawling final level. Rare flexes all of its creative muscles in that level, revolving around the four seasons, and even includes a few semi-stories with some new characters. Not that the other levels are clunkers, but if only they could provide the same sort of entertainment, the rest of the game would have been that much more enjoyable.
A game should only be as long as it needs to be, but I think Banjo-Kazooie needed to be a little longer. Considering what Nintendo did years earlier in Super Mario 64, it's no excuse that Rare couldn't match that level of magnitude. But it's unfair to compare any game to Super Mario 64. Most gamers will complete this, all 100 Jigsaw pieces, almost all 900 music notes, in less than twelve hours. After finishing it, there's no reason to go back. The cheats only give you infinite resources, but what's the point when you've already finished the game? The only way a game like this can extend its life is for the single player adventure to be a little longer.
This is a worthy game for any Nintendo 64 fan to have in their collection, even if the end leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth. It's not Rare at the top of their game, but when Rare falters, they still do better than many developers that are at their best. Still, this has launched a series, spawning the improved Banjo-Tooie and the still in development Banjo Kazooie 3 (or Banjo Threeie, as some call it). It's a good place to start, for those newcomers interested in the series.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 04/07/08
Game Release: Banjo-Kazooie (US, 06/29/98)
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