When I got my free copy of Rare Replay for watching E3 2017 on Mixer, I knew one of the first games I’d be playing from the collection would be Banjo-Kazooie. I never really got to play the game before: my only (brief) experience with it in my childhood was playing it on the N64 when I tagged along with my mother to a clothing store that had a demo-unit in their kid’s corner.
I recalled the game being an easy, kid-friendly platformer. But my 1998 memory did not serve me right. It was probably tainted by the fact that I never got to play long enough to get past the introduction level. A few worlds later, the walk-in-the-park type gameplay makes way for never before seen levels of frustration as I keep dying more often than in a Dark Souls game. Why is that? Let’s throw the game under the loop and delve deeper into why Banjo-Kazooie was still a worthwhile experience so many years down the line.
It’s a Nintendo64 era platformer, so it didn’t need much of a story to drive the players, the sense of progression and completion was more than enough to keep players coming back for more. On it’s most basic level you just have to beat the witch and get your sister back. To do so you have to enter different worlds and collect both musical notes and jigsaw puzzle pieces to be able to progress to the next zones.
Visually, the Xbox 360 version of Banjo-Kazooie is a lot easier on the eyes and even upscales quite nicely to a 4K TV set. All of the assets seem to have been replaced by HD versions.
Now don’t get me wrong; the game still has the same look and feel as it did on the Nintendo64 back in 1998 and it hasn’t lost any of its charm. It’ll just look sharper when played on your xbox 360 or Xbox One. It’s a shame they didn’t give the textures the same treatment, as you’ll often notice the contrast between the sharp edges on objects and characters but the pixelated pattern on the surfaces you’re walking on. The Xbox 360 version supposedly also had issues with its framerate, something you wouldn’t want to experience in a game like this where you need to be able to make perfect jumps and use your reflexes all the time. The Xbox One version doesn’t seem to suffer from this however, as I didn’t notice it even once.
It’s amazing how the game can still appeal to your senses to this day, it just has a very uplifting feel to it that makes it pleasing for young players and old alike to look at. Rare is one of the few game companies that seems to be able to get away with slapping a few googly eyes on random fauna and flora and you’d never bat an eye.
One of the N64’s limitations was that it didn’t have a dedicated sound chip. All sounds had to be loaded from the game cartridge and used the same memory as the game’s code to run. Furthermore, the cartridges could only hold a limited amount of data. This meant developers were somewhat limited in what they could do without impacting performance. You wouldn’t necessarily notice it from the background music in the game, as those tunes are mostly well made and memorable. The sound effects also pass the test of time (somewhat) but there were no voices in the game before and you’ll still have to suffer the incomprehensible gibberish the characters spout today. What’s even worse is that you’ll be quizzed on it at the game’s end.
While the game’s graphics and sound design were widely praised upon release, the gameplay is truly its googly-eyed bread and butter.There are so many things to do in this game that you can easily spend over 10 hours collecting everything. In fact, when I finished the game I had a little over 20 hours on the clock.
Most of the time you’ll be platforming your way through levels to collect new jigsaw puzzles so you can unlock the next world. Along the way you’ll also pick up plenty of musical notes. Sometimes these are in locations that reward you for exploring and other times they will be in plain sight, guiding you to the game’s other secrets. You’ll also get to play various mini-games and solve puzzles that require you to transform into other creatures or use one of the duo’s many abilities.
The sheer variety of collectibles and different methods to get them keeps the game from ever feeling stale, but it requires a different kind of persistence from the player: to fail over and over again and still feel the urge to give it another go. Banjo-Kazooie is a very punishing game and doesn’t hold your hand. While the difficulty of finding stuff can be combated by searching for guides online, in the end you’ll still have to rely on your own dexterity and tenaciousness: there are accurate jumps to be made, hoops to be flown or swum through (often while facing time-constraints), minigames to beat and knowledge to be memorized by heart. If you fall from a high tree-top, you’ll have to climb your way back up and it can become quite a grind.
It doesn’t help in the slightest that the camera is your worst possible enemy: it gets stuck behind walls and objects, it will jump to new locations like it has a mind of its own and during the beforementioned flying and swimming you’ll be about ready to eat your controller. You probably know that some people have a tendency to physically lean their bodies into a corner to “help” their steering in a racing game (and you’d rightfully mock them for it) but no amount of it will help you maneouvre through a hoop more easily in this game. Trust me, I’ve tried…
This is in no way related to the Xbox 360 version, as I’ve heard from many people that the N64 version had the same frustrations. But this was from an era when games had to be challenging as you’d only be able to afford one or two games a year and you’d need to get the maximum value out of them. I may have gotten too soft from too much handholding in other games though as I’ve really been pushed to my limits in this one. Too often have I considered to just drop out and delete the game from my hard drive.
But if you do manage to persist, you’ll find a great sense of fulfilment when you beat the game and I can’t imagine that I’ll ever completely forget the experience. I just need to forget just how rough a time I had with it before I’d be crazy enough to attempt playing Banjo-Tooie.
Playing this almost 20 year old game on the Xbox One is the best possible experience you can have with the game today. The Xbox controller is vastly better than the N64’s first attempt at an analog stick and the game looks crisp on even the highest of resolution TV sets. Don’t let the avalanche of new games coming out all the time hold you back from experiencing this gem. It truly does withstand the test of time and it makes me wonder what Rare could accomplish if they ever attempt making a similar game for the current generation’s hardware.