Banjo Kazooie, and What Nintendo 64 Means To Me

I have a tendency to revisit things that I previously enjoyed despite the fact that there is often so much new stuff going on that I fail to keep up with even half of it. I love nostalgia and my bad memory allows for a lot of it.  One of the most prominent things that I continue to revisit is the Banjo Kazooie franchise. First off, admissions time. I have never owned Banjo Tooie (the second and final entry in the series on the N64, for those who don’t know or remember) and I play both the older games on the Xbox 360 now. Stop ‘n’ Swop being unfinished, the difficulty of mini-games, and my poor N64 controller’s wiggly joystick are just too painful to revisit. The changes, other than nicer graphics that are more compatible with my current TV, are pretty minute so there’s not really any reason to buy a Banjo Tooie cartridge instead at this point. Before continuing, I will also just mention that I am in the small(?) camp who enjoyed Banjo Kazooie Nuts ‘n’ Bolts but who would have preferred an actual Banjo Threeie. Just sayin’.

Banjo Kazooie

Banjo Kazooie was the first game that I ever played on the Nintendo 64, an unknown amount of time within 3 years of the console originally being released. I can’t remember circumstantial details, but I vividly recall seeing the box and immediately wanting to play it… after Mario of course. That said, I’d like to point out that now I think Banjo Kazooie has proven itself to be a much better game. Although I beat all of Super Mario 64, and even played it through once more entirely on the DS, I think I will still be replaying Banjo Kazooie at least once very two years for as long as my Xbox account is supported. I just love re-learning all the moves and exploring the stages again. Mario has a bit of a similar feel, with the different stages and their secrets as well as the caps, but the convenience of playing through a world and seamlessly collecting everything makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. It feels less archaic, even after being traumatized by the horror collectathon of an Assassin’s Creed game. I’ve always felt compelled to collect every little shiny object in video games but the Banjo Kazooie games make it more entertaining than more modern titles have managed. Maybe it’s due to the inventive world that the games are set in.

The art style, even shackled by the limitations of early 3D graphics, has always been interesting and compelling to me. The colors of the world, the strange dysfunction of things, and the wonderful music ties everything together into a unique package. Although I don’t often find myself thinking about it while doing unrelated things, I can still navigate around Grunty’s Lair without hesitation. The spatial nonsensical anomalies somehow don’t manage to throw me off too much even now. That must be one hell of a mountain just outside the render distance of the N64, or Grunty has the world’s most stationary and boring TARDIS. Similarly, regardless of how many times it is referenced throughout the game, I will always pause when I meet Boggy again and think, “Wow, bears are big in this world. Wait a minute, we’re both bears. Why is this guy so damn huge compared to me?” The whimsical logic may never cease to entertain me, even if it sounds stupid. I still find it delightful years later. Just like the music, for that matter. Grant Kirkhope’s mastery of MIDI channel fading has the soundtrack of this game laser-etched into my mind so deep that I sometimes start humming it, wonder where it’s from, and then realize that it’s from Banjo Kazooie again even though I just did this same process a few days ago with a different stage’s music. That’s not even to mention the sound effects and character voices. It speaks volumes for a game’s individuality when the ending involves a quiz show where you identify areas you’ve been based on tiny hints, obscure pictures, and snippets of audio. The only thing that I never really miss once I restart a playthrough is the sound of the Talon Trot.

Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, honestly.
Players of Banjo Kazooie just either cringed or grinned, depending on how recently they’ve played it.

Banjo Tooie

I’ve already covered a lot of stuff in the section about the first game. Banjo-Tooie introduced a lot of things, though. The different kinds of eggs and shoes for Kazooie and the different movesets of the separated characters make me smile every time I encounter each old-new thing. Putting Super Mario 64 up next to this game leaves the former looking as primitive as Atari was to the NES. The expansion of the world allowed for more music, and less need to tie everything together thematically (although the first one’s recycled origins had made that effort a bit clunky in the first game), but it still manages to be just as charming. Considering some of the characters added, though, makes one wonder even more at the logic of a world where there are 6 humans and the rest of the inhabitants are all talking animals. Oh well, at least there aren’t more bears. Oh wait…

At least she's not a different size than her husband.

One of the most notable changes in the XBLA versions of the games, and the reason that I bought them at all, is the restored functionality of Stop ‘n’ Swop. The whole concept is extremely interesting, and too robust to just briefly touch on in my opinion, so here’s the Wiki page. For people who played it back then and didn’t have many friends who were also into games, seeing the purpose of the whole endeavor finally come to fruition was pretty cool. Of course, it removes some of that mystique surrounding odd features of the game but that’s what memories are for.

I suppose none of this is as interesting as I thought it might be, but it feels good to write something about a franchise that seems to have breathed its last finally. Perhaps some Rare employees many years from now will do something like Wasteland 2 and we’ll finally have the Banjo Threeie that Nuts ‘n’ Bolts scoffed at, but perhaps not and that’s just fine. Banjo Kazooie will always be a part of the N64 that lives in my memories. Alongside games such as Star Wars Rogue Squadron, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Road Rash, it will always remind me of sitting in the floor and being amazed at cutting edge graphics that make modern gamers think they’ve slipped into an alternate dimension where the world has misplaced half of their polygons and texture resolutions. If you have played a Nintendo 64, can still live with the graphics, and have a pile of extra time, but have never tried out these games, I suggest that you at least work your way through the beginning and give it a solid try. Don’t give up after just trying out the first or the second one, either. Both games are very different for better and worse. If the strangeness of the world doesn’t hook you, perhaps the music or the dry British-influenced humor will. Also, remember there is always room for things that other people enjoy; more options doesn’t take anything away from the options that you prefer or are used to. Give everything a chance and keep an open mind. I hope you have a good day.


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