The release of Rare Replay has brought many fond memories out of the closet. For me, the fondest of them all is Banjo-Kazooie.
If Goldeneye 007 and Diddy Kong Racing were wake-up calls that Nintendo had a killer developer in Rare, then that would make this platformer starring a bird and a bear a tornado siren. While some may initially dismiss it as a Super Mario 64 clone, there was so much more to the title. Its world was vibrant, full of color, and personality. Interaction between characters was constantly humorous and absolute joy. That’s right, I said joy. I’m fully aware of the “annoying” sound effects used by characters to represent their speech, but let’s be serious here. This is a game about a bear and a bird collecting puzzle pieces.
And musical notes.
And random characters known as Jinjos.
And tokens that allow the transformation of your character into various animals by a Witch Doctor.
Yet, it’s something entirely different that hooked me into Banjo-Kazooie: the ability to play at my own pace. An issue I have with Mario 64 is its backtracking. You’re only targeting one mission at a time in each level, something that I found becomes very annoying very quickly. While this leads to longer staying power with each world (Banjo-Kazooie is not a long game at all now that I’m older and wiser), it’s still frustrating that I can’t focus on every objective as I’m exploring.
“It’s easy to look back at Banjo-Kazooie with fondness.”
The opposite is true in the world of Banjo; while collecting Jinjos and maxing out musical notes, I can focus on every objective as I see fit. This meshes well with the level design that slowly but surely guides the player along in a fashion that maximizes efficiency. It all becomes apparent during the game’s Bubblegoop Swamp level. You’re guided along a path that ensures that as you complete one objective, you’re immediately ready for the next, reducing downtime to a minimum. It’s this right here that cuts down on the game’s length with very little backtracking required. The payoff is well worth it in a completed level the first time through.
Banjo-Kazooie flat-out wants you to manage your time wisely, almost encouraging you to explore deeper into the game despite the fact that collectibles still populate past levels. There isn’t really a hard barrier to progressing forward, instead opting for a “play as you see fit” feel. Now, that’s not to say you need to be lazy in your collecting; instead, it never really seems like a chore. You’re just not stuck doing the same level for multiple hours thanks to the option to progress further into new worlds.
It’s easy to look back at Banjo-Kazooie with fondness. The characters are memorable, the music is catchy, and the gameplay is fantastic. Getting the chance to play through the game again makes something apparent: this game has aged so well. Sure, the camera is absolute rubbish at times, but there’s enough cheer and joy to more than make up for it. Plus, Banjo-Kazooie knows one of the most important gameplay rules of them all: don’t overstay your welcome.