I know that I’m breaking the rules here by lumping together two games in one spot. What I think is Banjo Kazzoie and its sequel, Banjo Tooie, are interchangeable games. And they deliver virtually the same experience.
A lot of my top ten is nostalgia fueled. Whose wouldn’t be? That’s most evident with the Banjo Kazooie games. They don’t hold up well in many key aspects. But I love them nonetheless.
Banjo Kazooie was the game that tied me over while I waited for Zelda Ocarina of Time; it did more then tied me over, I fell in love. I didn’t realize how good of a game it was going to be. My cousin and me were addicted to this little puzzle platformer from the moment we slotted the cartridge into the N64.
It’s such a weird concept too. An anthropomorphic bear—which plays a banjo, and may be semi-retarded—and a bird, which lives in his backpack…see this just sounds ridiculous! There’s no way in hell that you’d be able to pitch a game like that nowadays. But Rare had lots of mad ideas. And Banjo Kazooie turned out to be a very well made platformer.
It didn’t break the mold, and neither did its sequel but it had solid mechanics (Banjo and Kazooie together had moves which you had to collect and master in order to progress further in the game) and the snide sense of humor was strangely adult despite the game having a childlike aesthetic.
|Banjo and Kazooie had to work together in order to progress.|
You can still make a game where your primary goal is just to collect arbitrary items and make that the centerpiece of the gameplay, but I wouldn’t base a whole game around that. Banjo Kazooie did that, and for the time it was fun. It was Mario 64, and it was structured similarly. Collect Jigsaw pieces (much like Stars for Mario), and with those hop into different worlds, each with a different theme—loved the prehistoric level in Banjo Tooie as an aside.
There are still some really neat ideas in Banjo Kazooie even when I look back upon it. Banjo and Kazooie each had separate talents (other then Banjo being able to play the instrument of his namesake, and Kazooie being a cheeky little bitch) and together you could literally reach new heights. Obviously Banjo couldn’t fly so Kazooie sprang out of the backpack whenever you double-jumped or needed to sore through the air. Some of the moves were hilariously violent, like Banjo using Kazooie as a bat to hit enemies.
What made the sequel, Banjo Tooie, even better was the plethora of different game elements that were in each world you visited. The running and jumping motif stayed strong, but many of the worlds had a wide variety of things to do; there were on rails shooter segments, a First Person Shooter Mode; tons of different mini-games that emulated real life sports, plenty of puzzles; and on top of that every level had you transforming into either an animal or a inanimate object—transforming into a washing-machine and shooting dirty undies out of your mouth was the best. Really, it was.
|Just like the Hulk, Banjo's shorts grew when he transformed...lucky us!|
Rare made colorful games. Not just visually, but in how you’d play them. Playing the Banjo Kazooie games is like seeing a rainbow; it just brings a smile to your face. Except playing the game is like playing a rainbow…wait what? I lost myself in that analogy. Just forget it.
Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie hold a special place in my heart. And I’ll admit that’s nostalgia’s doing. Banjo Kazooie wasn’t a groundbreaking game; it copied a lot from Mario. It’s still an oddly unique concept. That’s maybe why I was so drawn to it.
Other games have had some great duos; Jak had Daxter, Ratchet has Clank. You can take those, give me the mumbling bear with a smart-mouthed bird stuffed in his backpack any day.