Banjo-Kazooie | Retro Review | Nintendo 64 - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Monday, March 13, 2023

Banjo-Kazooie | Retro Review | Nintendo 64

Banjo-Kazooie is one of those classics that everyone looks back on fondly. Whether it be the memorable characters, awesome gameplay, great music or fantastically curated worlds, people have a lot of nostalgia for this game. For me, while I did play the game a little bit back in the day, I never owned it and never even came close to beating it. Until now. With Banjo being on both the Nintendo Switch and Xbox Game Pass, now is a great time to go back and revisit this classic. But, does it still hold up all of these years later? That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

For the purpose of this review, I played Banjo on the Nintendo Switch via the Nintendo 64 app using the My Nintendo N64 controller. While it isn’t EXACTLY the same as the original, I do feel that it’s close enough to give us an idea of what the game is like regardless of your platform of choice. Speaking of which, I have played the game on pretty much every platform it’s available on - Xbox, Xbox Cloud Gaming on mobile and PC, original Nintendo 64 hardware and the aforementioned Switch version. I’ll be chiming in on differences where appropriate. 

Banjo-Kazooie first hit store shelves in North America on June 28, 1998 and was followed by a release in PAL territories on July 17, 1998. Gamers in Japan would have to wait a few more months for the game as it eventually came on December 6, 1998 localized as Banjo to Kazooie no Daibōken (Banjo & Kazooie’s Big Adventure). It would eventually see a remaster on the Xbox 360 ten years later hitting Xbox Live Arcade on December 3, 2008 and has been on the Xbox platform ever since. Of course, it also hit the Nintendo Switch Expansion Pack service on January 20/21, 2022. 

Banjo proved to be not only popular with critics but also with gamers. The game went on to sell over 3.5 million copies on the Nintendo 64. You can see a breakdown of the sales numbers across various regions below:
As many of you are well aware, the story in Banjo-Kazooie starts out with Banjo’s sister, Tooty, getting kidnapped by the grody witch, Gruntilda. To save her, Banjo is tasked with going through a number of open world stages. To make progress in the story, you are tasked with collecting Jiggies, or the puzzle piece-like collectibles that can be found scattered about the levels. Each level contains ten of these which can be acquired in a variety of ways. Sometimes they’re out in plain sight. Other times, you’ll have to solve a light puzzle, find hidden creatures called Jinjos, take out enemies and more. 

Music notes are also spread throughout each level with 100 per stage. Collecting the notes allows Banjo and Kazooie to access locked doors. You’ll need these to work your deeper into Grunty’s lair to an eventual showdown with the big bad witch.   
Banjo-Kazooie offers a number of different levels, each sporting different themes. All of these are well thought out and offer interesting and unique challenges. It’s truly magical what Rare came up with all those years ago and it still holds up to this day in terms of design. Sure, modern games will more than likely be larger in terms of scale, but Rare did a fantastic job of making the best use out of the tech that they could in 1998.

Banjo and Kazooie have several moves at their disposal. Of course, you have traditional things like a jump with A and an attack with B. Several other attacks and abilities are acquired throughout the experience, too, including the Rat-a-tat Rap (an in-air attack where Kazooie blasts enemies with her beak), a glide, a flip to give you extra height, the ability to shoot eggs, a Beak Barge to bust through enemies and places in the environment and more. All of these moves take a bit of getting used to, especially early on. However after some time with the game, you’ll get the hang of it. One other thing that you’ll notice is the level of momentum for Banjo. Banjo can’t just stop on a dime - it takes a short amount of time for him to slow down. This makes the game feel more realistic in that sense and feel good to control. 

Several transformations are also available in parts of the adventure. After acquiring a set number of tokens in select stages, the mysterious Mumbo Jumbo will use his magic to transform both Banjo and Kazooie into some kind of creature or item. These all play quite differently from the standard gameplay and are quite a bit of fun. They can also be used outside of the stages, too, offering access to areas that you couldn’t reach before. It’s a great addition to the game that I wish was used a bit more. 
Playing with the original N64 controller feels pretty nice. As I mentioned above, it can take some time to wrap your head around the more complicated buttons combinations for some of the special moves, even with an OG controller. This is compounded quite a bit more on standard control pads or handheld mode for Switch. Even with that said, I did find that the Xbox version feels quite a bit better. Unlike the Switch version, the buttons have been remapped completely, giving it a more modern feel without the need to fiddle around with button settings. Not only that, but the camera controls are more or less modern here as well, though some areas do not appear to offer full control of the camera. The Xbox has a bit of an advantage. Of course, playing the game via the cloud on mobile (with no physical controller) has its own issues due to touch controls. There is a very doable touch layout provided, but you might find it a bit tough to pull off some of the more complicated moves without tactile buttons. 

For me, the two things that made the Switch version my go-to were the option for portable play and the inclusion of save states. I realize that some people out there loath save states for classic games, perhaps feeling like it cheapens the experience. For me, this modern addition helped speed up my play-through and allowed me to stop and pick up and play at my convenience. 

Visuals, Audio & Performance
For its time, Banjo-Kazooie was quite a good looking game on the Nintendo 64. The overall look of what Rare was trying to do - create a living, breathing world for Banjo - comes through even now. Environments look believable, enemies animate and react pretty well and both Banjo and Kazooie sport quite a bit of detail. Rare made a really fantastic looking game on the N64 that still holds up aesthetically. 

In terms of performance, Banjo Kazooie isn’t without issues. Of course, in the original N64 version, there are some issues with slowdown and framerate drops. This has largely been fixed in the modern versions of the game. When it comes to the Switch, Banjo maintains a pretty smooth framerate for most of the experience. There are some issues in certain areas (for example, the area in the overworld near the coffin and sphinx-like statue) where the game does chug a bit. Even with that said, I didn’t run into anything that had a huge affect on gameplay. 
If you’re looking for visual fidelity, the Xbox version of the game is where it’s at. The game runs in 4K (if you haven a Series X), supports widescreen and just looks great. Not only are there modern controls, but the menus and in-game text have also gotten a bit of a facelift here, too. In a lot of ways, this is the definitive version of the game. 

Playing via Xbox Cloud gaming is also an option. I tried it out on my phone and on my PC, both via Wi-Fi. Both versions provided a workable way to play the game, but I ran into some instances of lag due to issues with the streaming connection. I won’t go as far to say that you should steer totally clear of these versions, but if you have the means, you should play the game on Xbox, Switch or original N64 hardware if possible for a more consistent experience.

Of course, like so many Rare games, the audio is absolutely on point here. While it doesn’t feature voice acting, the groans and grunts of the characters help give the game its own identity. Music is memorable here, too, with numerous tracks covering the breadth of themes that are on offer in the game. Some of these tunes will stick with you well after turning off the game.

Collector’s Corner
If you’re out there looking to score a physical copy of the original N64 version of the game, you might have to shell out quite a bit of money these days, particularly for North American or PAL versions. Japanese versions are quite a bit cheaper, especially if you pick one up in Japan. I managed to grab a complete version of the game off of the Amazon Marketplace here in Japan for around ¥750 back in 2018 (at the time, that was around $7 USD). My copy of the game is complete and comes with the box, manual, control reference card, inserts and plastic bag. It’s a pretty clean set overall, especially considering the price I paid for it. 
If you’re a lover of N64 box art but don't have a lot of cash to throw around, Nintendo kind of has your back. You probably already know that the Switch Nintendo 64 app features the front box art for all of the games that comes to the service. Of course, the Japanese version of the app is no different. As long as you have a Japanese My Nintendo account (setting one up is free and super easy), you can check out and play Japanese versions, too. 

*Note* The Japanese version of the app is listed as "NINTENDO 64 Nintendo Switch Online" as opposed to the English versions which are listed as "Nintendo 64 - Nintendo Switch Online." 

Even over two decades later, Banjo-Kazooie is still a treat to play. The gameplay is tight and responsive, the characters are charming and the humor still hits. At the time of its release, Rare showed that they could not only make an excellent 3D platformer, but also one that rivals offerings from Nintendo. While it obviously is a bit dated by today’s standards visually, Banjo-Kazooie is still an absolute blast to play.  I know I’m super late to the party on this one, but I’m glad that I finally got around to it. For now, let’s turn things over to you. When did you first play Banjo-Kazooie? Do you have any fun anecdotes to share? What is your favorite level in the game? For the record, mine is probably Freezeezy Peak. Sound off in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

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