Banjo-KazooieBanjo-Kazooie is one of my all time favorite games, almost to the point where I believe it's the best 3D platformer ever made, ever. Nothing topped this game in this field (MAYBE except the sequel in its own little way), and nothing will with the way things are going... I don't know, something about first person shooters, RPGs and Devil May Cry ripoffs just don't feel as good as the good old days where platformers roamed the earth. Nothing wrong with those games if they're done well, but - especially with first person shooters - they kind of aren't at times.
It starts with a witch called Gruntilda, who wants to be seen as a hot woman, but when she learns that there's somebody better looking than her, she takes to the skies and kidnaps Banjo's little sister, Tooty. From there on, Banjo and Kazooie have to get to Gruntilda's lair and rescue his sister before her beauty and innocence are stolen. The actual premise isn't too bad, but it's the characters that really stand out. Each character feels like their own separate entity, offering different personalities, and with that, comes hilarity. An example is that every time you go learn a new move from Bottles the mole, Kazooie always has to make some smartass little quip at his expense. Pisstakes like that add to the overall light hearted nature of the game's dialogue, and honestly, if you enjoy something light hearted, you'll find this game's dialogue to be a stroke of genius!
So yeah, Banjo-Kazooie is a platformer. A very well made one, at that. Throughout each level, which is connected through a hub world – that being Gruntilda's Lair – you'll need to collect 10 jigsaw puzzles known as Jiggies in order to unlock the next level, as well as a certain amount of notes to unlock the next door within Gruntilda's Lair to enter and unlock more levels! Also within each level, you'll need to find molehills so that you can learn a new move, like the ability to fire eggs, or fly. There's usually a lot of things to do in each level, so if you're not in it for the long haul, just give yourself a checklist of things to do over others.
Most of the levels in this game are crafted in ways that manage to scream “CREATIVITY”. Each level is big and will require a bit of exploration in order to find everything, but they're crafted in ways that won't make you bust your balls to find them (unlike the sequel). What I mean is that, although the levels are big and have a lot of ground and air to cover, the Jiggies, notes and other collectibles aren't all that tough to find... with some exceptions, but with a little brainpower, you can overcome those obstacles, and that's what good level design is all about – giving the player a clue, and forcing them to connect the dots. Add some curveballs like seasonal changing, underwater exploration and giant snowman scaling, and you got yourself some very fun levels with sparks of creativity all over.
At times, you'll be required to transform. Here's where Mumbo comes in. Give him a few chrome skulls you find on your travels, and you can transform into different animals, like an ant, a crocodile, a seal, a pumpkin (not technically an animal, I know, but the rest are) and a bee. You'll need to use them for some of the jiggies in their respective levels, and I MEAN respective, because if you leave the area around the entrance of the level, you're back to being the bear and bird duo. Controlling the different animals is a bit different, considering that, aside from the bee, none of them can perform a double jump, and aside from the crocodile and bee, none of them can really attack. You're either going through small spaces, clinging onto a surface like a spider, or something else bears and birds can't do. It's a nice little distraction, and definitely offers a bit of variety into the mix.
It's all excellent, but not without its little annoyances. For one, a later level feels like it was designed by the devil himself. It's without any creativity and about as fun as a frontal lobotomy. You're at a port post-BP oil spillage, and you have to navigate through the world's biggest boat, navigating through bits and pieces to find those goddamn notes, and GOD FORBID YOU COLLECT 99 AND LEAVE THE LEVEL, because when you come back, you'll be put down to ZERO! It's not a huge necessity to collect all 100 notes in every level, but if you're a perfectionist, keep those pills nearby for when you need to turn off the N64 to go to bed, and need to collect all of those goddamn nots all over again! Could also raise the issue that there's just too much to collect, but at least everything else stays gone, unlike the notes!
Now, obviously, the graphics aren't much by today's standards, but back then, these were considered cutting edge and excellent. The textures, for then, were fairly detailed and added a layer of atmosphere to each world, and the character models were also full of life, even though today, they look like something out of some clay mation short on Youtube. That's not to say they're total shit by today's standards – why, even today, the vibrancy of the color scheme and the designs of each world is still shown at full force, and won't be pulling any punches to absorb you into the worlds, though a bit less than they did 10 years ago.
One thing that'll never age poorly, not even until the end of time, is the soundtrack. Rare's composers must've been working full force to give Super Mario 64's a run for its money, and it paid off, because this is easily one of the best soundtracks you'll ever hear, ever. Each level has their own song, and they're very suitable to the designs – like the ice level has a Christmas-y vibe to it, while the desert level makes you feel like you're in the Sahara Desert. On top of that, each tune was composed for the sake of staying in your memory, meaning that one minute with each level will ensure that you'll never, ever forget those tunes, guaranteed.
Gameplay: 4 Exactly how a platformer should be – levels that feel big, but are somewhat ultimately linear, and some fun mini games to keep you occupied, not to mention a few challenging parts that will keep you coming back to try again, though ultimately, the game is kind of easy, but fun, nonetheless, so no problems. Couple of other problems can be annoying, too.
Controls: 4.5 Easy to get the hang of, and mapped out pretty well for maximum success.
Story: 4 A bit of a silly premise, but it works quite finely. The characters have their share of personality and funny exchanges of dialogue, so there's never a dull moment here.
Graphics: 5 Some of the best graphics on the N64. Each level is brought to life by vivid colors and excellent landscaping, and the character models look good for the time.
Sound: 5 One of the best soundtracks you'll hear on the system. Always brings about the right atmosphere and the tunes are damn memorable, ones that won't be leaving your head any time soon. The other sounds are fine, too.
Lifespan: 4 Should last somewhere between 10 and 20 hours, depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, and even then, the game has you by the balls with a certain grip that just doesn't want you to stop playing. No doubt, you'll be playing this again sometime into the future.
Funfactor: 4.5 Each part of the game is just so much fun to go through! There's never a dull moment; even exploring the levels is fun as shit. Now if only one level wasn't such a prick...
Bottom Line: Banjo-Kazooie is the finest example of how to do a 3D platformer right. Everything that's in the game is just so finely executed and works so well in sync with one another, that it's impossible to really hate this game, unless you don't like platformers, or if you're an ultra-perfectionist – in which case, don't blame me for massive weight gain while collecting everything that needs to be collected! But other than that, if you have an N64 or Xbox Live, find a copy of this game, and go for it!