Game Review: Banjo-Kazooie

Guitar and flute.

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo 64 (reviewed), Xbox 360

Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favorite N64 games. I remember playing this game a ton back when I was a kid. But I never actually managed to beat it. Mostly because I got stuck at the final level, the one with the four seasons, for a long time and then again during the game-show bit just before the final battle. But now that I’ve bought a little emulation machine (a GPD XD), I can play all these old games at work, because whenever I’ve got shifts where nothing happens, I’ve got plenty of time to play some games. And I played through the entire thing in a couple of days and finally managed to beat it.

So first and foremost: Fuck that final boss fight against Grunty. Holy shit was that a tough fight. I have absolutely no qualms in saying that I’m thankful I played this on an emulator because without save-states, I would’ve chucked that handheld at a wall in record time. This one particular fight really expects way too much from the player, especially given the options the player has. You need way too many eggs and feathers to beat this fight properly, especially when you die and lose all those bonus feathers and eggs you get for collecting all the notes. Having Grunty shoot off an endless number of rapid fireballs interspersed with homing spells you can’t dodge while trying to align yourself with tiny holes in order to shoot eggs into them is leagues more difficult than any other challenge the game presents otherwise, that it kinda tarnishes all the things that come before. Not that the game-show bit was any better really. The trivia stuff was absolute bullshit and the sudden-death fields are even more bullshit. Again, save-states kept me from doing this shit over and over again, but I now remember the seething rage I felt when I played this as a kid.

Now I don’t want to complain about that final stretch of the game too much, because the rest holds up exactly as I remembered it. It’s the kind of wholesome 3D platforming fun that made me fall in love with these games and I really enjoyed all the gameplay elements they give you with all the varied worlds you get to explore. Sure, there are certain levels that can either get a bit repetitive or a bit too fiddly when it comes to precision platforming, but for the most part, it was still enjoyable going back to all these levels. Even the whole collect-a-thon aspect didn’t bother me at all, to the point where I collected all the Jiggies and notes. The only thing I didn’t really bother with were the empty honeycombs for extra health.

What did strike me as kinda odd is that the levels are way smaller than I remember them. This is very likely nostalgia talking, but in my memory, they were way larger than they actually are. Dunno why it appears to be that way but it is.

The only thing that I really think could’ve been done “better” – for a lack of a better word – are the transformation bits. Primarily I would’ve liked to see more of them, because it’s a neat little gimmick in order to give players more variety when it comes to level exploration. What’s kind of lacking about it though is that during your transformed states, the actual gameplay interactions you get to make are drastically reduced. The special abilities you gain from the transformations are sometimes kind of token. Sure, the crocodile lets you wade through piranha water and the walrus lets you walk through freezing water, but in essence, it’s the same thing. Really only the bee and the crocodile feature interesting abilities with their flying and chomping gameplay respectively. And it’s also a shame that only five out of nine worlds feature these transformations.

In any case, I’m glad to say that my nostalgia for this game is not unwarranted. I enjoyed revisiting this game very much even if the final stretch of the game I missed all those years ago didn’t turn out to be all that spectacular.



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