Banjo Kazooie Review: A Trip Down Memory Lane
The Bear and Bird Are Back!
Banjo-Kazooie was a game that captured our hearts as children. I remember watching my siblings play the game on the Nintendo 64 back when I was just a kid. Once I was old enough to play video games, I tried the game for myself. I remember beating up baddies, taking on sidequests, and partaking in the trivia game shows before the big head-to-head with Grunty. The whole journey felt like traveling to an endlessly magical place.
It was an age of great fun for Nintendo fans, but Microsoft swooped in and purchased RARE shortly after. Our heroes were whisked away to Xbox, never to be seen on a Nintendo console again… or so we thought. After a pit-stop in Smash Bros., the bear and bird are home once more, taking us back to where it all started.
When I saw that Banjo-Kazooie would be coming to Switch Online, I was overjoyed! I honestly didn’t think Banjo-Kazooie would ever see a release on another Nintendo console. I hadn’t played the original release since middle school, as I never owned an Xbox 360/One. On Friday, January 21st, 2022, I bought the Switch Online Expansion Pack, and it was finally time to relive my childhood.
When I saw the opening cutscene unfold before my eyes, a wave of nostalgia hit me. I felt like I had traveled back in time. I was once again face-to-face with Gruntilda the Witch in all her evil glory. Grunty reveals a dastardly plan to kidnap Tooty, Banjo’s little sister, in a scheme to steal Tooty’s beauty for herself. Soon after, Grunty swoops in and kidnaps the helpless little bear. The titular Banjo and Kazooie wake up from all the commotion, only to hear Grunty’s insidious cackle. Thus, the intro ends, and the timeless adventure begins!
Before setting off on my grand adventure to stop Grunty, I spent time on Spiral Mountain relearning Banjo and Kazooie’s moves. Concerns about emulation and controls popped up on social media before launch, but my personal experience was a pretty smooth one. Everything felt excellent, even without an N64 controller or its Switch replica in my hands. I played with a Switch Pro Controller from start to finish, and it felt pretty great! The only minor issue I encountered was when firing eggs from Kazooie’s mouth, as the camera would sometimes shift, or the Wonder Wing ability would be mistakenly activated. Unfortunately, this issue persisted throughout my playtime, constantly draining my gold feathers.
Once inside Grunty’s Lair, you’ll find nine levels to explore, each housing 10 Jiggies that aid you in unlocking the paths ahead. You’ll visit locations like Mumbo’s Mountain, Treasure Trove Cove, Clanker’s Cavern, Bubble Gloop Swamp, and many others. In addition to the Jiggies, there are one hundred musical notes to collect in these stages, and they come with a caveat. Unlike Jiggies, you have to collect all one hundred notes without dying. If you die during the collection process, you’ll have to start all over again. That’s what happened to me a few times on Rusty Bucket Bay, which proved difficult in both this playthrough and my childhood run as well! Once you gather enough notes between levels, they’re used to break open spell doors and progress deeper into the lair.
There’s a lot of fun to be had while traveling through Grunty’s Lair and its levels, which is due in no small part to the sheer variety of environments. Since I’m equal parts beach bum and horror enthusiast, it’s probably no surprise that Treasure Trove Cove and Mad Monster Mansion ended up being my favorites. That said, I also have a soft spot for Click Clock Wood, as I definitely enjoyed how it blends all four seasons into one giant stage.
Adding to the delight is the soundtrack composed by the infamous Grant Kirkhope. His choice of instruments, such as the steel drum for Treasure Trove Cove, along with catchy arrangements, make the game and its atmosphere that much more memorable. One of my personal favorites is the theme heard during a battle with Gruntilda. It’s the game’s final showdown, and the fate of everything is resting on the shoulders of Banjo and Kazooie. The intensity and tempo of the song’s opening seconds certainly let you know that you’re in for a fight!
Banjo-Kazooie heaps on another layer of charm through its supporting cast. You’ll be introduced to countless characters, including Mumbo, Bottles, and even a talking toilet named Loggo. Mumbo, a witch doctor, transforms Banjo into different creatures, such as a termite and a pumpkin. Bottles the mole teaches Banjo and Kazooie multiple moves throughout their journey, each more invaluable than the last. The aforementioned Loggo can be found in Mad Monster Mansion, and he uses his rather crude ability to flush Banjo through a series of pipes to gain a precious collectible. Mumbo, Bottles, and Loggo all help highlight the silliness and fun of Banjo-Kazooie in general. Through conversations about Banjo’s transformations, as well as witty banter between Kazooie and the side characters, you’ll be treated to many a chuckle-worthy moment.
Banjo-Kazooie’s writing in general helps the entire cast come to life. Everyone has a little something to their dialog that helps them stand out. For example, Grunty always speaks in rhymes. “That ugly bear, you feathered freak, is nothing but a stupid geek!” While Kazooie might not be much for rhymes, she undoubtedly has a penchant for sarcasm and biting humor. You’ll get a taste of this right out of the gate, as Kazooie quickly latches onto the nickname “Goggle Boy” for Bottles, thanks to his incredibly thick-rimmed glasses.
Sadly, my revisit to Banjo Kazooie didn’t last long. Just one short week after I purchased the Switch Online Expansion Pack, I finished Banjo-Kazooie. It was great to replay a game I thought I’d never have another chance to, especially on a modern Nintendo console. The way everything comes together, including levels, music, and cast, is the reason why we fell in love with Banjo-Kazooie as kids and find it similarly engaging decades later.
The only thing left now is to hope RARE will bring the sequel, Banjo Tooie, to the Switch as well. I know I’d love a second chance to play another of my N64 favorites, and I’m guessing many others feel the same way.