The classic 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie (1998) was fantastic enough to warrant a sequel. But we never did play it. That is until July 2020. Huzzah!
Despite our love for Nintendo’s console and Banjo-Kazooie, we didn’t pick up the sequel. This is largely due to N64 Magazine and its score of 81%.
20 years on and our initial reaction to the Banjo-Tooie experience was delight. It was like catching up with an old friend.
The quality of the 3D platforming on display here is intriguing—it’s genuinely still an enjoyable experience.
You get to do lots of fun stuff like this, helping out the community’s beasts, and it’s all rather charming and atmospheric.
However, there are plenty of issues. Unlike its predecessor, this time out the story is strangely invasive to the gameplay experience.
The first hour is frustrating in its stop-start approach. You can’t just play the thing, there are cutscenes, dialogue boxes, NPC instructions lists etc. It drags on and on.
But when you do get playing, it’s good fun. And Rare’s sense of humour really shines through with the character dialogue.
The developer even bumps off Goggles early on when Gruntilda (the antagonist) blows him up. Some of the dark humour after that is subtle, but amusing.
Hinting at what lay ahead for the notorious Conkey’s Bad Fur Day (2001).
As a game, Banjo-Tooie is a fairly standard advance on the original. It’s 3D platforming, with action and adventure elements.
Rare just ramped up the amount going on, with new characters, more to do, and yet more to collect (we’ll get to that in a moment).
For example, you get to play as the quite brilliant Mumbo. We found that guy hilarious in 1998 and we still love him now.
Taking control of his character was like a dream come true! We love him as he’s straight to the point. And that voice!
No messing around with words with this guy, it’s just “bear” and “bird” and direct instructions on what to do.
However, the game’s focus is still on a grand scale collectathon. Rare was pretty obsessed with that approach at the time, even thumping the concept into Jet Force Gemini (also 1999).
It’s remarkable it was pelting out so many games in this period—from 1995 to 2001 the developer in Twycross, Leicestershire was flat out on many major productions.
Whether that pressure led to the mass exodus of staff just before Microsoft bought the developer in 2002… we don’t know.
What we do know is that finished product is to a high standard. It just doesn’t quite do anything new with Banjo world.
There are new features and additions, but a lot of them (such as Kazooie’s egg firing FPS) are pretty frustrating to use. And rather pointless.
Positives? Grant Kirkhope (who also voices Mumbo in the first two games) took care of the soundtrack (as he did for Donkey Kong 64 in 1999) and it’s largely excellent.
There’s a sharp, echo happy, and melodic nature to all of the tunes.
Really, it’s a joy to listen to. Most of the time, anyway, with a catchy version of Teddy Bears’ Picnic (yeah, it features prominently in the first one as well).
That all adds to the sense of fun in Banjo-Tooie. It’s an enjoyable game and we really got a kick out of returning to an old school 3D platformer.
Ultimately, it delivers what its predecessor did—but some of the attempts to advance the series onwards are actually a step back.
Our verdict? Bloody good fun, very charming, and well worth your time! Just don’t go in expecting a masterpiece.
It shows its age, yet also highlights the very best aspects of gaming in the 1990s. And why Rare was such a creative powerhouse of the era.