Welcome to the first entry in our Series Showdown series…? Regardless of its title, here is where we will compare games in a series to each other and try to determine its “definitive” entry. Our first showdown will focus on Rare’s classic and memorable Banjo-Kazooie series (excluding Banjo Pilot). We will evaluate the games in order of release based on their gameplay, music, story/characters, level design and humor.
Platforms: Nintendo 64/ Xbox 360
First Released: June 29, 1998
Banjo-Kazooie is an extremely good 3D platformer which grows along with the player. As the player progresses and becomes more familiar with the game, Banjo will find more moves and abilities. Easy controls allow all types of gamers to pick up the game. Banjo can transform in some levels which changes up the gameplay in a refreshing way. As the game progressed so did the difficulty which climaxed at the epic final battle and was Rare’s first 3D platformer with loads of collectibles and lots to see.
Banjo series composer Grant Kirkhope composed one of the best soundtracks in video games hands down! Each level had its own unique feel which made them so memorable. Each theme seamlessly changes in tone, pace, pitch and intensity depending on where Banjo is in the level or when certain tasks are completed. Each track was its own masterpiece and fit in perfectly with its location.
Banjo-Kazooie has an average story which is cliche to the collect-a-thon genre. The game has tons of memorable characters with distinct personalities which drive the game’s charm and wit.
Each of the 9 memorable levels has an iconic set piece or gimmick that makes them feel completely different from one another. Grunty’s lair does a fantastic job of connecting these different worlds as well as putting the enormity of the game to scale.
Banjo-Kazooie’s humor is arguably what made this game age so well. Grunty’s rhyming, Kazooie’s jabs at other characters and the game’s suggestive themes are constantly present and are the glue of Rare’s Banjo formula. There are points where the player will question its ERSB rating due to the humor and puns.
Platforms: Nintendo 64/ Xbox 360
First Released: November 20, 2000
Banjo-Tooie polished Banjo-Kazooie’s already excellent platforming by adding new moves as well as improving others. The inclusion of Mumbo Jumbo as a playable character is a welcome addition and great fan service. There are more Banjo transformations but some were reused from the previous game. However, the new ones are more appealing and creative. There are much more collectibles but overall the game lacked the gradual difficulty curve that the first game had.
Banjo-Tooie had great tracks, but sadly they cannot compare to its predecessor. These tracks are still great, but many of the tracks in the levels didn’t have the catch or connectedness with their level that Banjo-Kazooie had.
The story in Tooie is much better than Banjo-Kazooie and most platformers and the game is more cinematic than its predecessor. Rare continued to push tight gameplay over story, which was a smart move. Yet most of the new characters in Banj0-Tooie are not as memorable as the veteran cast.
Banjo-Tooie has 8 levels, not including Cauldron keep, and overall they are not as good or memorable as Banjo-Kazooie’s levels. Levels like Witchyworld, Hailfire Peaks and Terrydactyland are exceptional, but levels in this game are hindered by their scale and seem too big at times. Banjo-Tooie implemented world connectivity which makes navigating for collectibles very tedious and seems unnecessary.
Newcomers to the Banjo series should play the first game to really comprehend the jokes. Unfortunately Grunty ditched her rhymes partway through the game. Arguably the funniest part of Banjo games is the dialogue between characters and the Kazooie/Jamjars and Mumbo/Humba bickering was very funny.
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
First Released: September 10, 2003
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is the first and only portable entry in the Banjo canon. The game has a strong emphasis on separating Banjo and Kazooie but while separated the two have few unique moves. When the duo are together they retain the vast majority of their moves and abilities except flight (which is due to hardware limitations). Being a portable game limited what Banjo and Kazooie could do in this game and that is the only real negative.
Like Banjo-Tooie, the Spiral Mountain theme is the only non-original track in the game. There are less tracks in the game due to its size and though they fit well with their level, the songs are not that catchy.
Surprisingly, Grunty’s Revenge has a stronger emphasis on story. the GBA hardware limited the gameplay but the game’s story is very ambitious. Simply put, two months after the first game, Banjo must travel back in time to save Kazooie in order to prevent the witch Mecha Grunty, from erasing her defeats. Time travel is a great concept but it wasn’t used to its full potential, Banjo was sent to the past and that is it. There are even fewer new characters than Tooie and this time around, only Bozzeye (Bottles and Jamjar’s Ancestor) is worth noting.
With only 5 levels, Grunty’s Revenge is the smallest Banjo game, but that is to be expected.This is the only Banjo game that doesn’t have a level that really stands out but it does have a great hub world in Spiral Mountain. The levels are separated like Banjo-Kazooie but require more backtracking than Banjo-Tooie.
Aside from Banjo, Kazooie, Mumbo, Captain Blubber (his younger, less funny self), Grunty and Klungo, no other characters from previous installments return which limits jokes and references to other games. Kazooie is not present in the first portion of the game and Banjo’s interactions with characters are not as funny without his feathered friend. Bozzeye is reminiscent of Cranky Kong and his interactions with Banjo and Kazooie later in the game are really entertaining.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Platforms: Xbox 360
First Released: November 11, 2008
Nuts & Bolts’ gameplay is completely different from the previous games because now platforming is revolved around driving, creating and customizing vehicles with the parts you collect. This time around Kazooie has lost all of her moves and the duo resort to using a magical wrench to attack enemies while outside a vehicle. The frame rate tends to slow down at times, especially during aerial battles, which takes away from the gameplay at key moments.
Nuts & Bolts’ soundtrack is mainly comprised of recycled clips from Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie but are fully orchestrated and remixed into brand new songs. The Banjoland Track is the most beautiful piece in the series without a doubt.
The game has a great opening sequence and that’s about it… The story is really forgettable along with all the games new characters. The veteran characters often recall the previous game’s events which is cool but their designs and roles have been radically altered which is very upsetting.
All six levels (seven with DLC) are massive and require vehicles to traverse quickly which makes traditional platforming unnecessary. Banjoland is the only notable level and it is one of the greatest levels in the series because it is a massive cameo. Set pieces, factoids and jokes from previous Banjo games cover every nook and cranny of the nostalgic museum themed level. Showdown town continues the Banjo series trend of amazingly designed hub worlds.
Because Nuts & Bolts is so different, its humor feels fresh with much needed new material. Many jokes from previous games return with a new hilarious twist. Kazooie’s bad mouthing and Grunty’s rhymes are funnier than ever, even acknowledging that some new characters are lame. With the gameplay relying heavily on vehicles, car puns were not overused and quite funny.
Best Gameplay: Banjo-Tooie because it perfects the Banjo formula.
Best Music: Banjo-Kazooie because every song is catchy, memorable and simply fits.
Best Story: Banjo-Tooie because the story is slightly more deep but not too ambitious.
Best Characters: Banjo-Kazooie because every character has a distinct and memorable trait.
Best Level Design: Banjo-Kazooie because the worlds are the perfect size and 8 of 9 levels are fantastic. Sorry Clanker!
Best Charm: Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts because the comedy went back to its roots and didn’t go overboard on original material.
The “Definitive” Banjo Game is…
All the Banjo games are good in their own right but lets be honest the competition was between only two of the four games. Both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie are classics and are both contenders for the greatest 3D platformer of all time. Banjo games are known for their platforming, soundtrack, level design and comedy. While the gameplay of Banjo-Tooie is better, the connected worlds take away from what the game is all about. In Banjo-Kazooie each level is its own adventure and has its own memorable character and song. Simply put, Banjo-Kazooie gets our vote as the best Banjo game because it does Banjo better.