I remember as a child when I first picked up Banjo-Kazooie and was blown away by its simple yet intuitive gameplay and its unique approach to bringing platforming to 3D. Being a platformer on the Nintendo 64, it had to contend with Super Mario 64. With its own unique flavor, it ended up holding its own. Years later, after a lot of drama, which ended with Rare leaving Nintendo, they finally release this game again on Xbox Live Arcade. I was extremely excited to say the least. Luckily, this game still is amazing thanks to it being accessible, fun and still quite unique even today.
The game starts off simply enough: the kidnapping of Banjo the bear’s sister. You set out on an adventure to find and stop the evil witch Gruntilda with the help of Banjo’s best friend Kazooie. Gruntilda merely wants to turn Banjo’s sister ugly and herself beautiful. It is a very simple story, but the gameplay is top notch.
It throws you in by giving you a whole tutorial level (which you can choose to skip). It will teach you the basic moves and how to use them, while giving you the opportunity to use those moves to upgrade your health right from the get go. You then venture into the lair of the witch and into the first world. Your goal is simple for the most part. You want to collect jigsaw pieces in order to unlock more worlds and collect musical notes in order to unlock access to more of the lair. Of course, acquiring these pieces is what is makes the game exciting. Each world is unique and has its own flavor of fun to add. Luckily, practically every world has at least one new move to teach you which helps distinguish each world as its own unique entity from a gameplay standpoint. There are other cool collectibles to acquire as well. As you complete each world, you then get back to the over world (Gruntilda's Lair) in order to figure out how to get to the next world. It isn't as straightforward as that though. There are secrets to be found within the over world as well, not to mention that once you get past the first couple worlds or so, you can then tackle the game however you want in any order. Granted you might have a little work to do in order to get to some places and some jiggies you won't be able to get because they may require a move in a level you skipped, but the freedom is still nice. Outside of open-world games, this type of freedom is oftentimes lacking these days due to the push for casual gamers, and thus forcing linearity.
The game controls beautifully too, with all the N64 controls mapped fairly successfully to the Xbox 360’s controller. However, the camera still only has one step movements as if it were using the C-Buttons from the N64 controller. This can lead to some really jerky camera movements that can be jarring at times, but overall it plays fine.
The game looks great too. Granted, compared to graphics now things are quite blocky, but it has been updated a little for widescreen display. Since it is now made for HD, it is a little more smooth and clear than the N64 version. Compared to the majority of other Xbox Live Arcade games at release, it looks fantastic. The game sounds fantastic too. It contains much of Rare's wonderful compositional work. A lot of the tunes are silly, but they fit the mood. They are extremely catchy and it’s unlikely you will get tired of listening to them at all. The sound effects are also wacky and silly, which is very fitting to the nature and style of the game. The sound effects are meant to put a smile on your face, and likely will.
Unfortunately though, the game isn't too replayable. Once you do a 100% run the only reason you will want to come back is to replay some of the fun levels or try to beat your times on a handful of the timed events or the Jigsaw Puzzles at the beginning of the game. The game doesn’t need it, but not having multiplayer also takes away from the replayability. The achievements in this game are also extremely easy. As long as you are playing for a 100% run you will get them all, except one. One of them requires you to complete a bunch of Jigsaw Puzzles in a nigh impossible time. The first couple are easy enough, but as you go on the puzzle pieces get flipped and mixed up a lot, and the time requirement stays at really fast time. For those of you achievement hunters out there, this one should be pretty simple to accomplish overall.
In the end, this was one of the most charming games released for the Nintendo 64, and it remains charming to this day with its re-release on the Xbox 360. To make things better, unlocking everything in this game will give you the opportunity to unlock stuff in Banjo's third console game: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.
If you are an Xbox One player, then keep in mind this game will be playable on the Xbox One if you purchased it on the Xbox 360 as soon as the backward compatibility patch releases (tentatively) next month. If you purchase Rare Replay for the Xbox One, this will be one of the games you will be able to play out of the box (Be warned, the game is not on the disc. You will still need to download it to play.).
The quirky characters, fun boss battles, loads of collectibles, great music, and fantastic gameplay will definitely make this a great purchase for those of you craving a more complete game than most that are available on Xbox Live Arcade. You won't be disappointed with this gem.
~ Teepu (Bowser05)