|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
When the Nintendo 64 system was released, Super Mario 64 was the flagship title. The game's wild success prompted a deluge of clones; even Nintendo has not proven immune to the wave. But Banjo-Kazooie, for the N64, is not another "me-too": it matches the quality of its predecessor, and may even exceed it.
The story's protagonists are Banjo, a honey bear (who made a premature cameo in the Diddy Kong Racing game), and Kazooie, and the bird who lives in his backpack. When Banjo's kid sister, Tooty, is kidnapped by Gruntilda the witch, it's up to the unlikely duo to rescue her by conquering a variety worlds.
Whereas Mario was in search of stars and red coins, Banjo is looking for puzzle pieces, music notes, jinjo birds, and honey combs, just to name a few. These items provide him with the keys necessary to proceed from one world to the next, and ultimately, to Gruntilda's lair.
The gameplay is similar to Mario 64, but Banjo & Kazooie have a unique repertoire of moves. They interact with each other in myriad ways to punch, jump, climb, and fly. The moves are introduced individually to the player by Bottles, a friendly mole who instructs players and increases their abilities. Thanks to these training sessions, the assortment of button combinations necessary to perform the moves is easily learned, not confusing.
The graphics are smoother than Mario 64, and more diverse. Snowy mountains, pirate coves, and green mountains resemble that other game, but are portrayed differently and are not redundant. There are many characters with whom to interact or to defeat, each with their own look, complete with wonderful coloring and shading. The camera work could stand to be improved: it is often fixed in unfavorable positions, or none of the available positions are optimal. But it is easy to overlook this slight flaw.
The music utilizes many instruments — including banjos and kazoos. One track fades out while another smoothly fades in as Banjo moves from area to area. The characters "speak" with humorous sounds, from the witch's cackles to Tooty's hurried squeals.
Banjo-Kazooie has so much more to do than Mario 64, it's incredible. The worlds are not bigger, but the items are more plentiful and well-hidden. There's good incentive to search them all out, but the game insists that any series of items — for example, all the music notes — be found in a single try, not between games or lives. So if you've found 95 notes, either keep looking for those last few, or commit yourself to starting over later.
Leave it to Nintendo to create a brilliant genre that quickly becomes devoted to tired retreads, and to then revitalize it with another game. At its core, Banjo-Kazooie is a clone, but the improvements and additions make it an excellent title in itself. Those who were left wanting more by Mario 64 and haven't found it elsewhere, will with this game.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 20-Jul-98