Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…Luke Malkin’s World – #36: Banjo-Kazooie

In N64, Xbox 360 on May 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Today’s post is by Luke Malkin.

Title: Banjo-Kazooie

Format: N64, Xbox 360 (XBLA)

Released: 17th July, 1998

BK Box Art

Because I’m a box-ticker of a human being, back in the days where you thought it was a good idea to brand your Facebook profile with anything you’ve ever liked, one of the first groups I joined was called “Banjo-Kazooie was my childhood”. Such is my fanboy allegiance to this classic.

Anyone who paid attention to the history of the N64 will know how Rare, the British game developers from Tycross, really bolstered Nintendo’s gaming collection. While Nintendo created the backbone with arguably some of the greatest video games of all time (Ocarina of Time, Lylatwars, Mario Kart 64), Rare filled out the N64 with some real gems. When I look back on my N64 cartridge collection it’s Rare, with titles like Goldeneye, Diddy Kong Racing and Donkey Kong 64 that evoke a stronger sense of nostalgia. But nothing makes my childish heart flutter like their pinnacle; Banjo-Kazooie.

BK Bridge

A colourful adventure classic, Banjo the bear and Kazooie the breegull explore the lair of rhyming-couplet aficionado Gruntilda the Witch to rescue Banjo’s sister Tooty. The worlds are diverse and sub-plots run rife; varying from saving Clanker (Gruntilda’s metal garbage grinder shark) from the dirty water he’s stuck in, to paying attention to Brentilda the good-fairy as she offers dirty secrets about her ugly sister.

BK makes a first impression like no other. In a prelude to the DK Rap in Donkey Kong 64, Banjo and the gang introduce you to the game with a performance of the title’s opening theme.

It is the welcome call for a generation of gamers who would then mature with Rare games during the N64’s era (culminating with Conker’s Bad Fur Day). Sure, Banjo himself debuted in Diddy Kong Racing where he was pretty handy in a hovercraft, but when you look at Banjo-Kazooie, you see a game where the creative team were given free roam and knocked it out of the park.

Banjo-Kazooie exhibits a special type of humour; I wonder whether it’s a cultural thing. Banjo-Kazooie just feels more British. Whilst Super Mario 64 will give you all the necessary information to progress in the game, you get little else. Plus the character development of Mario rarely strays beyond a “Mamma-Mia!”

BK Flying

Compare this to how much you grow to love Gruntilda’s rhyming taunts as you move around her lair, or the ruthless arrogance of Mr. Vile the crocodile. You don’t catch Bowser doing this. BK’s characters have personality. Banjo-Kazooie feels better than Super Mario 64. The reason? Story.

And it’s that story, ultimately, that I look for in videogames. That’s not to say Banjo-Kazooie won’t puzzle and challenge you, but its story and characters add layers of enjoyment and charm. BK’s plot bases itself on a simple parodic fairytale premise; it even opens with the line “Dingpot Dingpot by the bench, who is the nicest looking wench?” before going on to develop into a lovely adventure yarn with an odd style all of its own.

The characters are well-balanced. Take the relationship between Kazooie and Bottles (the mole that teaches you all the moves). Kazooie has attitude and sass; she’s literally a feisty bird. Bottles is an unassuming, almost pitiable mole. Bottles knows the moves, Kazooie doesn’t. It starts a motivated rivalry that’s a joy to watch unfold.


Just try it, nerd

Banjo, the natural counterpart to Kazooie, is much more laid back, allowing other characters to shine through. Characters like Mumbo Jumbo, the skull-faced shaman who inconsiderately decides to build his hut in increasingly difficult-to-reach places as the game goes on. But once you find him and have enough Mumbo Tokens, he’ll transform you into a range of different creatures (from a mini-croc to a bumble bee) which allow further access to the worlds, hunting for jigsaw pieces that get you further into Gruntilda’s lair for the big showdown.

Then, Grunty’s Furnace Fun. Which comes out of nowhere.

BK Grunty's Furnace Fun

That’s right. A gameshow that tests you (in rhyme) on the story so far. My face lit up the first time I experienced it. It’s so beautifully pitched, and gives you an opportunity to look back over the journey you’ve taken with this game. Once the fun is over, the tone shifts as you climb the final stairs for your battle with Grunty herself on the roof of her lair. It’s epic.

The atmosphere of the game is further built by its music, which is crafted beautifully. Just thinking of Freezy Peaks’ theme runs a tingle down my spine. It interchanges fluidly too from one area to another in a real demonstration of game developing class.

Years on I can play this game with the child-like glee that I did when I was 9. But Banjo-Kazooie wasn’t just my childhood. It’s snuck into a lot of my academic writing too. At English Language A-Level, I compared its language use with Metal Gear Solid for a piece of coursework and at Master’s level Film and TV, I even devised a 6-part children’s television series called Banjo & Kazooie: Lost in Click Clock Wood. And, given my readiness to write this article, I don’t think Banjo-Kazooie will ever be out of my system.

In fact, I established a rule a couple of years ago for all future girlfriends that they are to play through this game in its entirety if I’m to ever ask them to marry me. Because they just won’t understand me enough for me to want to commit my life to them until they’ve experienced the glorious gaming experience that is Banjo-Kazooie.

Luke Malkin

Luke Malkin is a filmmaker and general creative-type. To learn more, have a look at his website and follow him on Twitter. If you liked this article, and enjoy Formula One, you might be interested in his F1 blog too. He’s also – as you can see – bangin’ hot. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to complete Banjo-Kazooie.

  1. […] just been featured on the Games that Rocked my World blog, by Jon Gracey. Here’s a link to the article, about Banjo […]

  2. You are my hero! Banjo-Kazooie is one of my (many) favourite video games of all time! What I love about it so much is how it carries so much imagination, creativity and charm all the same.

    ~ Wesley Butler

  3. […] coloured, cartoon-esque, surreal bounty hunters and trolls). I became so emotionally attached to Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 that I couldn’t really understand why all video games […]


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