Banjo-Kazooie is a timeless N64 game that didn’t need remastering. Nevertheless, Rare’s 2008 re-release is proof that you can make an already great game even greater with the right approach.

When Banjo-Kazooie first released in 1998, it made an indelible mark on the gaming landscape. Super Mario 64 had released two years earlier and revolutionised the gaming industry in the process; Banjo-Kazooie built upon the ideas laid out in Nintendo’s superb effort and ultimately ended up outclassing it in almost every way. In particular, Rare’s bear ‘n’ bird platformer was visually superior to all other N64 games at the time, even The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which didn’t release until almost six months later.

Banjo-Kazooie title screen (Xbox 360)

Recently, I’ve been playing through Banjo-Kazooie on the Xbox One and streaming these playthrough sessions over Twitch. The version of the game I’ve been using is, in fact, the 2008 remaster that was released on Xbox 360, but it was recently re-released again as a part of the Rare game compilation, Rare Replay.

My reason for choosing this version was purely a technical one; I don’t currently have the means to reliably stream N64 games from an original console. Nevertheless, I also believe that it’s the superior version. To some, this may seem like sacrilege, but the great thing about this Banjo-Kazooie remake is that it retains everything that made the original great, while adding a few new features, some of which help to make it that bit more palatable to those more used to modern games.

Treasure Trove Cove from Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox 360 version)

What’s the difference between the original Banjo-Kazooie and the Xbox 360 remaster?

The Xbox 360 version (which is also playable on Xbox One):

  • is displayed in up to 1080p resolution (widescreen) and runs at a locked 30 frames per second
  • features high-resolution textures and improved draw distance
  • includes the previously removed “Stop ‘n’ Swop” feature, which also appears in Banjo-Tooie and enables you to unlock things in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
  • has online leaderboards where you can compare your progress against your friends
  • removes the requirement to collect each world’s 100 musical notes in a single life or run.

The musical note fix makes the biggest difference to the overall experience. In the original game, collecting musical notes in some of the later worlds could prove incredibly frustrating thanks to some pretty devious platforming segments that felt like insta-death moments (I’m looking at you, Rusty Bucket Bay!).

Banjo-Kazooie save file screen (Xbox 360)

Apparently, this was how it was meant to work in the original N64 version, but hardware limitations at the time prevented the development team from implementing a system that could keep track of the current number of notes across multiple worlds. Regardless, this change doesn’t dumbs down the game, and rather it just streamlines it. It is ideal for those of us who have since grown up and taken on a number of life commitments in the process.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The re-release’s enhanced visuals aren’t groundbreakingly different, but they do impact the gameplay funnily enough. The increased draw distance means that areas and items are visible from much farther afield. It’s unknown whether Rare originally intended to limit the player’s view to encourage exploration or whether this was a hardware limitation, but ultimately I don’t think it really matters. If you see something of interest, you’re going to go take a peek at it, not to mention that those who played the original multiple times probably know exactly where everything is anyway.

Freezeezy Peak from Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox 360 version)

The fact that the Xbox 360 version haven’t been drastically overhauled from a visual standpoint goes to show just how well the original graphics have aged. I’ve been playing the N64 version in tandem with my Xbox One game – mainly so I can refresh my memory ahead of the stream, but also because I don’t have a game save on my EverDrive 64 cartridge yet – and it’s remarkable how well it holds up against the newer edition. Of course, I should mention that I’m playing it on a CRT TV using an RGB-modded N64; plug that system into an LCD TV and suddenly it’s a stretched, blurry and dull mess.

If you’re not used to the blocky, low-poly visuals of early 3D games, then you may think that Banjo-Kazooie looks primitive, especially when you compare it alongside modern games. That said, the colourful and vibrant cartoon-style visuals have certainly aged much better than virtually all of the N64’s more “realistic” offerings.

Timeless design

Putting the visuals and features aside, the real reason you should play Banjo-Kazooie on the Xbox 360 or Xbox One is because it’s still a great game to play. Rare didn’t make drastic changes to the game not because it didn’t want to, but because it didn’t have to. Banjo-Kazooie’s game worlds are now miniscule compared to the large open-world environments found in modern games, but they’re still immensely fun to explore.

Bubblegloop Swamp from Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox 360)

Part of it is down to the fact that Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t really guide you on what to do next. It’s about diving into a world, taking a look around and trying things out. Such a formula naturally creates frustration at times – you’ll miss something or have absolutely no idea what you need to do. But when you do work something out for yourself or overcome a challenging part, you feel a great sense of reward (such as when I was elated to defeat that bloody Mr Vile at his own mini-game).

Want to learn more about Banjo-Kazooie for Xbox 360 and Xbox One?

Why not check out our stream? Follow us on Twitch to receive a notification when we’re next live. You can also follow us on Twitter, where we’re able to give advance notice of when we’ll be streaming. If you want to see earlier broadcasts, we’ve also got recorded versions up on Twitch and YouTube.

Gruntilda's Lair as seen in Banjo-Kazooie for Xbox 360

Alternatively, you can try it out for yourself, provided you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One that is. When it comes to the Xbox One, I recommend buying Rare Replay. That way you also get Banjo-Tooie and Perfect Dark in remastered form, as well as spruced-up ports of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Killer Instinct Gold and Jet Force Gemini. It’s not a bad deal given Rare Replay’s relatively low asking price.

Held B to skip all this boring dialogue?

Banjo-Kazooie musical intro sequence (Xbox 360 version)

What I’m saying is nothing short of blasphemy on a blog dedicated to N64, but the remastered version of Banjo-Kazooie for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One is without a doubt the best version of the game. That’s primarily because Rare didn’t tamper too much with the original formula when transferring it across to the vastly more powerful Xbox 360; the gameplay is virtually identical, with the exception of the musical note system, which has been streamlined for the better.