Nintendo may have revolutionised the industry with Super Mario 64, but Rare completely outclassed its parent company’s effort with its own 3D platformer, Banjo-Kazooie.
Released in 1998, Banjo-Kazooie borrows a lot of the core ideas from Nintendo’s first 3D Mario game: exploration, a mission-based structure and a number of worlds all connected through a single, interactive hub.
But Rare during the late ’90s had made a habit of upstaging Nintendo at every opportunity (Diddy Kong Racing, being a prime example). With Banjo-Kazooie, it delivered a much deeper gameplay experience than that found in Super Mario 64. The game’s pair of protagonists – Banjo, a honey bear (who first appeared in Diddy Kong Racing) and Kazooie, a red-crested “breegull” – can learn new moves as you progress through the game. Much like many of Rare’s other games at the time, collecting objects and items is a core gameplay element.
In Banjo-Kazooie, Tooty (Banjo’s sister) has been kidnapped by the evil witch, Gruntilda, who plans to use an experimental machine to steal Tooty’s good looks for herself. As a result, Banjo and Kazooie must travel to nine different worlds to collect Jiggies, magical jigsaw pieces that open up new areas of Gruntilda’s Lair (the game’s hub world), and eventually face off against the evil witch herself. There are 100 Jiggies to collect (although not all of them are required to reach the end).
Banjo-Kazooie was borne out of Project Dream, a cancelled Super Nintendo Entertainment System adventure game. Over time, the game underwent multiple changes, one of which resulted in the game’s protagonist becoming a bear, who later became Banjo. Project Dream was cancelled as a result of Rare’s focus switching to the N64; in March 1997, the game’s development team moved on to start creating Banjo-Kazooie from scratch for the N64.
Banjo-Kazooie is the first game in the Banjo-Kazooie series. A direct sequel, Banjo-Tooie, was released on the N64 in 2000. In 2008, Banjo-Kazooie was re-released on Xbox 360 (following Microsoft’s acquisition of Rare in 2002). This version was ported to the system by 4J Studios and features improved visuals and some minor gameplay tweaks. This enhanced version was also re-released for the Xbox One as part of the Rare game compilation, Rare Replay.