I’ve played Banjo Kazooie so many times on N64, I could probably describe most levels without seeing them in a long time. The Xbox 360 version has always stung me the wrong way but I don’t know why. So let’s see if Banjo Kazooie is still a good game and which version is better.
The story starts off with the witch Gruntilda, she thinks she is the prettiest woman alive. However, she finds out that Tooty is much more cuter than she is. Naturally, Gruntilda sets out to find Tooty and steal her beauty. Tooty herself is currently on her way to her brother Banjo in order to embark on a great adventure. Banjo and his friend Kazooie are still sleeping and fail to get out of bed in time while Gruntilda takes Tooty. Banjo and Kazooie, and their allies Bottles and Mumbo, have to find Gruntilda and overcome her treacherous traps in order to save Tooty.
The story is pretty basic but it works and it’s fine. The special thing about the story is the constant interaction with the villain. Gruntilda constantly mocks you with her rhymes and ridicules you when you make mistakes, creating a very personal reason to beat her. It works as good as back in the old days and constantly reminds you that Gruntilda is a b-… witch.
The Xbox Live Arcade version has something that is a curse and a blessing at the same time: While the N64 version basically had instant loading, there was still a short break in between loading times. Now, the Xbox 360 version really does have instant loading, which is good for the gameplay but awful for the immersion during the intro cut scene. No cut scene was pre-rendered. The music was made specifically with the very short loading times in mind, making the cut scenes go out-of-synch. This only applies to the intro cut scene but I have a terrible feeling regarding Banjo Tooie, which uses a ton of them. Also, the game does something special regarding the credits but it only worked in the original because the development team was small, as the characters of the game tell you about the people who made the game.
Microsoft seemed to think that it was a much better idea to instead of making a second credits scene at the end of the game, they overextend the already existing credits, making them around three times longer and also makes the entire idea of the credits a bad one, as it takes way too long for the characters to deal with both development teams. They could have fixed that by increasing the speed of the text but not only didn’t they do that, they also simply reused the characters that already appeared to introduce the team. It’s really off-putting and I think that the out-of-synch intro and the credits put the N64 version above the Xbox version, at least in terms of consistency.
Considering the game itself, I think that the Xbox version is superior thanks to a new camera and the vastly improved joystick controls. Don’t get me wrong, the N64 controls were great, but the joystick of the N64 was crap once you used it too many times. The camera is much more responsive with a second joystick instead of using buttons but the second joystick also serves to replace the c-stick, which doesn’t work quite as well as in the N64 version as you might accidentally activate your gold feather ability at times.
However, let’s start at the top: Banjo Kazooie is a 3D Jump&Run that takes collecting things to a new height. Don’t worry though: The game is build around exploration and adventure so it’ll be fun. The game goes like this: Gruntilda’s Lair is the hub world in which you find cheats (though they are simply upgrades), unlock new levels, advance to Gruntilda, find secrets and talk to Bruntilda, the nicer sister of Gruntilda who tells you her secrets, which you need for a rather unusual but fun semi-final level. There are nine levels in the game, each has 100 notes (needed to open doors in the lair), 10 jigsaw pieces (which are required to open new levels), two honey combs (once you gather six, you get an extra health point), five Jinjos (once you collect them all, you get a jigsaw piece), many Mumbo skulls (you need them to make Mumbo transform you into different animals) and items related to your abilities. There is also one secret event in each level that makes a jigsaw piece appear in the lair. So in the end, you have 900 notes, 100 jigsaw pieces, three cheats to find, a ton of Mumbo skulls, a bunch of moves to learn and more to collect, not even accounting for the “Stop ‘n Swop” items that are unlocked from the very start in the Xbox version. Sounds like a lot? Don’t worry, the levels are intuitive and as long as you like to explore, you won’t have a lot of problems to gather everything.
That’s what I would like to say but there is one level, out of all nine, that aged really badly. It’s called “Rusty Bucket Bay” and it’s the eighth level. Rather, let me say that this was already a terrible level in the N64 version thanks to one part in particular: The engine room, full of instant-kill moments and bad edges that causes Banjo to slip off, killing you instantly once again. Rusty Bucket Bay is made even worse in the Xbox version though thanks to a vast improvement: The camera. All the other levels are much more open than Rusty Bucket Bay, which is filled with lots of walls, boxes etc., causing the camera to go haywire at times.
Is it impossible? No, the new developers really thought about how to improve the game in general. In the original N64 version, there was a “record” function, saving the amount of items you collected but resetting the entire level back to normal minus activated secret lair switch, all jigsaw pieces, Mumbo skulls, honey combs and if you payed Mumbo already. This also meant that once you died and didn’t finish everything yet, then you would have to collect ALL notes again, making Banjo Kazooie pretty hard later on as the last two levels can be very unforgiving. This “record” feature was removed, now saving the collected notes as well which makes this a much more enjoyable experience. Though the “record” feature was the only thing that justified the extra lives, which seemed unnecessary to begin with as you never really run out of them. In addition to that, it makes the last two levels more comfortable to play, especially “Click Clock Wood” in which a simple mistake might cost you an entire life.
In short: I think the Xbox live arcade version is superior compared to the original N64 version thanks to smart choices, with the only thing I would call disadvantageous includes the life-face of Banjo Kazooie (trust me, you’ll understand once you see it) that displayed much more personality in the N64 version, the new camera in Rusty Bucket Bay (the N64 version had pretty bad camera issues at times too) and putting one c-stick function on the camera stick, causing you to rarely accidentally activate it.
The soundtrack is fantastic and I can instantly recall every level theme in the entire game, including most sound effects too. You can’t really do anything wrong with this soundtrack, it’s just outright awesome and still is great today. The dynamic music change depending on where you are is also a bless to listen to.
The graphics are outdated, that much is obvious. However, the game is still pleasant to look at, thanks to the good art design and the Xbox version still has some pretty moments thanks to new textures and adapted resolution. Another good choice was to make Banjo’s backpack open when Kazooie comes out, as in the N64 version Kazooie just clipped through it. There are naturally some very muddy textures but the art design makes up for it.
What is this game doing great for its genre?
Up to this day, it’s a great 3D Jump&Run that hasn’t lost any of its charm. It has an appealing art design, smart conversations, a motivating story, good gameplay and it has a great soundtrack. Overall, the game holds up incredibly well. The Xbox 360 version is even better in almost every regard.
What could have been improved?
The Xbox version does improve quite a few things, but not everything. The camera is still problematic at times, Rusty Bucket Bay might cause you to loose motivation and there are some rough edges here and there. Most changes from the N64 versions were very smart and only improved the game but some very few changes weren’t as good, like the intro cut scene which goes out-of-synch very quickly thanks to the changes made in this version.
You might have thought “isn’t the improvement section a bit short?” but that’s just because this game is still that great even after all these years. If you wish to play Banjo Kazooie, play the Xbox 360 version, it’s just more solid overall. The most consistent experience is found on the N64, but outside of a few images and the intro cut scene, there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t play the Xbox version. Banjo Kazooie is a classic and will continue to be a great game.
Tested on: Xbox 360