Welcome to the first Hub World Series Showdown! In this series we will compare games in a series to each other and try to determine its “definitive” entry. Our first showdown will focus on Rare’s classic and memorable Banjo-Kazooie series (excluding Banjo Pilot). We will evaluate the games in order of release based on their gameplay, music, story/characters, level design and humor so without further a due let us begin!
Platforms: Nintendo 64/ Xbox 360/ Xbox One
First Released: June 29, 1998
Gameplay: Banjo-Kazooie is an extremely polished 3D platformer which has the bear and bird duo team up in unique ways during their adventure. As the player progresses and becomes more familiar with the game, Banjo will find more moves and abilities like egg shooting or the speedy talon trot that help in combat or level traversal. Easy controls allows all types of gamers to pick up the game regardless of their skill level. Mumbo Jumbo can transform Banjo and Kazooie in some levels which changes up the gameplay in a refreshing way. As the game progresses so does the difficulty which climaxes at the epic final battle against Grunty. Rare nailed their first attempt at making a 3D platformer!
Music: Banjo series composer Grant Kirkhope composed one of the greatest and catchiest soundtracks in video game history hands down! Each level had its own unique sound which made them so memorable. Each theme seamlessly changes in tone, pace, pitch and intensity depending on where Banjo is in the level or when certain tasks are completed. Each track was its own masterpiece and fit in perfectly with its location.
Story/Characters: Banjo-Kazooie has an average story which was cliche to the collect-a-thon genre at the time and to be honest, the game doesn’t need more than that. The game has tons of memorable characters with distinct personalities which are the essence of the game’s charm and wit. Characters like Mumbo, Bottles, Captain Blubber, Boggy and Gobi are just a few members of the games cast that are very memorable. Even Tiptup from Diddy Kong Racing makes an appearance.
Level Design: Each of the 9 levels has an iconic set piece or gimmick that makes them feel completely different from one another. For the most part players can 100% complete a level without having to backtrack which is very much appreciated. Grunty’s lair does a fantastic job of connecting these different worlds as well as putting the enormity of the game to scale which is ideal for a hubworld.
Humor: Banjo-Kazooie’s humor is the component of the game that propels it above the competition and is arguably what made this game age so well. There are a lot of jokes for players of all ages to enjoy between Grunty’s rhyming, Kazooie’s jabs at other characters and the game’s many innuendos. There are points in the game that will make players question its “E for Everyone” ERSB rating due to the subtle crudity of some humor and puns.
Platforms: Nintendo 64/ Xbox 360/ Xbox One
First Released: November 20, 2000
Gameplay: Banjo-Tooie polished Banjo-Kazooie’s already excellent platforming by adding new moves to the mix as well as improving others. The inclusion of Mumbo Jumbo as a playable character is a welcome addition and provides great fan service. Tooie introduced many series firsts like mini games, level boss battles and even the refreshing mechanic of separating Banjo and Kazooie. There are many additional collectibles to acquire in Tooie but they feel like a burden to collect in the late game.
Music: The game’s Grant Kirkhope score is excellent overall, but sadly it cannot compare to its predecessor. Though many tracks are great, not all of them had the catch or connectedness with their level that Banjo-Kazooie is known for.
Story/Characters: The story in Tooie is a bit better than Banjo-Kazooie and most platformers but that really doesn’t say much. Where the sequel does improve on over its predecessor is the inclusion of a darker story with more cinematic cut-scenes. Rare continued to push tight gameplay over story, which was a smart move. Yet most of the new characters in Banjo-Tooie fall flat and are mostly not as memorable as the veteran cast.
Level Design: Banjo-Tooie has 8 levels, not including Cauldron keep, and overall they are not as good or memorable as Banjo-Kazooie’s levels. Levels like Witchyworld, Hailfire Peaks and Terrydactyland are exceptional, but all levels in this game are hindered by their scale and seem way too big at times. Banjo-Tooie implemented world connectivity which makes navigating for collectibles very tedious and seems unnecessary especially when you take the games difficulty curve into account.
Humor: Newcomers to the Banjo series should play the first game to really comprehend the jokes and overall the humor is more of the same, which is a good thing. Unfortunately Grunty ditched her rhymes partway through the game. Arguably the funniest part of Banjo games is the dialogue between characters and the Kazooie/Jamjars and Mumbo/Humba bickering is no exception.
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
First Released: September 10, 2003
Gameplay: Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is the first and only portable entry in the Banjo series. Once again there is a strong emphasis on separating Banjo and Kazooie but while separated the two have few unique moves. When the duo are together they retain the vast majority of their moves and abilities from previous games except flight (which is due to hardware limitations). Being a portable game limited what Banjo and Kazooie could do in this game and that is the only real negative.
Music: Like Banjo-Tooie, the Spiral Mountain theme is the only non-original track in the game. Between the bad sound chip in the GBA, lack of quality songs and the lack of a Grant Kirkhope score make the soundtrack of Grunty’s Revenge not very memorable.
Story/Characters: Surprisingly, Grunty’s Revenge has a stronger emphasis on story. the GBA hardware limited the gameplay but the game’s story is very ambitious. Simply put, two months after the first game, Banjo must travel back in time to save Kazooie in order to prevent the Witch Mecha Grunty, from erasing her defeats. Time travel is a great concept but it wasn’t used to its full potential. There are even fewer new characters than Tooie and this time around, only Bozzeye (Bottles and Jamjar’s Ancestor) is worth noting.
Level Design: With only 5 levels, Grunty’s Revenge is the smallest Banjo game, but that is to be expected. This is the only Banjo game that doesn’t have a level that really stands out but it does have a great hub world in Spiral Mountain. The levels are separated like Banjo-Kazooie but require more backtracking than Banjo-Tooie.
Humor: Mumbo, Captain Blubber (his younger, less funny self), Grunty and Klungo are the only returning side characters which limited the comedy potential of the game. Kazooie is not present in the first portion of the game and Banjo’s interactions with characters are not as funny without his feathered friend. Bozzeye is reminiscent of Cranky Kong and his interactions with Banjo and Kazooie later in the game are really entertaining.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Platforms: Xbox 360/ Xbox One
First Released: November 11, 2008
Gameplay: Nuts & Bolts’ gameplay is completely different from the previous games because now platforming is revolved around driving, creating and customizing vehicles with the parts you collect. This time around Kazooie has lost all of her moves and the duo resort to using a magical wrench to attack enemies while outside a vehicle. The frame rate tends to slow down at times, especially during aerial battles, which takes away from the gameplay at key moments. Simply put, Nuts & Bolts should not have been a Banjo game but rather a new IP from Microsoft. At the end of the day, it still is fun and a good game, but not a good Banjo game.
Music: Nuts & Bolts’ soundtrack is mainly comprised of recycled pieces of songs from Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie but are fully orchestrated and remixed into brand new arrangements. Grant Kirkhope made his triumphant return to the series and the Banjoland track is the most magnificent piece in the series without a doubt.
Story/Characters: The game has a great opening sequence and that’s about it… The story is really forgettable along with all the games new characters. L.O.G. is especially horrible because he is the in game reason why we are not playing a real Banjo sequel and his reasoning just makes things worse. The veteran characters often recall the previous game’s events which is cool but their designs and roles have been radically altered which is very upsetting.
Level Design: All six levels (seven with DLC) are massive and require vehicles to traverse quickly which makes traditional platforming unnecessary. Banjoland is the only notable level and potentially the greatest levels in the series because it is a massive Easter Egg. Set pieces, factoids and jokes from previous Banjo games cover every nook and cranny of the nostalgic museum themed level. Showdown Town continues the Banjo series trend of amazingly designed hub worlds.
Humor: Because Nuts & Bolts is so different, it’s humor feels fresh with much needed new material. Many jokes from previous games return with new, hilarious twists. Grunty’s rhymes return and Kazooie’s bad mouthing is funnier than ever because she acknowledges that the game’s new characters are lame and that the duo should be platforming the good old way. With the gameplay relying heavily on vehicles, car puns were not overused and actually quite funny.
Best Gameplay: Banjo-Tooie
Best Music: Banjo-Kazooie
Best Story: Banjo-Tooie
Best Characters: Banjo-Kazooie
Best Level Design: Banjo-Kazooie
Best Humor: Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts
The “Definitive” Banjo Game is…
All the Banjo games are good in their own right but let’s be honest the competition was between only two of the four games. Both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie are classics and are both contenders for the greatest 3D platformer of all time. Banjo games are known for their platforming, soundtrack, level design and comedy. While the gameplay of Banjo-Tooie is better, the connected worlds take away from what the game is all about. In Banjo-Kazooie each level is its own adventure and has its own memorable character and song. Simply put, Banjo-Kazooie gets our vote as the best Banjo game because it does Banjo better.
On another note this generation of gaming is one which has seen numerous remasters and revivals of other platformers. Banjo fans need to continue to hope for Rare to breathe new life into their most iconic franchise because if the last few years have proven anything it is that there is demand for the 3D platformer and who better to push the genre forward than Banjo and Kazooie. Hopefully our voices will be heard and we will get a real “Banjo Threeie” sooner rather than later.
One more thing… BANJO4SMASH!