Please note that this piece contains spoilers, some of which are significant.
Banjo-Tooie (2000) marks a significant place in 3D platforming history, yet it appears to be somewhat forgotten now, perhaps buried amongst its own brand obscurity. To be fair, the Banjo-Kazooie “brand” doesn’t lend itself to ubiquity in the first place—Banjo began his life as a character in developer Rare’s 1997 racer Diddy Kong Racing, along with other throwaway sentient animals such as Timber the tiger and Drumstick, an overall wearing chicken. The ulterior motive behind DKR, it seems, was to use the game as a vessel to lay the groundwork for future character-specific Rare titles (the only one to succeed was Conker the squirrel, famously), but, really, there doesn’t seem to be anything significantly endearing or memorable about, well, a bear with pants. Granted, sticking clothes on an animal mascot may not be the oldest trick in the book, but it sure seems that way, and I think that’s enough to result in Rare’s IPs getting glossed over with the same kind of dismissal that seems to befall every new Saturday morning cartoon show that isn’t specifically tied to an already popular product. Banjo the bear and his bird sidekick Kazooie had a very, very, very steep hill to climb when their first game, Banjo-Kazooie, was released in 1998—and despite its popularity (popular enough to warrant two sequels, at least), in the face of that OTHER franchise competing for consumer dollars on a Nintendo system, there really was no way that Banjo’s first solo effort would seem like anything other than an ostensible conglomeration of every other non-Mario mascot in existence.
Faded characterizations aside, however, I’m happy that Banjo-Tooie exists as both one of the platforming swan songs of the Nintendo 64 and as a recent re-release on Xbox Live Arcade, because it is a fascinating video game relic, a resolute and finite amalgamation of the N64′s capabilities and Rare’s boldness to address the trappings of a genre that it helped to define, even doing it with an almost parodistic zeal.
Posted by Kurt Shulenberger on December 4th, 2009 :: Features :: Tags : Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Diddy Kong Racing, Environment, Nintendo 64, Platformer, Rare, Review, XBLA, Xbox 360