Top 100 N64 Review: #7 – Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

And Reward for Best Sound Effects Goes To…

…the bird in the backpack.

LesLites’ Ranking#7/100
My Rating:StarStarStarStar

Actually, it’s not just the bird: every sound in this game is perfect. From Mumbo Jumbo’s tribal speech to Banjo’s rural mumbles, this game offers plenty of value just from one second audio clips.

The rest of the game is pretty good, too. It hits a sweet spot between Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64 in regards of collectibles. Music notes, puzzle pieces, mumbo jumbo tokens, and the weird/useless species called jinjos are just enough to keep up with while not being tedious. I spent most of April putting my financial house in order (thank you Listen Money Matters!), and I juxtaposed in my mind that the increasing music note total was correlated with future returns in my Roth IRA. Time will only tell if this was the right investment strategy or whether Banjo & Kazooie were appropriate hedge fund managers.

Banjo-Kazooie suffers from being too easy then all of sudden too hard. There are a total of 9 worlds to explore with only the last three really being a challenge. You know how Netflix asks you if you are still watching, and all you have to do to get the sweet reward of more content is clicking yes? That’s about as difficult as it gets for most of this game. Until, all of sudden, the game suffocates you in oil-slicked water. So much for being rated E.

Gruntilda Banjo And Kazooie
“My belly’s big, it’s rather neat, it’s years since I have seen my feet!”


Gruntilda speaks to her magic cauldron and learns there is someone more beautiful in the land than her: Tooty, Banjo’s sister. She quickly engineers a machine to swap attractiveness. She steals Tooty whilst Banjo was sleeping and then somehow sets up a dungeon with expansive levels that require music notes and puzzle pieces to unlock.

This is the bleak reality Banjo awakens to. With only a backpack containing his best friend Kazooie, he scales Spiral Mountain to get back his sister.

Puzzle Pieces Banjo and Kazooie n64
Kazooie swallows all puzzle pieces whole. RIP to her duodenum.


This game at its core is nothing but a Super Mario 64 clone with some flair and pomp to make you forget this fact. It’s pretty successful, however, due to having such a wide array of quirky behavior. Rare really knew how to have some fun and brought its British humor along.

Evidence A – Mumbo Jumbo:

The most important character Mumbo Jumbo
A witchdoctor flipping a steak while wearing a chef’s hat.

He is the oddball in an already screwy cast of characters. In the opening sequence, he shows his versatility by playing the saxophone, xylophone, and then fiddle. He is an integral part of the game — by turning your party into a specific animal or a pumpkin, you can find additional hidden puzzle pieces or musical notes. His relationship with Gruntilda is unclear, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.

And who could forget his Mayan token chant Eekam Bokum. Mumbo_Token's_Animation.gif

High Places Banjoa Kazooie n64
A high climb with an even higher reward.

The game really comes down to two things: puzzle pieces and notes. Within each world, there are 10 puzzle pieces and a 100 musical notes. The puzzle pieces complete portraits that allow you to go to new worlds while musical notes open up new parts of Gruntilda’s lairs.

The notes are in plain site and don’t require any mental capacity to find. The only thing that can trip you up is if you die or leave the world as this resets your musical note count back to zero. This means you have to find all 100 in one swoop if you want to max out each level.

The puzzle pieces, on the other hand, are the trickier ones to find but don’t reset: after you find one, it’s yours forever. The game has its own logic like all the other Nintendo cornerstones, and once you get into the “flow,” you’ll start to expect and anticipate what you need to do on each level.

The most bizarre motif is the Jinjo:

Jinjo, a worthless species Banjo Kazooie N64
Absolutely worthless.

On every stage there are five jinjos. These teletubby like creature require you to “save them” and when you find all five they will give you a puzzle piece. Many times you will find these creatures out of harm’s way, essentially chilling out.

Why do they require help? Are their legs broken? That clearly can’t be given that they are standing on their own two feet. Did Gruntilda use them in some psychological experiment imposing learned helplessness? Do they have internalized inferiority and therefore have lost the ability to pull themselves up from their bootstraps? I am all for helping society’s most vulnerable, but I appreciate it when there is some reciprocal return of effort.

How did Jinjo get there Banjo Kazooie
Except in regards to this Jinjo — he’s fucked.

The game reaches its fever pitch at the penultimate level: a board game. A series of squares, Banjo & Kazooie must go through timed challenges and trivia to save Tootie. The strangest of these formats are secrets about Gruntilda herself. Her sister, hidden away in various nooks and crannies, tells you fun facts about Gruntilda’s idiosyncrasies such as her favorite smells and sartorial choices.

Board Game Banjo-Kazooie N64

Replaying games from the late 90s has made me realize how disjointed these early 3D games really were. Gruntilda’s lair is a tortuous grouping of hallways and paths that lead from one non-sequitur to the next. Textures, colors, and themes melt and mix into one another with very little concern of how harshly they mesh. A frozen land turns into a brown cob-webbed floor that goes to a volcano that becomes a graveyard. I guess it matches its eclectic cast of characters.


Listen to this and tell me your interest isn’t piqued.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Mr. Panda’s Game Reviews: Every world is an adventure waiting to happen, sprinkled with missions, minigames, and collectible goodies.”
  • Rose Red Prince: Everything about Banjo-Kazooie feels just right from the gameplay to the graphics and the quirky storybook comedy. One of the most genuinely fun experiences you can have with your N64.”
  • Rintendo“I would argue that it is neither the best platformer on the Nintendo 64, nor the best Rare game on the system, but it is a pivotal moment in Rare’s development history, from which their games would become much more complex and definitive”

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