Remembering the Classics: Banjo-Kazooie

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Nintendo has had a very long and successful history creating their own content. The sheer amount of properties they produce in house is unparalleled with any other company. Yet Nintendo didn’t reach their level of stardom without outside help. Such a feat is simply impossible. As they began to grow within the industry on the backs of their own consoles, Nintendo made deals with companies like Square, Capcom, their former rival Sega to put out content. Few developers received such authority as Rare Ltd. however. For eight solid years, Rare guided the Donkey Kong franchise to new prominence and gave Nintendo hits like Perfect Dark, GoldenEye 007, and Banjo-Kazooie. It was such a fruitful partnership that when Microsoft acquired Rare in 2002, it made huge waves.

Unfortunately the years at Microsoft haven’t been too great for Rare. They released some successful hits when the Xbox 360 first came like Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero, but failed to move many units. Rare’s recent efforts with Kinect games, like Kinect Sports Rivals on the Xbox One, haven’t done critically well either. So perhaps for some, it didn’t come as a surprise when Microsoft Studio’s Creative Director Ken Lobb said this week that classic Rare hits will come back “someday”. Sure, that’s exceptionally vague, but this acknowledgement was enough to make dedicated fan bases happy. No fans were happier though than those who loved the aforementioned Banjo-Kazooie series of games.latest

Banjo-Kazooie came right at the cusp of when platformers were in a 3-D renaissance that began with Super Mario 64. This was when developers used the stronger consoles to create fully immersive game environments for the player to explore. Released a full two years after Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie updated the style by creating critically lauded designs. All signs of a highly successful character focused series were there too. You had two very fun heroes to get behind, an adventurous honey bear named Banjo and his bird friend Kazooie. The gameplay was more refined than anything that had come prior, taking many cues from Mario 64 and improving on them. The story was classic hero fare too with Banjo trying to rescue his sister Tooty from an evil witch named Gruntilda. All of this lead to Banjo-Kazooie receiving several awards and quickly becoming one of the must have games for the Nintendo 64. As if to prove they had something very special on their hands, Rare created a sequel in 2000 called Banjo-Tooie, which received equal levels of praise.

The Banjo-Kazooie series definitely got off on the right foot with two back-to-back hits. People took notice of this brand new property and began putting Banjo and Kazooie up there as the next Nintendo mascots. They were all over Nintendo themed publications after all. But this came to an abrupt halt when Microsoft picked up Rare, making them a first-party developer and moving all of their creations away. Naturally this included the Banjo-Kazooie games but not anything Nintendo owned like Donkey Kong or Star Fox. Yet instead of keeping the obvious success going, Rare was tasked by Microsoft to focus on other franchises. This resulted in two Banjo-Kazooie handheld games going generally ignored. It wouldn’t be until 2008 that Banjo and Kazooie came to a home console again with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360. The game did very well and successfully brought the series to a new generation, but it unfortunately didn’t create renewed interest. It’s now been seven years and a new Banjo-Kazooie game is coming in an indeterminate amount of time.latest (1)

It’s hard not to look at this history and wonder what could have happened if Banjo-Kazooie stayed with Nintendo. Without a doubt we would have seen the protagonists in the past three Super Smash Bros. games. We might even have had new installments on each console. Honestly, at worst the series would have gone the way of Star Fox or Metroid. Much loved, but big gaps in time between each game. But where the series is now, currently on the list of Microsoft’s vague future plans, is obviously not the most ideal situation. There is a reason why people loved the first two Nintendo 64 games and yet Microsoft hasn’t capitalized on that. If anything, Banjo and Kazooie are strong candidates for family friendly Microsoft mascots. I’m sure parents would like their young kids to look at a silly bear more than the barrel of Master Chief’s assault rifle.

In what can only be described as a missed opportunity, I have barely played the Banjo-Kazooie series. I’m not afraid to admit that I wrote this off as something derivative. I distinctly remember seeing Banjo-Kazooie promotions in my issue of Nintendo Power and wondering why it was getting so much hype. It also didn’t help that none of my friends owned the game so no one was personally recommending it. This all lead to me generally ignoring the games. Over the years I eventually gave Banjo-Kazooie a try but never went beyond that. Perhaps if I were to play the game now it would be different, but I feel for those who want this series have more prominence. Nothing this successful or fun deserves to get pushed away.

Honestly, there’s not much going on here in terms of Banjo-Kazooie’s future. Rare acknowledging that they haven’t forgotten the property doesn’t give us much, though it is cool to see the name in the news again. Who knows, maybe this new attention will prompt Rare and Microsoft to actually make something. Turn Banjo and Kazooie into the mascots they always had the potential to be. It’s not unreasonable to think that an announcement can come as early as this year’s E3 too. Video game companies have a history of delivering vague remarks to generate interest, only to come right around with a big reveal, confident that it will go well. You know people would be all over a new installment too. The series has only grown in the hearts of many. Until we get something more concrete though, fans will have to hold themselves over with the what’s available on the Xbox.

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.
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