The late 90s were something of a golden age for aficionados of platform games. Mario 64 sauntered on to the scene in 1997, dragging the genre kicking and screaming into a brave new world of 3D visuals, while Crash Bandicoot spun his way through an endless supply of wooden boxes in the company of some questionable voodoo characters. For us though, one game in particular stood out head and shoulders above the rest, and that game was Banjo-Kazooie.
If Super Mario 64 laid out the possibilities of what could be achieved in a 3D-platformer, Banjo-Kazooie took the formula and perfected it. Rare improved on every facet of Mario's gameplay and infused their own unique charm on proceedings through a sprinkling of inspired mini-games, memorable characters, a great soundtrack that would leave you humming all day and some hilarious dialogue.
The game marked one of the high points in an unbelievable run of quality releases from Rare. Within the space of a few short years the studio produced GoldenEye, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini and Donkey Kong 64. After such a sustained run of quality it's a shame to see the role the company has been reduced to, producing glorified mini-games for Microsoft's Kinect.
The plot of Banjo-Kazooie was just about the only part of the game that was utterly forgettable. Originally introduced in Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo (a brown honey bear) and Kazooie (a red female bird that lives in his backpack) are tasked with rescuing Banjo's sister Tooty, who has been kidnapped by the evil witch Gruntilda. To reach Gruntilda's Tower our heroes must traipse across nine sprawling levels fulfilling different challenges which will grant them Jiggies. These are the currency of the game and the means by which players unlock later stages of Spiral Mountain. If you've never played the game, then think of the Jiggies as like Super Mario 64's Stars.
As the player progresses through the game, more and more abilities become available to Banjo and Kazooie including flying, dive-bombing and the drill-peck. The dynamic duo are helped along the way by the memorable Mumbo Jumbo, a shaman with an oversized head and the ability to transform Banjo and Kazooie into a variety of different creatures to serve various purposes.
Rare succeeded in crafting an unforgettable game world with levels varying in setting from a green meadow, to a sun-kissed beach, an ice world with giant snowman at the centre and a haunted mansion. Each of these worlds felt a little more epic in scale and graphically more impressive than what had come before in Mario 64.. Not bad for a game that started life on the Super Nintendo.
Reviews at the time of release reflected the lofty praise we've been dishing out so far. IGN handed the game a whopping 9.6 out of 10, GameSpot - 9.5 out of 10 and 1Up.com a 9.2 out of 10. Nintendo and Rare were sufficiently impressed to commission a sequel, imaginatively called: Banjo-Tooie.
Eagle-eyed gamers will spot a bit of an Easter Egg on the Freeze-Easy Peak stage as a cavern contains a giant key enclosed behind glass. Originally, this key was meant to unlock new features in the sequel, but Rare cut this feature from Banjo-Kazooie due to time constraints.
If we have piqued your interest sufficiently and you're looking to catch up with this gem then the good news is that it is available through Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. While this price may initially seem a little steep for a fifteen year-old game we can't recommend it enough. Next time we hear the same old bores talking about Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy 7 as their favourite game of all time, we'll be chirping in on the side of Banjo-Kazooie.