Over on United We Game, I’ve been working on a series called “My ‘Deserted Island’ Games.” Each week I’ve been picked a system and up to five games that I’d want to have for that system on my hypothetical l deserted island. It’s been an interesting exercise in want and memory, and it’s reminded of (1) how many games I’ve so far covered on this blog, and (2) how difficult it is to pick games that are more than just favorites, but those that could stand the tests of sentiment and time. My most recent “deserted island” post covered the Nintendo 64, one of my all-time favorite systems. And in the comments, the Duck of Indeed noted the choices of Banjo-Tooie vs. Banjo-Kazooie. While I have stronger emotions attached to Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie was a wonderful game, and a great sequel in its own right.
Banjo-Tooie did not mark some revolutionary departure for Banjo the bear and his trusty sidekick, Kazooie the bird. Instead, the game picked up a couple years after Banjo and Kazooie had seemingly defeated Gruntilda the Witch. While Banjo and Kazooie have been enjoying life under the premise that yes, ding dong the witch is dead, Gruntilda was, in fact, in “stasis” under the rubble of Spiral Mountain. At the beginning of Banjo-Tooie, Gruntilda is rescued by her two sisters, Blobbelda and Mingella, and the trio immediately proceeds to make life miserable for Banjo, Kazooie, and their friends Mumbo Jumbo the shaman and Bottles the mole. Gruntilda travels to Banjo’s house while he’s with his friends and destroys it. In a shocking twist for a friendly game, only three characters escape while Bottles is killed (super sad face). After the carnage, Bottle’s ghost emerges and begs to be brought back to life. From there Banjo, Kazooie, and Mumbo Jumbo go off on a quest to save their friend and stop Gruntilda once and for all.
This second round of adventures with Banjo and Kazooie was no less incredible than the first. Banjo-Tooie contained Rare’s signature graphics, which were colorful, vibrant, and beautiful. The game differed from its predecessor in level design and how players accessed those levels. The game was no less challenging than Banjo-Kazooie, and it might have even been a little more entertaining story-wise. There were plenty of puzzles, secret areas, and things to find and discover. And all of it was held together by a brilliant, poppy soundtrack. While Banjo-Kazooie means more to me sentimentally, Banjo-Tooie is probably the better of the two games.
The only thing Banjo-Tooie didn’t have going from it was timing. Nintendo released the game at the end of 2000 — near but not at the end of the N64’s lifespan. The Playstation 2 had been introduced earlier in the year and there were lots of rumblings about some new console from Microsoft called an X-something-or-other. While plenty of N64 and Rare fans flocked to the game, plenty of eyes were trained on Sony and Microsoft. Banjo-Tooie was a very well-received and acclaimed game, but it probably wasn’t as successful as it could have been had it been released earlier. For me, Banjo-Tooie was a rental because, at the time, it was either that or Majora’s Mask (the last N64 game I ever bought). Though I loved spending time with that crazy bear and bird, Majora’s Mask was definitely the better investment.
Over a decade later, Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie remain immensely fun and playable 3D platformers. If you haven’t played either of these games, I’d at least recommend getting to Banjo-Kazooie before, y’know, the end of days and all that; but Banjo-Tooie is just as good, if not a little better. Banjo-Tooie also offered local multiplayer (is this function still available in its emulations?), so if you ever wanted to play as a member of this cavalcade of awesome Rare characters, Banjo-Tooie is this game is for you.