Of all the Super Mario 64 clones, Banjo-Kazooie, is in my opinion the best (at least during the 32-64 bit era). Rare’s first attempt at a 3-D platformer even managed to surpass Mario 64 in a few areas.
A Beautiful World
One area in which Rare’s game is clearly superior to Nintendo’s revolutionary game is in the visual department.
The Nintendo 64, far and away the most powerful machine of its time, had one huge weakness: it used cartridges as its media format.
The low storage capacity for cartridges at the time meant that Nintendo 64 had limited room in which to store textures, video and sound.
Thus, games had that “blurry” texture look, and if developers weren’t clever environments would end up looking a bit bland.
Rare had no such issues with Banjo-Kazooie. Clean, but well rendered characters populated the environments which were built utilizing large 64×64 textures. At the time, only Rare was utilizing this technique, thus Banjo-Kazooie was clear step forwards from Mario 64 visuals.
Water, Snow, Sandy beaches, Swamp lands, all had a unique and believable feel. Like Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie was another showcase of the Nintendo 64’ s superior hardware power.
Where Banjo-Kazooie Didn’t Surpass Mario 64…
While Banjo-Kazooie was a bigger, and prettier 3-D spectacle than Super Mario 64. In terms of level design, Rare did the best that it could. The gigantic hub world is smartly interconnected, and the adjacent game worlds work much in the same way that Mario 64’s paintings did.
Instead of stars and coins, Banjo and Kazooie collect jigsaw puzzle pieces (100 in total), feathers for flying, and musical notes that open locked doors in the main hub world. Rare, copied Mario 64’s blueprint to near perfection.
But Nintendo has a knack for tight and controls. This was true in Super Mario Bros. Back in the NES days, and it remains true today with Mario Odyssey. Super Mario 64’s controls were just perfect, flipping around with Mario in complex 3-D platforming session felt intuitive. Falling to my death in Mario 64 always felt like it was my fault, rather than the game’s fault.
Banjo and his feathery sidekick did not quite control as well as the Italian plumber did. While the controls are good, I couldn’t quite get the same level of precision and responsiveness that I got in the Nintendo’s first 3-D platformer.
Maybe Rare was aware of this and thankfully Banjo presents its challenges in different ways, and it doesn’t feature the same complexity of platform hopping that Mario 64 did.
A Decent Storyline …For a Platformer
As far as platformers go, none has ever matched the original Jak and Daxter. Banjo-Kazooie, however, does inject some personality into its world with its quirky protagonist, and Kazooie’s disrespectful attitude. Villains themselves have some good one liners, and Rare’s writing effort did help me overlook some of the game’s flaws.
The fact that I still find joy while replaying Banjo-Kazooie on my Xbox One today speaks volumes of how awesome the game was back in 1998. I greatly prefer the game to the newer Nuts and Bolts, and feel that 3-D platform enthusiasts should give the game a try now that it is freely available on Game Pass.
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