Genre: Platformer, Action-Adventure, Collectathon
Original Release: November 20, 2000 (North America), November 27, 2000 (Europe), April 12, 2001 (Japan)
Publisher: Nintendo (N64), Microsoft (Xbox 360)
Platforms: Nintendo 64, Xbox 360
Played on: Nintendo 64
Originally, I was planning to cover Banjo-Tooie a bit later on, but sadly my GameCube’s HDMI adapter still isn’t quite working properly and I was in the mood for more Banjo. As such, it seemed like as good a time as any to return to my favorite bear and bird team…I say, as if I know of any others.
Anyway, Banjo-Tooie starts two years after Grunty’s initial defeat at the hands of Banjo and Kazooie. Two years is a long time for anyone to be stuck under a particularly massive boulder, and as you can tell from the above image, the years have not been kind to Grunty. She still has her eyes somehow (Advantage – Jazzy, your move Tempto), but past that she’s much worse for wear, to the point that she’s a skeleton. Needless to say, she’s not very happy with that, and takes advantage of her newfound freedom to attempt to destroy Banjo and Kazooie while they’re enjoying a game of poker with Bottles and Mumbo. Fortunately, it doesn’t quite work out for her.
Yep. Bottles is dead. Banjo-Tooie is incredibly dark compared to its predecessor (though you could argue that’s a low bar) and while it retains the incredibly silly and cartoony feel of Banjo-Kazooie, it also feels a little more serious. Banjo in particular has had a few of his sounds redone, so his jumping is treated to a “huh” or “hoo” instead of the former lighthearted “whee” or “whoo” heard in the first game. I’m not too keen on this change myself, but it does help the two games feel a little different. At least until Banjo bounces off of an enemy and lets out a “whee” anyway. It’s a minor gripe though, so let’s talk about some of the major differences between the two games.
While Banjo-Kazooie took place entirely within Gruntilda’s Lair, Banjo-Tooie opens up and allows the pair to explore the Isle O’ Hags in its entirety. This hub world is split into multiple sections like Grunty’s Lair before it, but there are no color-coded magic cauldrons to activate. Rather, your new teacher has a network of silos in place that allow you to quickly travel from one area to the next if you’re so inclined. There are a grand total of eight worlds in addition to the Isle O’ Hags, and each one contains and least one new move for the pair to learn. Further, once they learn how, Banjo and Kazooie are able to split up and they’ll need to if you’re going to make any headway in the game. On top of all of that, Mumbo is now a playable character!
Naturally the death of Bottles opens up a slot in the mentor department for Banjo and Kazooie, but where are they going to find another mole with as much know-how as Bottles? As luck would have it, Bottles has a brother: drill sergeant Jamjars. Given his military background, Jamjars is a bit more serious than Bottles and teaches you every one of your moves in rhyme. However, the moves you learn from Jamjars really change up the gameplay. You can now aim eggs in first-person, use Kazooie as a handheld gun in Goldeneye-esque shootout sections, and both Banjo and Kazooie will learn how to properly defend themselves and use their natural talents while split up. It really feels like a natural evolution to the gameplay and I’m really happy to see that kind of expansion.
Honestly, there’s so much variety in Banjo-Tooie. One minute you’re running around like you would expect in Banjo-Kazooie, the next minute you hand the torch over to Mumbo and have him use his Mighty Mumbo Magic™ to open up near areas for the team to explore or solve a problem that Banjo and Kazooie wouldn’t be able to solve on their own. Like righting a derailed train or setting off an EMP to disable a giant magnet. These both happen, by the way. Each world has its own spell for Mumbo to use to solve various problems and it lends a sense of depth to his skillset that might not be there otherwise. Mumbo’s learned a lot since the last game, but as a trade-off he doesn’t transform you into various creatures anymore.
In Mumbo’s place, we have one Humba Wumba. Wumba is…problematic? I don’t really know how best to describe her by today’s standards. She’s a shaman like Mumbo, but she’s very much a stereotypical Native American. She lives in a wigwam (the game even calls it Wumba’s Wigwam) and the music has some very strong Indigenous vibes. It even starts with some ululation like most people would expect. I get it, but all I can say coming back to it is a resounding “oof.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Banjo-Tooie as much as possible, but parts of it have not aged well at all, Wumba being one of those parts. But you’re allowed to like things while still acknowledging the relevant problems. I enjoy Lovecraft’s writing and the Cthulhu Mythos has consistently left me terrified out of my gourd, but he was an unabashed racist in his time and I acknowledge that. The Rats in the Walls was a tough read for that reason.
Anyway, Mumbo and Wumba use a magical creature called a glowbo in their work. You can find two in each world and they’ll always be found near Mumbo and Wumba. Wumba’s transformations are a lot more varied than Mumbo’s in Kazooie, and all but one of them are able to properly defend themselves. Some of them are even indestructible! It’s neat! Seriously, have you ever wanted to just roam around and scare a caveman? You can do that.
Banjo-Tooie is one of those games that, while definitely aged, I love to pieces. Some argue it’s too big, and I’m inclined to agree since all of the worlds are at least twice as big as the worlds in Banjo-Kazooie. Each world has a self-contained boss fight that’s a lot more involved than anything you’d find in Banjo-Kazooie, and one world in particular took me nearly three hours to grab everything in it. If you’re at all familiar with Tooie, you probably know which one I’m talking about. But for those who don’t, allow me to paint a picture for you: most of the worlds took me about an hour and a half to collect all of the significant items at most. A lot of that was muscle memory, but for one world to be so complex to me that it took twice as long is a bit silly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite worlds (if only for the fact that the main baddy you’ll run into there has an amazing death sound), but man it was a time and a half trying to keep everything straight in my head. Like I said, it’s a very big game. This gets balanced out a little by the fact that the total number of Jiggies has been reduced from 100 to 90. It’s not a huge change, but with larger worlds to explore it’s reasonable.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m going to recommend Banjo-Tooie. It’s a larger game than Kazooie and some might be turned off by that, but almost every world is connected in one way or another and some will require a bit of backtracking if you’re aiming to collect everything, but it’s easy enough to keep track of. If you’re looking for more Banjo, this is definitely the way to go.
If you’re looking to play it yourself, it’s available on Xbox via the Xbox Live Arcade (at least on the 360) but it shares the cutscene issues present in Kazooie. I can’t really tell if there’re any major changes between the two versions like there were with Banjo-Kazooie, but it’s still a solid game. Check it out if you’re curious!