Wahay! It’s hard to believe it’s been over 15 years since the magic of Banjo-Kazooie first graced the Nintendo 64. Who knew we’d still be looking back fondly on the musically entwined adventures of a bear and bird so many years later.
I’m not exaggerating when I say Banjo-Kazooie is my favorite video game. Of all time. Ever. And even after that. It’s the only title that I attempt (and usually succeed) to 100% every summer with the help of my wife. While its direct sequel and the handful of other not-so-flattering offering from the world of Banjo-Kazooie have made their own marks in gaming history, it’s still the original that brings the most charm out of the wonderfully bizarre characters and settings.
Since I’ve spent so much time guiding Banjo and Kazooie around their whimsical world, I thought I would break down a quick list of the game’s best and not-so-best worlds. Though it’s sort of like ranking your children. Not an easy feat, and there are certainly positive and negative aspects to them all.
Except Clanker’s Cavern. Screw that level.
What’s worse than an underwater themed level? If you said, “A dirty underwater themed level in a 3D platformer!” then you win. Clanker’s Cavern is a bleak cesspool of rusty chains and poorly placed air ducts. Clanker himself is some sort of terrible cyborg shark/whale whose insides you’ll have to explore before you fall out one of his many gaping holes. Don’t even get me started on the whole “unlock Clanker’s chain before drowning” jiggy. I still have nightmares about that one.
Being the first true world of the game, Mumbo’s Mountain has a boatload of nostalgic appeal. It’s hard to forget your first foray into Mumbo’s hut or climbing the inside of the main hill as a termite, but the level as a whole is pretty small and bland compared to other offerings. Though I suppose the Banjo team didn’t want to scare players away by making the first level too strange or difficult. Mumbo’s Mountain is safe, memorable and helps players practice some of Banjo and Kazooie’s more important moves. Like pooping eggs.
If it’s ever been your dream to be an adorable backpack-wearing crocodile who can crawl through the nostril of a larger crocodile then you’re a strange person, and Bubblegloop Swamp is for you. You can also go inside a giant turtle to find more turtles who are... singing? Sure. That’s just the kind of game Banjo Kazooie is! While the level is flooded by deadly swamp water, it’s good fun to romp about in Kazooie’s rubber booties. At least until they ware off and you realize you’re miles from dry land.
While water-based like Clanker’s Cavern, Rusty Bucket Bay makes most of the setting with a more nautical theme. Exploring portholes (some of which will bite you in the face) and dank warehouses in this toxic shipyard is a chore, but it’s one that will make you feel accomplished should you survive. Rusty Bucket Bay is thought by many to be the most difficult world in the entire game, and it certainly features the most complicated and nail-biting jiggy. It also has a world theme made of boat toots and whistles that’s better than most of today’s Top 40 hits. Kanye should really consider sampling it in his next album.
Gobi’s Valley is a perfect example of how well the fine folks at Rare could (can?) cram loads of challenges and milage into one tiny stretch of desert. You’ve got camels, magic carpets, giant severed mummy hands, sphinxes, and more to look forward to once you materialize next to the world’s tiny oasis. Each pyramid or monument holds its own secret worth exploring (also, you know, you get jiggys). While the entire level almost feels like a satire of what a standard egyptian-themed level should look like, it still manages not to shove it down players throats.
Though Grunty’s Lair is the overworld that leads to all the other levels on this list, it’s still technically a world where you can score jiggys. So I’m adding it to the list. Spiral Mountain is just going to have to deal with it. Not only do players have to find the quintessential ten jiggys in Grunty’s Lair, they also have to find each level’s jiggy puzzle pad. Since the witchy lair morphs to match each upcoming stage, Banjo and Kazooie must brave everything from quicksand to swamp water to Grunty’s equally-annoying fairy sister to find all the secrets hidden throughout.
Mad Monster Mansion features some of the most impressive building interiors Banjo-Kazooie has to offer. There’s a haunted house where you can’t touch the floor without waking a jiggy-gobbling ghoul and a church with a ginormous organ inside that you can play by smashing Kazooie’s face into the keys. It’s just such a wonderfully spooky atmosphere, though not too spooky. There is a toilet who speaks in farts though, which isn’t so much scary as it is hilarious. Until you have to flush yourself down his filthy poo-stained pipes...
Snowmen are jerks, Christmas lights are alive, and the only way to dislodge a large puzzle piece from a polar bear stomach is to smash into his gut from above with a sled. Freezeezy Peaks teaches many life lessons. This winter wonderland is a hodgepodge of frigid waterways and slippery snow. I mean, you can meet a walrus named Wozza! And really the level could have stopped there, but then you get to become a walrus and race that same polar bear you saved earlier. Truly a thrilling ride from start to finish.
Quick, name your favorite season! Whatever it was you just shouted at your computer screen is featured in Click Clock Wood. I guarantee it. That’s because Click Clock Wood is actually four levels in one. It covers all four seasons and, using what I can only assume is some sort of dark magic, spans an entire year. Players must guide Banji and Kazoople up the same monstrous tree in each section, collecting notes, jiggys and other items along the way. Parts of the woods players thought they knew can be drastically changed depending on the time of year and it’s wonderful to explore how the environment has evolved from season to season.
There’s nothing quite like a nice, sunny beach getaway. Even if the beach is full of murderous crabs and mutated treasure chests. A statuesque lighthouse sits atop a seemingly unreachable mountain. An enormous sand castle sleeps beneath the waves, filled with secrets (and an angry crab). Treasure Trove Cove is not only a beautiful level, it’s also the first stage that gives players a chance to explore the skies. Making the scenic view that much better. If it’s funky island jam wasn’t so darn catchy it would be perfectly acceptable to play “I Believe I Can Fly” on loop.
Spread your wings and fly away, Banjo and Kazooie. I’ll still be here when you return.
*sheds single tear*
What do you mean I have the list all wrong? Yeah, well that’s just your opinion, buddy! But if you do have any thoughts regarding which Banjo-Kazooie environments made the biggest impression on a you then you should certainly leave them in the comments.
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For more yammering about platformers and Rare classics you can follow GBD on Twitter @SuperBentendo