It shouldn’t have happened, yet somehow it has. 19 years after their last big Nintendo console adventure, 17 years after Rare was bought by Microsoft, 14 years after the last time they appeared on any Nintendo platform, and 11 years after their last game of any kind, Banjo-Kazooie are back in Super Smash Bros.
After the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I had talked to friends about who they should put in the next one. I realized then that they were running out of Nintendo characters I truly wanted to see in the game. Sure, there were plenty where I’d say “Yeah, that would be neat”, but the only ones I felt were really missing were an Inkling from Splatoon, Ridley, and King K. Rool. However, I’d always be sure to add “Oh, and Banjo-Kazooie, but that’s not happening.”
While many have always said “Microsoft wouldn’t allow that”, I’ve always figured it was the other way around. Phil Spencer had gone on the record multiple times saying they’d be on board. I felt Nintendo were the ones who wouldn’t want to deal with it. The Smash Bros. series is, all things considered, still Japanese-focused: prior to Banjo-Kazooie, the only characters made in the west were Diddy Kong, K. Rool, and Dark Samus, all of whom were part of Nintendo franchises. I felt they had little drive to go out of their way to secure any deals to get Banjo-Kazooie on board, especially with that series laying dormant.
There were rumors in the build-up to E3, sure, but there’s been rumors and “leaks” of numerous kinds over the years and they’ve never panned out. I went into the Direct knowing there’d be Smash DLC. I still held a bit of hope, but as the initial Smash DLC reveal turned out to be sword character number 259, I tuned out the rest of the trailer bummed out that there’d likely be another long wait for another chance.
I recovered as the Direct turned its attention to Luigi’s Mansion 3 and to all of the other neat games coming out this year. Nothing huge for me personally, but it’s a solid list of games. Then, suddenly, another trailer started in the exact same fashion as the King K. Rool announcement and I immediately sat up. There’d be no reason to do this intro unless it was to invoke that same feeling of satisfaction as seeing the Croc come back. As we cut back to DK’s mouth, I typed to my friend in Discord: “I think this is Banjo...”
Then it happened. The Jiggy seen ‘round the world.
I began furiously typing to my friend “IT’S BANJO! IT’S BANJO!” The whole K. Rool re-enactment continues only this time the fake-out doesn’t work on me: This is it. They’re back.
Part of what makes it feel so good isn’t just my personal enjoyment of the series though. I follow very few people on Twitter, but among them are Grant Kirkhope, Steve Mayles, and other former members of Rare all of whom were ecstatic after K. Rool was unveiled to be part of the roster. They always interact with friends, retweeting fan art and until this, requests to see K. Rool and Banjo-Kazooie in Smash. Despite Rare having been owned by Microsoft longer than they worked closely with Nintendo, their output in the 90s is what made them legendary and even they had noted that Banjo always felt home at Nintendo. Naturally, they were thrilled.
This reveal was almost as much a nod to Rare as it was to Banjo-Kazooie themselves. Donkey Kong may be a Nintendo franchise, but wouldn’t even remotely resemble its current form if it weren’t for Rare, so having them be the ones to welcome back Banjo and Kazooie was as appropriate as could be. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that the pair is “Raring” to go. Grant Kirkhope was brought in by Nintendo and became the first western composer to contribute a new arrangement for Smash Bros, ensuring at least somebody from the old guard got to directly work on it.
Even if they’re still a part of Microsoft, the whole thing feels like a homecoming, a vibe Nintendo leaned heavily into for the trailer. Normally, new challengers arrive to kick some butt, whether it be against old foes or against other members of the cast. This time, however, the reaction to Banjo-Kazooie introducing themselves isn’t a fight but a flat out celebration with DK, Diddy, and K. Rool cheering them on.
In essence, they are every 90s kid with an N64 who never stopped wanting to see this moment. Banjo, Kazooie, Bottles, Gruntilda, Mumbo, Spiral Mountain, and Rare are all back. Even if it’s only for Smash, it’s still cause for celebration...which of course is how the trailer ends: with half of Goddamn gaming celebrating.
With this DLC, at least for me, Super Smash Bros. is effectively complete. Any character who has ever appeared on a Nintendo console who I have ever wanted in the series is here. Every character who I ever grew up with in gaming is here. Hell, look at the list of companies that the trailer (and soon, the game) ends with: it’s starting to feel like every company is here.
Nobody should really care that the bear and bird are back. The franchise is dead. Their last true hit is old enough to be in college. They belong to another platform maker. A generation of kids grew up without them.
And yet, somehow, against all odds, people still cared, and they cared enough to make it happen. That’s what makes it so special.