Hoarding is instinct. We all feel, on some level, the drive to keep acquiring stuff. Whether it’s money, shoes, or a drawer full of condiment packets, we all have a penchant for gathering resources. Maybe this is why so many of our open-world games focus relentlessly on collectibles. Often, it's too much of a good thing. But on June 29, 1998, an N64 classic set the tone for what a perfect 3D adventure game could be, collectibles included. And it still holds up today.
Rare’s Banjo Kazooie is one of those games that inspires breathless devotion in its fans. It defined countless childhoods, but don’t write it off as pure nostalgia. There’s a reason Banjo Kazooie helped define an emerging genre (3D platformers) that eventually gave way to the open-world sandboxes that are ubiquitous today.
Is it a collectathon? Yes. Is it the best collectathon? Probably. But regardless of your preference, you can’t deny Banjo Kazooie’s influence and place in history even after 25 years.
What makes Banjo Kazooie so good? In a word: everything. It's very hard to find flaws in the choices Rare made when designing its masterpiece. The music from Grant Kirkhope ranks among the GOATs. Its quirkiness manages to stay catchy without veering into annoying and you’ll be humming it for days. The level design, particularly Click Clock Woods and Rusty Bucket Bay, stand the test of time and are still fun to explore today. Innovative mechanics like the Talon Trot made exploration even more dynamic.
Some of Banjo Kazooie’s standout features became genre staples. A colorful cast of zany, cartoony NPCs fueled some delightful interactions and influenced titles like Ratchet and Clank and Psychonauts. It also set the bar for what to do, and not do, with collectibles.
When you play Banjo Kazooie again (or maybe the first time), you’ll understand pretty quickly what the game wants you to do. The story is pretty cookie-cutter. The evil witch Gruntilda is jealous of Banjo’s beautiful sister Tooty so she kidnaps her. Banjo and his platonic bird pal Kazooie have to work together to rescue Tooty. To do this, you need to collect golden puzzle pieces called Jiggies which unlock new areas. But there’s so much more: eggs, music notes, honeycomb pieces, mumbo tokens, red feathers, golden feathers.
All of them have a purpose and aren’t just trophy fodder. Honeycomb runs your health bar. You spend feathers to use Kazooie’s flying abilities. Eggs are ammo for a launcher that takes down bosses and solves puzzles (mostly by plugging leaks). The list goes on. Everything is so neatly breadcrumbed throughout the zany levels that it's hard to feel lost or overwhelmed. Just when you think you’re stuck you get a mambo token that zaps you into a termite and now you can scale walls you couldn’t before. It’s a rewarding, Metroidvania-lite exploration style that is among the best in its class.
The secret sauce hidden in all these elements is a unique voice and humor that could really only be captured by a small team of goofy British designers working with tons of creative freedom. So whether it’s a trip down memory lane or an excuse to roleplay as a video game archivist to experience an influential classic, you need to play this ASAP.