This adventure of a bear and bird is not so absurd.
Fun characters and dialogue
Clever and interesting level design
Plenty of cool moves to do
The swimming sucks
Re-collecting everything after death is annoying
There isn't much of a story to be told in Banjo-Kazooie. Banjo and his buddy Kazooie wake up to learn from their mole friend that Banjo's sister has been kidnapped by the evil witch Gruntilda after her magic mirror told her she was not the most beautiful girl in the land. So its premise is basically a ridiculous Snow White copy but the characters and dialogue make it fun to sit through and watch. After Banjo ventures into Grunty's lair, she frequently summons her voice onto you and speaks in delightfully funny and odd rhymes. While some only rhyme if you say them in a European way but you can't hurt them for trying. Grunty is certainly one of the most unique villains out there.
There is also your buddy Kazooie who will always put a smile on your face by insulting basically every character she makes verbal contact with and they always insult her right back. Most of the insults are volleyed from her and Bottle the mole, who is your instructor on learning new moves in each world. It's quite fun watching them bicker and put a smile on my face most of the time. You'll constantly meet a growing cast of characters on your journey and they all become a treat with their witty and silly dialogue.
Banjo is a very nice looking game. The worlds are filled with detail from great looking landscapes to creepy swamps and caves with perfect color palettes. The draw distance isn't terrific, as enemies and some objects will pop-in as you get closer. This can make leaping off of high places annoying as you don't know if you'll land on something bad. Banjo's shadow also isn't perfect for jumping from ledge to ledge since it's nothing more than a blurry circle so relying more on depth perception is always a possibility. The character models themselves are all nicely done. Like other Rare games, they're nice and goofy with large eyes and silly animations that are fun to watch. Even a giant metallic whale whose eyes follow you when you run on his head is a real nice touch.
One thing I love about the graphics is the water. It looks pretty accurate to the real thing and Banjo making bubbles with some decent looking reflection is a great addition. The splash effects could be better but the ripples look neat. The game's framerate, like a lot of N64 games, is very low. It runs smooth enough to not be annoying but on a few occasions it drops like a stone. Usually when there's a lot of things happening on screen. It's kind of a drag but N64 gamers are certainly used to it anyway.
Banjo's music is fun and unique, making all of the worlds have a bouncy and cartoony soundtrack. The watery beach level has a nice tropical sound with appropriate use of bongos and other instruments and some nice gentle waves you can hear in the background. Other areas have nice use of tubas giving the whole game that clumsy, silly, comic feel to it and very few games seem to use this as well. It makes the game feel like a cartoon from the 1940's and we all love those. My favorite piece of music in this game is from the level knows as Click Clock Wood, where there are four different seasons and the same song plays on each season albeit with different instruments to feel proper. The winter has that nice mellow feel, spring has the happy uplifting beat, summer has a waltzy feel accompanied by bees buzzing out the climax, and fall has the "goodnight" feel, so to speak. It's great use of music accompanied by a great piece of level design.
The sound effects are about what you'd expect from a Rare game. Everything sounds over exaggerated, from the punching to the collisions with the ground and walls, and that's what works in a game of this nature. Instead of voice acting, text is going along with short audio blurbs that sound nice and silly and when Banjo finds a Jiggy, which are the equivalent of stars in Mario 64, a catchy tune plays followed by Banjo yelling a happy 'Buh-hah' which as absolutely delightful.
Banjo is not your typical 3D platformer. It focuses more on collecting many objects scattered throughout each world. Jiggies act like stars in Mario 64 and you collect them to fill put the pictures of each world to proceed though the game. Each world has 10 Jiggies, some hiding in clever spots, others you get by solving puzzles and defeating bosses. They're very rewarding to find and the game makes it challenging enough as to having a high requirement of some of the later pictures but it doesn't to take too much of a commitment to find every last one. Other things you collect in each world are music notes and Jingos. Find all of the Jingos to get a Jiggy and collect notes to unlock doors to more areas of the game. Here's where the most problematic part comes in. If you die inside of a level before you collect every last one of these, you'll have to restart the level and do it all over again. It's tedious, frustrating, and makes you want to throw the controller out the window.
There's a lot happening here mechanically. Banjo and Kazooie learn a plethora of moves introduced in each world until a certain point. Ground-pounding, high jumping, egg shooting, flying, dive-bombing, and more. The most useful of these moves is intended for Kazooie to carry Banjo up steep hills but is also best used all the time since it's quicker than running with Banjo's normal speed. Another great one to use a lot is a double-jump, that is actually more plausible than in many other games, to get more hang time and slow your descent. The combat is very basic and consists of rolling into enemies or just punching them, which is fine since there are better things to do than kill things with complexly. Shooting eggs is more for puzzle solving than anything else as you have to shoot eggs at various objects to open up a door or activate something. Aiming is very tricky but the hit detection is at least forgiving.
Although these moves are fun, there's a few things that are never fun to do. Swimming is almost never good in video games but even moreso here. There are two different speeds at which you can swim. The slow Banjo doggy paddle and the quicker Kazooie wing flap. Banjo swims too slow for anybodys patience and Kazooie turns with the accuracy of an 18 wheeler. This makes collecting things underwater a chore especially with some questionable hit detection on the collectibles. Flying is not much better. It's easier to move around in the air than underwater but there are many times in which you have to do a dive bomb attack known as 'beak bombing' and it's completely frustrating. You have to position yourself and press the B button to slam your way into something but it's hard to get the aiming down and if you miss then you may go off course or hit the ground and take damage.
Despite these issues, there's a lot to love about the levels. Each is filled with different mechanics from the last. Sometimes you'll be transforming into an animal to work your way around or ground pounding turtles to play a game of memory. Collecting acorns to help a squirrel through hibernation, stomping on camels to water a tree, shooting eggs into a sphinx's nose. There's something creative around every corner and it's all enjoyable with great platforming inbetween. Describing everything would take forever so I'll just summarize and say that Banjo-Kazooie has something that anyone can enjoy.
Although the shortcomings are hard to overlook, Banjo-Kazooie is still a great game that fans of the genre can get tons of enjoyment from.