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About a peaceful bear and arrogant bird

April 24, 2010

From talking to people that watch our marathons, not everyone’s familiar with Banjo-Kazooie.  If you’re one of those people, this article should get you prepared.

The first game in the series is a 3D platformer that came out in 1998 for the Nintendo 64, where Banjo and Kazooie – a lazy brown bear and a red crested breegull living in Banjo’s backpack – have to rescue Banjo’s sister Tooty from the evil witch Gruntilda, who is plotting to steal Tooty’s beauty.  It’s clearly inspired by other 3D platformers, particularly Super Mario 64, and arguably set a trend in the theme of collecting items.  The most prized collectibles are golden jigsaw puzzle pieces, called “Jiggies”, used to unlock each of the nine levels in the game, musical notes that allow you to explore new portions of the hub world, and molehills, where you can meet up with Bottles the mole to learn new abilities.  In spite of a lot of the features being common in later platforming (and even non-platforming) games, the game is well-remembered and considered one of the better games of its time.
Released two years after Banjo-Kazooie, the game plays extremely similarly to the first game.  This time Gruntilda, now reduced to a skeleton after her previous defeat, recruits her sisters Mingella and Blobbelda to seek revenge on Banjo and Kazooie and restore her old body.  The game plays very similarly to the first game, reusing the game engine and most of the graphics.  Among some of the improvements made to the game include a revised note system which is now used to purchase special abilities and the ability for Banjo and Kazooie to split up at certain points.
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge
This is the first Banjo-Kazooie game made for a portable system, the Game Boy Advance.  It acts as a side story set between the first two games, where Gruntilda attempts to go back in time to prevent Banjo and Kazooie from ever meeting.  The game leaves behind its 3D roots in favor of a 2D overhead perspective, but manages to keep the same style of gameplay with an emphasis on exploration and item collection, and acts as a good guess as to what Banjo-Kazooie might have been like if it were made several years before it actually was.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
The latest game in the main series, for the Xbox 360, plays nothing like the previous games.  Instead, in a match arranged by the Lord of Games to determine ownership of Banjo’s home, Banjo completes most of his challenges to get notes and jiggies using various vehicles.  In addition to using vehicles from preconstructed blueprints, Banjo can build and modify vehicles from any of the parts they can find.  The platforming and exploration elements of the previous games are downplayed, emphasizing creativity and imagination in completing the appropriate challenges.
Diddy Kong Racing
This is a kart racer clearly getting inspiration from the Mario Kart series, with the most notable differences being three different vehicles – cars, planes, and hovercraft – and that ability to see what type of item you’ll get by color coding item balloons.  Also unique to a kart racing game is an adventure mode with multiple things to accomplish beyond just straight races, including some battle tracks and a coin challenge requiring you to collect coins on the track in addition to winning the race.  In spite of a more popular Nintendo character getting first billing, it’s also the first appearance of Banjo, most likely a result of his first intended game having been delayed.
When Rare was sold off to Microsoft, they reskinned some of their games to feature their own characters instead of existing Nintendo characters.  This game, retrofitted from a Diddy Kong Racing sequel, is one such game.  Banjo, Kazooie, and friends race around several locales from the earlier games in planes.  In addition to the usual races, Banjo-Pilot also features a jiggy challenge, which plays like the silver coin challenges in DKR, and features every track going in both normal and reverse direction.
Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing
This game is most likely Sega’s response to the Mario Kart series.  Characters from various Sega franchises race around on tracks inspired by various Sega franchises and attack each other using items taken mostly from various Sega franchises.  The game also features online play and a unique mission mode.  Banjo and Kazooie make a guest appearance on the Xbox 360 version of the game, driving a truck that looks inspired by the vehicle customization system featured in Nuts and Bolts.
Some characters you’ll see a lot of:
Banjo: A brown bear that usually acts as the main character.  He’s portrayed as lazy and a little slow, but polite and always having good intentions.  Banjo has a younger sister, Tooty, that acts as the damsel in distress in the first game, then is almost never seen again.  Banjo’s abilities mirror that of a typical platforming game character – unexciting, but functional.  Banjo also makes appearances in multiple racing games, where he usually has high top speed and weight but poor acceleration and handling.
Kazooie: A bird, a red-crested breegull specifically, that lives in Banjo’s backpack.  Personality-wise, Kazooie is almost the opposite of Banjo, being wisecracking and adventurous and willing to argue or insult pretty much anyone.  Kazooie has limited flight capabilities and can peck enemies to attack except in Nuts and Bolts, where she wields a magic wrench (and makes her annoyance with her inability to use her original abilities well-known).
Gruntilda: An evil witch that usually acts as the game’s antagonist.  Gruntilda originally plotted to steal Tooty’s beauty, but since her first defeat she has mostly tried to simply get revenge on Banjo and Kazooie.  She also has a habit of speaking in rhyme, having some sort of quiz challenge at the end of the game that tests the player’s ability to remember details of what they had just played, and generally appearing in each game in significantly worse physical condition than before (by the latest game she’s reduced to a head, with her skin completely dried up).  Some of her sisters, including the good witch Brentilda and the other evil witches Mingella and Blobbelda, and her pet cat Piddles, all make occasional but nearly pointless appearances.
Bottles: A near-sighted mole, he is a friend of Banjo and seems to be a source of information.  In the first game, if you found one of his molehills Banjo and Kazooie would learn a new ability – in other games, this role instead fell to his brother, Sgt. Jamjars, and an ancestor, Bozzeye.  Bottles was dead for most of Banjo-Tooie, but was eventually revived and makes references later to him “getting over it”, as if it’s a common illness.  Surprisingly, Bottles is the “gamebreaking” character in Banjo-Pilot, with near perfect stats across the board.
Mumbo Jumbo: In his own words, “greatest shaman in all game”.  Early in the series, he is able to transform Banjo and Kazooie into other animals (and occasionally, non-animals), which ends up being useful for tackling some challenges.  Banjo-Tooie changes his role to a playable character, who could use his magic somewhere in each level for various purposes, like bringing a giant statue to life or oxygenating water.  In Nuts and Bolts, he instead acts as a mechanic (and claims it’s more exciting for him) who can engineer new vehicles given the appropriate parts.
Humba Wumba: Another shaman with a rivalry against Mumbo Jumbo (though they seem to get along better later in the series).  She was introduced in Banjo-Tooie and essentially retains Mumbo’s transformation skill from before.  In Nuts and Bolts, she sells new vehicle parts and blueprints, claiming it’s a side job from the magic business being in decline.  Like Mumbo, she tends to speak in slightly broken English.  She’s also notable in that she’s one of very few characters in the series that looks distinctly human.
Klungo: A green goblin-like creature.  Originally he was a henchman of Gruntilda, who acted like an Igor-ish mad scientist.  Towards the end of Banjo-Tooie, he eventually lost loyalty to her and became a good guy and started making video games instead.  In spite of being a mad scientist, he seems somewhat dim outside of his field.  He has a habit of saying “teh” instead of “the” and overprouncing the letter S, so he’s probably a cross between a snake and a troll.
Jinjos: Jinjos are a creature that always seem to need saving, not that they ever actually look like they’re in danger.  Some number, usually 5, appear in each level, and collecting all of them usually results in winning a jiggy.  Jinjos come in multiple colors and live in a (usually) peaceful village ruled by a giant jinjo, King Jingaling.
L.O.G.: The Lord of Games, who claims to have had a hand in creating every video game in existence (even the crappy ones).  He makes his first appearance in Nuts and Bolts, acting as overseer and referee of Banjo’s challenge to reclaim Spiral Mountain – so if you didn’t like this game, it’s probably his fault.  He’s surprisingly cynical about the game and its challenges, and seems well aware of the logical loopholes in the game.
Some characters you’ll see a little more occasionally:
Captain Blubber: A hippo and pirate that always seems down on his luck.  He talks with a pirate accent and always appears with a pirate hat, but otherwise seems incompetent at the whole pirate thing.  He usually appears in watery or tropical levels.  A recurring theme seen throughout the series is that he’ll appear in each game near a vehicle he crashed and gives you some task ending with him receiving money, which he uses to buy some newer and cooler-looking vehicle he manages to crash by the next game.
Boggy: He’s a polar bear and father of three, usually appearing in each game’s ice level.  In Banjo-Kazooie, he’s an accomplished sled racer, but he’s grown progressively lazier as the series goes on.  In a role even he admits is unfitting for him, he runs a gym in Nuts and Bolts, where Banjo can exercise to increase his speed, strength, and stamina.
Loggo: Probably the most bizarre character in the series (and you can see already that’s saying a lot), Loggo is a talking toilet.  He appears frequently in levels based on human environments, complaining someone flushed something down him – and frequently that something is of significant value to Banjo and Kazooie.
Gobi: Gobi is a camel, who has a level named after him – Gobi’s Valley, a desert.  As one would expect for a camel, he usually appears in hot, dry areas.  A recurring joke in the series is that several tasks in the game involve Banjo slamming into Gobi’s back, causing him to release the water he was holding that ends up doing something else (like watering a plant or cooling a train engine), after which he would complain that it took him forever to find that water and leave for another level entirely – occasionally ones that aren’t known to exist at the time.
Cheato: Gruntilda’s old spell book.  As the name suggests, Cheato can teach new cheats to Banjo and Kazooie to increase their item carrying capacity or other benefits.  In Banjo-Kazooie, he appears in out of the way areas that take extra effort to even find.  In Banjo-Tooie, you’ll instead need to find some of his pages that were ripped out of him as punishment for helping Banjo and Kazooie in the previous game before he’ll teach you anything.  He also has a minor role in Banjo-Pilot, where he can help unlock various features and characters.
Jolly Roger/Jolly Dodger: First appearing in Banjo-Tooie, he’s a frog who runs a hotel and bar, and probably has some notoriety considering the level he appears in is called Jolly Roger’s Lagoon.  He’s most likely gay, judging by his effeminate behavior and unusually masculine-looking partner.  In Nuts and Bolts, he’s changed his name to Jolly Dodger, and has jiggies available for purchase on the black market.
Trophy Thomas: A tiger with an extremely competitive nature.  So far he’s only appeared in Nuts and Bolts, and frequently has challenges that put you in direct competition with him, usually as a race.  Getting a very high score of very fast time in any challenge gives you a T.T. Trophy, and four of those can be redeemed for a jiggy.
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