Rareware's bear and bird team known as Banjo-Kazooie hit the gaming scene as a zany selectable character in Diddy Kong Racing, along with an array of other colorful drivers.
But unlike many of those unknown animal pals of Diddy Kong, Banjo and his avian companion would go on to star in a couple of the most beloved 3D platformers ever. He would even make a rather unexpected appearance in the multiplayer brawling hit, Smash Bros Ultimate.
While this dynamic bear and bird duo has been mostly absent from the scene of late, there are a number of interesting titles they have at least been a part of in some capacity - both separately and as a team.
With that said, let's revisit this charming software and rank what we feel are the best Banjo-Kazooie experiences. We'll also include a few honorable mentions which represent titles that Banjo has made an appearance as a playable character.
8 Honorable Mention: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing With Banjo-Kazooie
This enjoyable arcade racer from Sega leaves a bit to be desired, at least when compared to the likes of the Mario Kart franchise. Still, it does make for a fun, admirable alternative, especially for 360 gamers who happen to be a fan of Rare's bear mascot.
You'll be able to select Banjo as a playable character, who drives a red car that fans of Nuts & Bolts might vaguely recognize as the Bolt Bucket. Even disregarding this lovable character, though, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing features some thrilling racing gameplay, along with a plethora of colorful settings and satisfying items to bust out. It also contains a pretty solid online mode, which could certainly go toe-to-toe with Mario Kart Wii, released a couple years earlier.
7 Honorable Mention: Diddy Kong Racing
Banjo fan or not, there's much to love about this underrated kart-racer from Rare. While Mario Kart 64 was all the rage in the mid-90s, this innovative racer quietly flew under the radar with its unique plane and hovercraft vehicles and a full-fledged solo mode that played a bit like a platformer - complete with epic bosses. Diddy Kong Racing shines as a truly fun and inventive 4-player romp.
Fans of a heavy-weight Bowser-esque character could opt for Banjo, who made his debut appearance as a second heaviest driver out of this lineup.
6 Honorable Mention: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
In June 2019, Nintendo caught fans by surprise after a pretty unexpected reveal of an upcoming DLC fighter which would be added to the already vast Smash lineup. Just as the hype seemed to be dying down with this game, fans of these awesome platformers from Rare had reason to be pumped for this fighting frenzy all over again.
The coolest aspect of this inclusion, aside from the warm and fuzzy 90s nostalgia, is this duo's fun, crazy playstyle, which truly feels distinct - aside from a few similarities to the Duck Hunt duck. The combo of Banjo's brute bear strength and Kazooie's ability to fly makes for an entertaining and effective fighter.
Keep in mind, this placement doesn't imply Smash Bros Ultimate is a lesser experience than Banjo Pilot - that would be an absurd notion! Rather, this is the weakest of the lineup that actually stars our favorite honey bear.
With that out of the way - this handheld kart racer is a bit frustrating. This isn't just in terms of its difficulty, but because, despite its charming visuals, it doesn't quite measure up to its spiritual predecessor Diddy Kong Racing. This is despite Banjo Pilot being released several years later. The mechanics can feel a bit stiff, and the aerial vehicles controlling a tad similar to DKR while somehow feeling more limiting.
Still, it's tough to offer a decent racer on the limited GBA and its more restrictive d-pad, and Banjo Pilot does manage to deliver somewhat.
4 Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's revenge
It's easy to see why this cute little platformer, which first released on the GBA in 2003, was ported to mobile devices given its simplicity. Yet, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Grunty's Revenge does feature some enjoyable gameplay in small doses; assuming you can get past the crude, flat graphics, along with the somewhat annoying sound design, and the fact that you're missing your avian pal much of the game.
If you're looking for a handheld Banjo experience, you don't really have any other options anyway. Thankfully, this spinoff game makes for at least a moderately amusing adventure.
3 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
This odd vehicular-based action-adventure is sort of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's a decent enough game in its own right, and offers an interesting new twist on the typical platformers Banjo has been known for. It does present a visually pleasing and vibrant art style and offers some unique, rewarding gameplay that revolves around construction and customization.
On the other hand, it's something of a letdown for fans who love those N64 titles and expect a similar journey; as it's a far different experience. There are some light platforming elements to be had - but those who aren't too keen on fetch quests, driving, or vehicle construction probably won't get a ton out of this Xbox 360 romp.
While this lesser-appreciated sequel to Banjo-Kazooie does improve on many elements of the '98 hit, ultimately it falls just a tad short of that game. In fairness, it's tough to beat an initial breakthrough with any sequel. Yet, it doesn't quite help that this game has a fair bit more backtracking and bloat in general, while not offering a ton that's new and lacking some of the original's charm.
Still, Banjo-Tooie features an impressive amount of enjoyable content for an N64 game, including amusing new abilities, challenges, more dynamic environments, and even some fun multiplayer options. You also get a more compelling, darker narrative than the first game.
It's tough to match the unique character and gripping gameplay the original Banjo-Kazooie offers. From the debut of the iconic villain Grunty, to the satisfying collectible Jinjos, to the imaginative settings like Rusty Bucket Bay, this platformer is brimming with greatness.
This is simply Rare at its peak. There's plenty of depth, content, and visual/audio flair that paints the scene and makes the game compelling without feeling overwhelming. As a 90s kid, this felt like an even more creative, colorful evolution of Super Mario 64, which was truly groundbreaking for its time.