Here is something I have not found on the interwebs. We have four well-renowned platformers from what many consider to be Rare’s golden era on the N64. Due to the episodic structure and more cinematic experience of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, I do not find it easy to place sections of that game here. Instead we will look back at the other three titans of the platforming genre to better understand what facets in their design bear recognition for better or worse. Hop aboard the nostalgia train for a rosy eyed glance back at where the genre’s roots were beginning to spread. Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up like good school children.
28. DK Isles
This is quite frankly an embarrassing hub world considering all that was going on within Rare at the time. The juxtaposed giant DK head island with K. Rool’s likeness vessel felt a bit loud. All the mystery of DK Island is sucked out in the first few minutes. The contrast is too strong and there is not much to see. Banana Fairy Isle is out in the distance with a couple power-ups and glorious music providing needed mystical ambiance away from the forced tension. Sure, K. Lumsy acts as the middle man here providing the Kongs with a promise for assistance upon being freed, but he feels tacked on.
DK Isles is bland and lifeless. Beavers man the 360 degree shoreline and you might see a zinger or two but little else. An area around the primate’s left jaw, a temple above, a house on an island in the sky reached via barrel cannon, and a cavern in his ear mark the four world entries on the Kong side along with his center chin granting access to DK’s house and the interior grove if you will. I have always wished they expanded the interior grove with characters or even worlds as it is the most intriguing area but that is not what we got here.
Crocodile Isle, which is a dumbass name for a crocodile seafaring vessel that happens to rhyme is even simpler. This is the side of industry and more integrated nefarious involvement. You go in an abdomen door, swim through an aperture at the base of a vessel, get shot to the crown via bigger barrel cannon, and then through the mouth to access the four areas. Between worlds, the Kongs experience a lively warm tune at home contrasted with the harrowing ominous joint when traversing the kremling vessel. Playing muted renders these vistas devoid of any charm or intrigue. In my opinion, this gets undeserved credit due to it’s wondrous soundtrack. However, when you study the threadbare lifeless design of the hub it does not hold up.
I’m going to draw two comparisons from games that came out prior to this one. First we have to look at Gruntilda’s lair. Yes, her face is also in a mountain which is quite the Rare trope by this juncture. However, what lurks beyond is a mystery and you cannot enter until you learn the basic moves. You do so around the charming Spiral Mountain via finding mole hills and taking out sentient cauliflower among other such curiosities. Similarly you cannot exit the interior grove of DK Isles until you learn the basic moves. This is done via barrel mini games and once they are completed Cranky teaches you simian slam granting access outside. Already we see a major problem of the game. The tutorial along with significant chunks of this game are rudimentary barrel games that rip you out of the environment thereby sucking immersion out of the world.
Anyhow, all of the chambers of her lair are visually distinctive and the palette is greatly varied when expressing a snowy area or a desert area and so forth. Gruntilda’s castle slowly unravels for you like a fine scroll whereas DK Isles, excluding the actual worlds, feels especially disjointed on the Kong side and there’s not enough on the kremling side to make up for it.
Can you imagine a Mario game where Mario traverses worlds on a giant island shaped like his head across from a Bowser vessel? No, because the Nintendo developers know such design sucks the mystery out of the affair. While Super Mario Galaxy 2 might come to mind, it works since Mario’s head is not only an isle but a vessel fit for exploring the stars filled with friends you meet along the way. Peach’s castle, the same console hub world we all know well, is a more fitting comparison here. There is more than meets the eye with mystery unraveling as you explore the paintings floor by floor. Keys grant access to full floors which have secrets within including special caps and castle secrets.
Conversely, DK isles is exactly what you see. The keys here allow you to open single worlds for the most part (not counting the strange 2nd boss key that opens two worlds while the 3rd boss key does nothing). You generally get access to a small room where the level entry is and perhaps a golden banana, banana barrel, banana fairy, and tips from the recently deceased Wrinkly Kong behind 5 Kong colored doors. These rooms feel like a gift shop before going on a ride or going into a restaurant. They’re too similar and there is no mystery as to how to get in the world. It is admittedly fun to glitch past B. Locker with Lanky Kong and skip the higher golden banana doors with his long arms but the most fun I’m having should not be through glitches.
Consider Banjo Kazooie, where the jigsaw puzzle of Freezeezy Peaks is rather cryptic behind Bubblegloop Swamp and not telegraphed for you in the slightest. Not only that, but upon unlocking the world you still have to go out and find it in her weaving and winding lair. Each K. Lumsy key points you in the exact direction to go without fail.
DK Island was handled much better in the original DKC game which this game draws from more than either of the sequels. There are far more ecosystems present and it feels like a genuine place chock full of creatures, variable architecture, and a struggle against the kremlings that is more personal as they have already inhabited the island and built a polluting factory upon it. It works here, but lacks the cohesive panache and intrigue of the original or either bear n’ bird effort.
27. Mumbo’s Mountain
It’s not that it’s poorly designed. No. The only glaring problem with this world is how simple it is. It barely qualifies as a level. Look at Bob-omb Battlefield, Jungle Japes, and Mayahem Temple. All have way more depth with a similar level of challenge as introductory courses. They all do well to gradually introduce the player to various abilities and gameplay in the affair. However, unlike the others, Mumbo’s Mountain can be completed in less than a half hour easy. Notes in batches of threes on escarpments plainly visible, a jiggy given for getting a gorilla to drop an orange on three switches, and most are easier being out in the open with nothing between except a mole hill at most. The termite is a decent transformation that at least surpasses the pumpkin and walrus in my eyes as you actually have another ability (high traction) besides being small and not a bear in the case of Wozza the racist. While the other 3 levels do have incentive to return since there are things that cannot be done, MM is as threadbare as they come.
26. Angry Aztec
I am not a fan of this world. The Aztec is presented as some desert ruins that do not match up with Meso-American environs in the slightest. The palette is bland and the music is grating here. Yes, you have that iconic race with Scuttlebug down the temple ruins slide which was initially my most hated banana and has become my favorite since so much of this world is a flat out slog. Yes, you feed the giant totem dude, a magic camel’s spit cools down a lava filled pool, and the chilling “Get Out!” set piece will send shivers down your spine. However, most of the time is spent looking at quicksand and navigating dimly lit tunnels. In my mind this may be the worst perpetrator of the dimly lit tunnels that DK64 level design championed for some reason. Dogadon is a snooze cruise despite the somewhat funny animations with Diddy squishing her baby. This is notable for being the world where Tiny and Lanky are freed and Diddy Kong learns how to use the jetpack which has followed him around ever since. This level is the deciding factor for a full playthrough for me.
25. Gobi’s Valley
As you might already know (heh heh) I do not like desert levels. Of course it is technically sound along with all Banjo fare. However, a bland palette, cliche theme with none of the charm oozing out of other cliche levels like Freezeezy Peak and Mad Monster Mansion. Trunker is a penis you make erect. Gobi was left in the desert to rot, and as payment for releasing him, the bear and bird chronically slam water out his gullet into their next adventure two years later. The pyramid attractions are stereotypical at their heart with snake charmer Rubee (another phallus-like erection you make here via the snake), bear sphinx heads granting entry to the central structure, and mummies loosed from their sarcophagi all over the place. The level is home to the final molehill where the turbo trainers are acquired. They are used to great effect in the maze and in snatching Grabba’s jiggy. Unfortunately, the rusted pallor hung from the redundant mystery school trope slayed the beast of intrigue here. If you are going to design a desert level I’d recommending deviating from “Ancient Egypt” more as that Disneyland attraction is overdone to death.
24. Glitter Gulch Mine
What is up with these lackluster 2nd levels? GGM is a caricature of a wild western mine with goober yee huh dinosaurs nibbling on yer ankles. Platformers, especially earlier affairs, were keen on orientation with landmarks and Tooie bucked this trend in many worlds. Here it is notable since the main landmarks are piles of various colored ore. Purple, blue, and green if I recall correctly. While this is good to keep track of, it feels empty and vague compared with most worlds in Tooie. Canary Mary and Bullion Bill are the only other souls here. The spaceship and Chuffy are not residents. Dilberta joins the hollow fray of course but I feel a goofy mole miner, perhaps Bottles cousin, might have spiced things up a bit for the better. There are many pitch black sections, dank abandoned caverns, and an overt stillness if not for the banjo plucks. This is one level I do not dilly dally in for long because of the uncomfortable loneliness it instills compared with the rest of the worlds.
I feel like a lot of these ideas look amazing on paper and the execution was rough around the edges. Much of this is due to the daddy T rex transformation. Due to his size, they had to build the area around the mountain with wide passages. The warp pads are a godsend here, but even still, it is so easy to get lost. The caverns leading to the various cavemen tribes and dino contemporaries are easily rendered indistinguishable on the fly. Mumbo’s trouble with slopes here makes traversal a chore. Rare’s cheeky geology around Mumbo’s pad is impossible to miss once the pair can fly but there’s little else to latch onto. The reused raptor fossilized skeleton asset on the walls has always felt tacked on. I absolutely love the area behind the waterfall teeming with electric eels. Such an interesting section that is easy to miss. I also love the Terry characterization, stomponadon, chompasaurus, ridiculous Oogle Boogles, and styracosaur family, but the world around these folks is a bit hollow.
22. Crystal Caves
I gush over the music here and crystalline caverns but the overwhelming grey monochromatic choices can dull the senses. A giant kosha introduces the temperamental baddy assaulting you from the start trope reprised in Hailfire Peaks which is startling to say the least. Once the world tones down from the waves of stalactites hailing down on the kongs, the waterfalls and subtler elements can be appreciated. The cool tonal shift in the ski lodge areas is mesmerizing while the igloo area feels stale.
Diddy is most fun to use here as jetpacking around makes this occasionally confounding place easier to explore. Glitter Gulch Mine could have used a flight pad for this reason even though that would have broken a few challenges. Anyhow, I love the challenge of the jetpack section in the lodge with all of the baddies and the return of the intimidating “Get Out!” character. Scuttlebug makes an emphatic return against the fleet footed Lanky to great irritation or exuberance depending on your disposition. The boss is a more complex retread from Jungle Japes and is just as mind numbingly plain and easy as before (this is how you know they were rushed. The giant kosha ought to have been the boss here.).
21. Cloud Cuckooland
Speaking of rushed worlds… Banjo Tooie has 90 jiggies and CC is the final world. They were planning to make Cauldron Keep a full level. Not only that, CC itself is, at its core, throwing shit at the wall and hoping it works. There are only two warp pads in the world, entry and exit and the mountain interior. I think they largely succeeded, but when you look at the rest of the game this world is a puddle among lakes.
Rotten limburger cheese, red gelatin castle, pot o’ gold, and Guffo’s trash can are some of the islands surrounding the central mountain in the sky of CC. The bee reprises his role from CCW here to marvelous effect as a Zubba hive is high up the mountain. The main enemy here, paper thin acid trips wielding wieners, daisies, and candy canes, are legitimately annoying which makes sense at this juncture. Mingy Jongo is one of the better bosses in BT as a Terminator analog of the normally trusty shaman. Mr. Fit has some hilarious lines and voice acting. He’s in the realm of Pawno, pawnshop owner of Jolly Roger’s Lagoon pathetic. Canary Mary returns for the well renowned rubber band race in the sky via mechanical mouse. To this day, many folks have never gotten her second prize cheat-o page.
The magic of CC is felt most in my eyes via the quests with the floatus floatium. It’s fun to imagine a regular old bear gifted a hovering ability by bagging some strange sky fish. He uses them to place the beans which can later be rained upon via a Mumbo spell to make giant stalks so Banjo can get to the limburger cheese and a sack race with Mr. Fit. Introducing this trope here was magical since it conveyed just how treasured Kazooie is.
20. Rusty Bucket Bay
Last I checked this is Gregg Mayles favorite BK level largely due to his love of ships. However, a lot of people are flat out turned off by the industrial worlds since the mechanization stands in contrast to the pure fantastical realm. However, to these folks I say, it is all part of the dance. The Rusty Bucket is docked in Twycross at Rare HQ. This is compelling supposing this is Grunty’s vessel given the evidence. She’s polluting the port and Snacker, last seen in Treasure Trove Cove, is impervious to her oil slicked domain rendering the waters exceptionally dangerous. Snorkel the dolphin who was cruelly sliced in half by an anchor switched on for withdrawal by the heroic duo, also appears unphased by the murk. Points were deducted by the judges in East Romania due to the porpoise’s death.
The pair are tasked with smashing doors, windows, and diving in cowl vents (the non sentient ones) to cabin quarters, the kitchen, the engine room, and most every nook and cranny of the vessel. Around the perimeter docks are egg tolls where narrow bridges can be formed between the boat house, warehouse, storage containers and cranes, etc. This is the first world in the game that gives me legitimate pause as restarting a note run is flat out nauseating since there is so much ground to cover in this highly caustic environment. The engine room is the usual strain here but it is not unfair as the fans operate on a consistent pattern. I appreciate the challenge here as so much of this game is an absolute cake walk. We have the only semi-legit boss sans Grunty in Boom Box who is a push over provided the pair are well stocked in golden feathers. The music here is understandable from a tonal perspective but I do not enjoy it on repeat save for the cabin interiors where a nice hummable sea shanty can be heard.
RBB’s strength lies in its mystique. Where does the Rusty Bucket go when it’s not docked in Twycross? Who is the captain of the vessel here? What kinds of freight is Grunty carrying in all of those boxes? In my head canon the Rusty Bucket is the offshore arm for Grunty’s underwear business detailed in Tooie’s Grunty Industries. Both are among the most polluted worlds of the series and ostensibly serve functions outside of the scope of their respective games.
19. Jungle Japes
Damn! That first room. When you brachiate vine to vine across the area hit that switch and dive in you’re feeling pumped. I found it interesting the developers introduce Funky and the fire arms here while Candy’s Music Shoppe is notably missing. Diddy’s excursion in the mountain is another highlight (mine cart level! bonus points!) along with Chunky’s foray into the decidedly bat worshipping underground. Armydillo is underwhelming, but he looks amazing, and the music is opulent candy.
The central caverns beneath the mountain leading to Cranky are occupied by a couple mohawk tool bags. Also, during this short traverse, the weather has dramatically shifted to torrential downpour. Rambi is playable via DK for a disappointing cameo. The other area uphill to the left at entry has a neat Tiny section but feels a bit tacked on otherwise. Solid way to start the game but suffers from hallway syndrome that plagues much of DK64.
I would have made great canopy sections with Swiss Family Robinson esque huts here but what we did get with the mountain is a solid start to an off the chain platformer.
18. Mayahem Temple
Technically my favorite start to a Rare 64 platformer. It does nothing wrong. Cool interconnected areas. Jade Snake Grove stands out as the most beautiful art on the N64 console. Run up to the code chamber temple and leap up to the top. Look down around you at the seamless naturalistic environment with natural lighting. I’m mesmerized by what they were able to do with polygons to this day.
Targitizan is a solid first boss as FPS egg shooting has just been introduced and things will get testy as you get closer to his head atop the grand totem. I love Unogopaz, the feline bouncer at the kickball stadium. He lets you in even though he knows Banjo is a stony imposter. The moggies are a cool lore piece as a Mayan cat tribe is fun to imagine. Chief Bloatazin is a hilarious corpulent Garfield esque cat smitten by riches. He is the implied leader here but he is relegated to a temple filled with gold and needs you to retrieve the Targitizan relic for him. Of course their leader is vain and obese and would never be able to climb those gold piles with his fat ass.
Regardless of his likely narcissistic intentions, this is a clever way of introducing the Metroidvania as an Unga Bunga from Terrydactyland stole the relic and the pair can steal it right back for the hefty cat leader. Targitizan could have been swapped for a giant moggy warrior to great effect.
Mumbo’s role is well introduced here and I’d contend his efforts are only matched in Grunty Industries and Hailfire Peaks where he has quite a few things to do. Commandeering the Goliath statue to open major sections and get a jiggy on an island in the swamp is great fun and feels more important than the t-rex transformation in Terrydactyland.
The introduction to Wumba and her pool transformation is underwhelming here. However, it is funny that her and Mumbo’s hate each other to the point where she asks him to get out of her wigwam and pool if the bony man visits. The actual transformation, Stony, is likened to his name, stiff as stone. In terms of pure movement he is the worst transformation to date but what he does is pretty interesting. Stony Kickball is a nice break away from the action and gives you an inkling into how the moles and jinjos might duke it out as noted many times throughout the game. Kickball is a big deal in the Isles O’ Hags. Also, being able to communicate with the stonies all around Mayahem Temple was a cool quirk to boot.
17. Gloomy Galleon
I’ve grown to enjoy this world more over time. Making it the halfway point in DK64 was an interesting choice due to its slow meandering pace as the game’s water level. I have a feeling many playthroughs end here due to it being the water world when things like OOT’s Water Temple exist and have unfairly jaded the masses on the variant. The Kongs are evidently sea monkeys so you won’t have to worry about oxygen in the slightest.
Ultimately, this jig is a 3D love letter to DKC2. Ghostly galleons are everywhere with Captain K.Rool’s imprints all over the vessels. If you played DKC2 prior to this I envy you. I get it now but going through with this experience in hindsight it feels like you are right by Crocodile Isle where all the sunken Kremling ships are littered now in the aftermath.
One galleon with a K. Rool mast enters the fray via spectral forces when Donkey Kong turns the light house on. This sequence is one of the finest in the game. I always reference this and the ballroom in Creepy Castle when referring to the high points and where the game might have headed if they weren’t interested in padding it with bs like four iterations of beaver bother. I digress. The hilarious drunk/seasick Chunky sequence in the ghostly galleon is quite fun too.
Enguarde returns via Lanky transformation and an insatiable tune to boot. Unlike Rambi, he can be used throughout most of the main areas, raises or lowers water, and opens up a grotto piled high with treasure for the Kongs to explore. He is such a pleasure to control and a gem in an adventure filled with clunkers.
The mermaid sequences with Tiny are mystifying for a young child. Swimming inside comparatively giant kremling infected clams for pearls to give to a bountifully bosomed mermaid leaves me with so many questions. Grant also happened to craft a tender hearted mermaid tune I’ll always hold up as one of my favorites.
The lighting is great here in evoking the moody tones and the hallway syndrome is only present along the initial path making this one of the more refined DK64 worlds.
16. Bubblegloop Swamp
The music here is jaw droppingly catchy as Grant plays with the aleatoric of frogs, bubbling bogs, gurgling brass, and his trusted marimba to entrancing effect. Piranhas will nip at the pair’s heels making the trusty waders and the baby croc transformation welcome accoutrements to their swiss army of abilities. We meet Tiptup within a lovely goober Tanktup who has the pair follow along with his choir or face the consequences of being a subpar musician.
Greenie or the baby croc transformation is one of the better ones as he can attack and takes part in likely the most well-renowned mini-game of the adventure. Inside the giant limbless croc lurks an exceptionally competitive douchebag by the name of Mr. Vile. He will cause even the most capable gamer to scratch their noodle in frustration in this fun take on whack-a-mole. Despite his difficulty, the character is a riot and when greenie finally defeats him you can breathe a sigh of relief as nothing else will cause too much trouble. While you may only want to visit such a place with waders on throughout I can appreciate the team hearkening back to DKC2 with the swamp vibes.
15. Clanker’s Cavern
Clanker’s presence makes this level hum. A bioengineered whale/shark Gruntilda Dr. Moreau’d for garbage disposal. He’s a bit bloody in areas bringing to mind how Grunty the psychopath performed surgery. He is pretty disgruntled initially, but once you raise him up through the depths he has a brighter angle and his other problems seem cosmetic by comparison. Raising him in the abyss with the aid of Gloop may be genuinely nerve wracking as the music fades and you are left to cope with the high pressure deep water anxiety. The stress is worth it though.
He has many orifices the pair can enter and he even has a blowhole which serves as a raised platform to scan around his environment. The world looks like a sink that needs scrubbing rife with grille chompas and decrepit pipes. While it does not appear to affect Banjo or Kazooie adversely, there are mutated snippits implying there is radiation in Clanker’s domain.
His innards are both fun and disgusting to explore. This is Banjo Kazooie’s iteration on Lord Jabu Jabu or Jonah and the Whale and you can’t help but love him after you’ve raised him up, cleaned his teeth, and swam throughout his insides. This level is all about helping a friend going through a rough time and can easily be analogized to aiding someone who is physically impaired. It’s rewarding and makes everyone’s life a bit more enjoyable.
14. Hideout Helm
This is definitely the most nuanced entry on the list. The timed final level of DK64 in the mouth of Crocodile Isle. It is super easy and provided you have been diligent with blueprints it will not trouble you in the slightest. What makes this section fantastic is you get to see the Kongs on the fly bucking the plodding pace most of the game is played in. You need certain Kongs to bypass certain obstacles, the clock is ticking, and the magnanimous intensity of the music keeps you pressing on. I wish more sections of this game were framed this way as it would have greatly enhanced the adventure which often feels tedious in the 25 golden bananas/500 bananas dispersed across the Kongs format.
13. Frantic Factory
Down a few floors from Hideout Helm we find the central engine to Crocodile Isle. The music is spot on with the tonality and color of the world. A music box carrying the eerie melody amid mechanization, robo kremlings, and an uncomfortable sense someone is watching you. The baddies feel notably distinct here. There is a mechanically augmented zinger, mecha kremlings, and sentient dice and dominos. This place is more unsettling than most as the organic creatures are at a premium in lieu of all the possessed toys. The sentient toys have a punch clock at entry, a menacing engine room, an R&D room, a grand toy room, and the finest miscreant of the title stirring up all of the mayhem down below.
Mad Jack is one of my favorite bosses of all time.
He’s no retread or throw barrel at face simple baddie. He’s a rejected magical jack in the box who battles Tiny on improbably high platforms. You fight him with his own fire power. Electricity. Matching colored switches with the space he is on can be excruciatingly hard to see when you have but a few moments to dodge his onslaught and slam on the electrical conductor to roast him. You can feel the sinister nature of his design. He legitimately scared me as a child and is the icing on the cake of this frenzied chapter of DK64.
12. Mad Monster Mansion
The cliche Halloween world. You have allusions to Rare aplenty here with Captain Black Eye of Project Dream’s portrait found in mansion and the 1881 keg in the cellar below referencing their old title Atic Atac. Everything is undead except the bats here. The grille chompas are skeletal, invincible skellys can be temporarily knocked out, tomb stones give chase, and green ghouls may only be dealt with via wonderwing. Napper, a large ghost, naps at the center of the dining table and will awaken if the pair step on the floorboards meaning the only way to get the Jiggy within him is by entering Santa style through the chimney.
The church steeple is enormous and while Motzand the ghostly musician hand’s challenge is a joke, the sheer scale of the organ and rafters will have the player feeling like a mouse. Sentient headstones surround the steeple and if Kazooie poops out eggs in the flower pots Grant says thank you in a muddled F you fashion. The hedge maze takes on a more isometric aerial view which was a great design choice as exploring that area normally would have been a chore. The pumpkin transformation is cute and leads to a rather stinky situation once the amicable toilet Loggo flushes them down.
I want to see Grunty living here and hosting rancid parties with her sisters Mingella and Blobbelda to the chagrin of Brentilda. This world exudes personality and is often bandied about as one of the finest renditions on the spooky Hallow’s eve trope.
11. Fungi Forest
This was originally intended to be a Banjo level that was ostensibly cut and repurposed for DK64. The day/night mechanic is executed well here. Areas are opened or gated off depending on time of day and the contrast in tasks is much appreciated.
Grant’s takes on daytime and nighttime FF are indelible in my mind’s ears. Warm swelling oboe/flute and marimba guiding along with triumphant brass and decidedly avian dalliances. This is springtime surging through the clouds illuminating the world. In the evening, the world takes on an entirely different countenance. Owl hoots, wolf howls, and cautionary cello/viola evoke chilling forces surrounding you. That central oboe and twinkly music box chorus unto flute only enhance the fragile feeling in spooky terrain as you dash to and fro between the mill and barn.
This is a tucked away mythical abode to many larger than life contemporaries. A giant worm in a giant apple needs a new place to settle away from giant evil tomatoes. That’s why we have Chunky folks. Bohnenstange the beanstalk appreciates being grown into a grand stalk high in the clouds by Tiny with an oafish grin. Speaking of Tiny, she has another memorable bout here when she shrinks down and takes on a mama arachnid and her younglings in the water mill. Similar to Crystal Caves with giant Kosha, the spider mini boss ought to have replaced Dogadon. It’s a more engaging battle as is but with the notion of the spider holding a key they could have spent more time adding Chunky centric combat via his giant transformation or perhaps even invisibility learned a level later. Oh well. The boss we got is lackluster and takes a bit away from the experience.
There is plenty to make up for it though. Rodney the Hare’s race with Lanky is quite challenging but feels so good when he finally gets caught on a kasplat assuring victory. Diddy’s rehashed Jetpack course with the owl in the evening is a bit more enjoyable than the earlier rendition with the vulture in Angry Aztec. My favorite sequence has to be Chunky’s mine cart section. It’s flat out brilliant. I would love to go on that ride around mushrooms, rainbows, and through the mouths of a gargoyle and haunted arbor.
I quite enjoy the water mill section and how it is sectored off dependent on daytime. What sticks in my mind most though is the giant amanita muscaria the Kongs get to thoroughly explore. This massive mushroom offers a quality barrel course and is adorned with bridges and ladders enabling the quintet to scale the mighty fungi to their heart’s content. The splash of warm exuberance during the day contrasted with nerve wracking fingernail nibbling evening works well and if not for a poor boss fight, this would stand tall with the better Banjo worlds.
10. Hailfire Peaks
Let me state this outright. I prefer the icy side. Steve Malpass designed the icy side while Gregg Mayles, lead designer of the Banjo games, designed the lava side.
The lava side is likened to the engine room of Frantic Factory. It’s loud, unpleasant, and the flame surfer dudes harrassing the pair are probably the most annoying enemy in the game. The architecture is decidedly ancient Rome with fractured stone work evocative of a primal age gone past typified by the coliseum. The Hailfire Kickball Stadium is an archaeologist’s wet dream to explore. Gargoyles shoot fireballs at the pair who can not only play kickball here but also scale the enormous columns via chain or claw clamber boots for more goodies and a true challenge in the infernal heat.
I love that you have to cool down the train to enter the icy side station via Gobi who now resides in the lava world he bandied about in Kazooie. I love that Mumbo has a secret passageway in his hut leading to Wumba’s Wigwam. Boggy is outrageous here staring blankly at his uber tv who upon accepting the boiled fish asks Banjo to partake in a bear porn viewing party. Mildred is teary eyed about her doomed husband up above and she holds a jinjo. You can practically see those last sand grains fall. It’s not like ice cubes are people, right? Breaking them doesn’t phase us, right? This isn’t as bad as what Conker did to Bloopie, right? Ugh. Anyhow, we have yetis including one big foot stand in with a huge… foot, an oil pipeline, and a great alien family revival. An old Rare gent is thawed out by the duo and carried back to his tent on the lava side. I especially cherish the icicle grotto’s cool blue tonality. What a place to hang out that would be.
The twin dragon elemental contrast pizza delivery failure is aesthetically gorgeous but Willy and Billy are far too easy a challenge at this stretch.
The fire and ice duality is tried and true here.
9. Creepy Castle
The pinnacle of DK64 in my opinion. The castle delivers in fluidity of play and atmosphere like no other level. From the dungeons down below with perhaps the finest mine cart section in a Donkey Kong game, to the ghoulish ballroom alit in ghastly laughter, to the castle heights where the wind drafts carry Lanky to dizzying heights it all comes together.
If I recall correctly, significant chunks of DK’s and Tiny’s bananas are bread crumbed from the base of the castle to the roof. The breadcrumbing here cuts down on the tedium of changing Kongs to get everything in an area more so than any other level. The areas are distinct with subtle shifts in musical intrigue from screaming ghouls to carousing spirits and so forth.
The creaks on the drawbridge above and wooden board below set the tone for CC. You’re exploring haunted terrain in perpetual rain. King Kut Out is a fun light hearted Phantom Ganon esque boss at the center of it all. Using all of the Kongs in battle here was quite fun emphasizing the familial core of the game. CC is a more convincing take on the ghoulish energy than Mad Monster Mansion which comes off as cutesy by comparison.
S-Tier High Tier
8. Isle O’ Hags
I love how convincingly unique and intimate Isle O’ Hags is compared to Grunty’s Lair. Banjo’s world was an enclosed corridor and now the HAG1 has gouged a gaping hole leading to Jinjo Village and onward to the wilds of Isle O’Hags. It turns out Banjo grew up in the outskirts of Gruntilda’s empire and undid all of her manic work when she bearnapped his sister. Jinjo Village, a harmonious acre or so ravaged by the Winkybunions, is now the opening locale every time the game is booted up.
You’re always reminded of the destruction these hags have wrought. So much is left to the imagination since the story is top and bottom heavy with few cutscenes in the middle. Gruntilda was in your face in Banjo Kazooie. Now you can feel her presence but she’s always looming in the shadows. The anachronistic nature of this world takes you from a prehistoric photograph in the Wasteland to the likes of the industrious slag Quagmire. HAG1 tracks and the Klungo battles serve as the connective tissue through the world. Silos are far more accessible than the cauldrons of BK. I love the various entryways into worlds especially Cloud Cuckooland’s bubble.
7. Gruntilda’s Lair
From the play on Teddy Bear’s Picnic tune coercing the pair deeper into Gruntilda’s madness to the organic breathing interplay the worlds have in her abode, Grunty’s Lair is a phenomenal hub. She scolds you throughout the lair to rhyme incentivizing you to press on in the most hilarious fashion. She won’t shy away from harassing you like some yodel with a megaphone hiding up in the rafters. Her polar opposite sweet sister Brentilda can be found throughout revealing ugly secrets about the old bag. Cauldrons are littered throughout for teleportation purposes. Figuring out how to raise the water level takes some snooping and Click Clock Wood’s early tease into the grand finale was a stroke of genius rewarded here. There’s so much to say about one of the finest hubs in gaming.
6. Treasure Trove Cove
I feel like this is lower on many lists due to the unbelievably catchy vibrant tune Grant crafted and the playful environs. They wouldn’t be wrong. TTC is where I would point someone to what Banjo Kazooie is in its raw form. Pure distilled fun on a CRT. I think it’s simplicity renders it less enduring to someone who grew up playing Tooie first and Kazooie down the line. Anyhow, the pair learn how to fly and use the shock jump pad to great effect on this brilliantly executed isle. X marks the spot familiarizes the pair with the controls and plays into the overarching pirate theme. This concept is well honed at Rare and each instance is worthy of gushing embrace. Anywho, Blubber the hippo’s woes over his gold are hilarious considering he’s a water based animal and they lie in his shipwrecked vessel. The developers are telling you something. Everything in these games is cheeky arr arr jokes. Mumbo’s Mountain is the plain tutorial. This is Banjo Kazooie proper.
5. Freezeezy Peak
Perhaps the most charming world in the series. The twinklies and Boggy’s poor children are oh so cute in the face of adversity. A dinosaur variant popping out of the woodwork to snatch sentient Xmas light bulbs and children who don’t know where there father is with their presents. Turns out he didn’t get them any. No, the presents are scattered about for the pair to find. Not only that. The lummox doesn’t dart back home to care for his young. Instead he is insistent on racing them once they relieve him of the jiggy he swallowed. Once defeated by the walrus he demands a rematch like a complete drunken ignoramus and still does not return home. He only gets worse in Hailfire Peaks. Boggy bullshit aside, Wozza is a racist walrus who refuses to let bears in his cave.
Concerning the charm, the snowman interactivity at all levels with notes at the feet, a magical trot up the scarf, up to his nose, pipe, don’t forget his buttons, and finally his hat. The Christmas Tree climb is magical bringing to mind childhood days gazing up at the tree from our backs. The snowy village is tres mignonne but when one of those Sir Slush are guffawing and hucking chunks of the white stuff it puts a damper on the parade. You’ve gotta aerial bomb those d-bags right in the noggin. Love this world. Classic!
4. Jolly Roger’s Lagoon
A sea shanty town situated before a labyrinthine lagoon rife in giant octopi. The homosexual overtones are both hilarious and a bit grimy but they color the world well. Jolly Roger is a frog who runs the local tavern. When you enter his tavern and look at the chalkboard menu any halfway coherent person can deduce what these specials are truly getting at. He asks for your help in finding his partner Merry Maggie who was last seen swimming out in the lagoon. His gesticulations and vocal burbles are of frilly dandelion frou frou fox fingers.
After you oxygenate the water with Mumbo who does the video game equivalent of going out to get his mail, returning to nap and calling it a day you find a giant fish at the bottom of the lagoon. Merry Maggie, an obvious drag queen, belching a deep burly voice swims back home to her boo Jolly Roger who is elated you saved his partner. Dilberta and Bullion Bill are interspecies partners and now we have some homosexual frogs. Banjo Tooie is a little bit odd to say the least.
Anyhow, we have the interplay between Grunty Industries and the lagoon. A couple pigs complain to you about their cold and polluted swimming pool. One of them now sports an extra limb due to the sludge. This is the most drawn out jiggy in the game which is fitting given the environmental ethos Rare paints in our minds above everything else.
Tip tup’s appearance here is confusing since he appears to be the mother of the baby we need to hatch and tip over en route to the sea. Seahorse style reproduction for turtles?
The submarine transformation is one of the greatest in the game especially considering the pair can take down papa anglerfish while mechanical.
Atlantis might have been bettered by the presence of the mermaid folk to liven things up a bit more but I love the ruins as they are in game. Chris P. Bacon’s uber tourist underwater photography is a brilliant way to familiarize folks with subaquatic egg aiming.
This is a phenomenal level that was my favorite for years and has only lost traction because some of the underwater sections are admittedly a tad slow.
3. Witchy World
Man oh man, they are virtually interchangeable now depending on mood, season, etc.. Witchy World offers perhaps the finest resurgence in gameplay I’ve seen. Glitter Gulch Mine felt a tad tone deaf, muddy, and slow compared to most Banjo fare. Witchy World is the antithesis. A closed off dilapidated theme park adjacent to a lake where the log flume ride is shown to have gone off the rails just a bit there hits at the heart of Banjo Tooie’s core. Growing up and recognizing the malaise going on when you’re told it’s all fun and games is the message.
We enter the batshit crazy carnival to find father of the year Boggy’s wife notable for being known as Mrs. Boggy instead of having a name like everyone else in her family. She wasn’t present in the prior game and who could blame her for taking time away from the jackass. The duo are tasked with finding her three children who we did meet in the original. Boggy’s family picture gets grimier in Hailfire Peaks when Boggy asks Banjo if he’s down to watch ursine porn, but here we find the whole family to be a bit off the rails.
Soggy (the little girl) is fine and goes easy when you find her. Her two brothers are dingbats. Moggy who reeks of Bart Simpson forces you to smack some sense into him and Groggy is so laughably corpulent that Banjo has to carry him back to mama who then beats him with her purse. This reminds me of a 3 year old version of myself who bit my 2 year old brother en route to the park and my mom turned the car around after forewarning us to stop fighting lest she do just that. Ahh familial scars don’t ever go away.
Around the big top you can open up a burger stand ran by disgusting rhinoceros Big Al and a greasy fry stand ran by acne covered 30 year old working at a video game store fox Salty Joe. These guys are the epitome of carnies or ne’er do well retail whiners. Grunty breaks her own fourth wall and takes on a fresh role as Madame Grunty, a random risk reward fortune telling tent.
The park is divided into four major areas. The wild west zone, space zone, horror halloween zone, and entry way surround the big top tent. The most plain strength about this world is how easy it is to navigate. Where in Glitter Gulch Mine you might find yourself in an area you’ve already been through an alternative tunnel here you can easily identify when areas are cleared out and where to go next. The big top is most fun to address last so let’s start with the zones.
The wild west zone has Humba above on some escarpment left of area entry which is neat since the transformation here is too robust for climbing. You’re required to use it’s capabilities of access in the park to return. The money van may be the best transformation in the game. It’s invincible. Mowing over possessed slot machines is an experience not easily matched. Also, it can enter specific areas that require money of course. Across the way from Humba is a neat take on the classic test of strength. Inside is an inflatable castle which must be inflated and offers two games within that aid the pair in familiarizing themselves with solo Banjo and Kazooie.
Horror zone has a ludicrous high dive. An inferno hellscape area with maniac matts zipping around and a cool iteration on Mumbo’s hut. There’s a spooky prison where a bearded Gobi and a captured styracosaur can be found. A neat dimly lit apparition filled hallway of teeth ramps up the creepiness quite a bit. The Witchyworld train station is also here hitting all those macabre feels.
Space zone is connected via cable car to Wild West Zone which aids in setting up the Saucer of Peril. The Saucer of Peril is a great mini game that takes you throughout the park shooting targets while flipping and zipping around the attractions. We also have the money car activated attractions being the bumper car variant Dodgem Dome and Star Spinner ride. The Star Spinner offers a truly unique take on 3d worlds with the spinning platforms rising to a wildly gyroscoping metallic Saturn. The symbolism in context of a hokey outer space mythos is quite good.
Around the big top you can take out four sentient slot machines for tickets to the show within. Conga from Mumbo’s Mountain makes a cameo here donning a circus suit and lets the pair in. Here they fight the bold and brash Mr. Patch. A dinosaur inflatable who’s knot was tied jokingly between his legs. He makes use of the aerial egg aiming, the game favorite grenade eggs, and has assistance from a sentient burrowing boxing glove that pops out if you get too close. I love this boss battle.
This level hits so many chords for me as it represents puberty, life in the big carnival, and the strange goop we find ourselves in playing Rare games.
2. Click Clock Wood
Many games peter out. All of the creative energy was exhausted and now the developers have to rush to get this game out before the deadline is a common thread. Banjo Kazooie may have had a quick production time when the project shifted gears to a 3d platformer but they did not skimp on the details or scope of this project in the slightest. The opus of this opus in my eyes is Click Clock Wood.
A world based around an enormous tree, it’s inhabitants, and the many changes they undergo as the seasons go by. The level drops you in a central hub room with four seasonal doors in the cardinal directions. Only spring is open at first but each foray leads to the next season via slamming on a thematic switch.
In spring, Gnawty of the Donkey Kong series needs help getting in his home which is blocked by a boulder. Since the boulder is submerged underwater the pair have to wait until summer when the lake has dried up to smash it and then winter to retrieve the jiggy when the water returns since the slope up to his home is too steep for Kazooie’s chicken legs. This is the type of seasonal vignette that implores the player to deeply explore the nooks and crannies of the world.
Interesting notes about the world:
Grant flexes his chops here with four finely crafted seasonal renditions of activity around the huge arbor.
Nabnut the squirrel is one of my favorites since his lazy arse can’t be bothered to nab the acorns paces from his home in autumn. When you have fulfilled his quota he can be seen in winter hibernating happily alongside Nibblenut.
Spring is interestingly the only season the bee transformation may explore and his inclusion is much appreciated since many of the BK transformations were a bit too simple.
An improbable house is built bit by bit throughout the year.
The Zubbaz hive is always in flux and reduced to a broken down shanty by winter.
Hatching and feeding the baby eagle Eyrie through the seasons is a heartwarming endeavor pontificated by his jiggy toot once he’s ready to fly.
Gobi revitalizes yet another plant here and swiftly departs for the lava world following the abuse.
No other level has the variation in characters, pacing, and environmental factors that CCW boasts. This is a thriving ecosystem largely untouched by Gruntilda’s meddling and it’s purity and evergreen design make it a joy to replay again and again.
This is controversial, but I know there are many people out there, especially those who know Banjo Tooie front to back, who understand this level is an opus of 3d metroidvania greatness.
When you enter Grunty Industries the first time its whole vibration hits you like a case of the Mondays. This grimy factory set in eternal precipitation with what appears to be sludgy sewage surrounding the intimidating fortress. It is anything but straightforward and jubilant like virtually every world in the more successful predecessor. My first playthrough, I vividly remember searching for a way in and somehow blindly scanning over the train switch. Frustrated, I popped on over to Hailfire Peaks and only revisited after beating the witch. Not many 3d platformer worlds that are technically sound will leave me distinctively stumped the way this one did.
Taking the train in sets the tone for the grand infiltration and chaos generation the bear and bird create here. GI is siphoning in oil from Hailfire Peaks and leaking radioactive sewage in Jolly Roger’s Lagoon. This operation has the greatest ramifications on Isle O’ Hags. Grunty has high security at her and Mr. Pants underwear factory joint operation. She has robotoid sentries littered throughout with cameras monitoring your every move. There are grotesque gruntlings who will waddle over and swing wrenches at the pair. There are even sentient nuts and bolts making a soft allusion to the third console title in the series. The few friendly folks she hired are a handful of filthy rabbits. They’re plainly glum since their clothes are dirty and other than them Loggo makes an appearance in their work quarters. Apparently Grunty felt his services were better appreciated at her factory than in her haunted abode.
Systematically unraveling its secrets involves smashing sentient batteries called bazzas and carrying them to areas that require an electrical charge to open the door or operate a game. The labyrinthine design is bolstered by the variety of methods to scale the floors. There are breakable windows scattered throughout the five floors and roof top. There is an out of service elevator shaft Banjo may climb for a peek into a floor that may be opened from within for easy access. When in optimal use, the fall-proof cheat is turned on and the shaft serves as fast travel down the first floor. There are walls and ventilation shafts among other heights that may be scaled with the fascinating claw clamber boots. The washing machine hinted at in Banjo Kazooie is realized here and in addition to cleaning the rabbits clothes may access employee only areas along with a service elevator. Throw in the warp pads and you’ll find yourself combing over the place mapping out floors with their various access points, corridors, and functions.
I will always remember the electromagnetic chamber where you must temporarily disable the enormous magnet with Mumbo after unbolting the switch plate from the 3rd floor. Then hastily transform into the washing machine to press the switch thereby opening the repair depot in the Air Con plant in the basement where Weldar resides. A sentient welder at the base of the factory stuck making repairs was a curious design. Lead world designer Steve Malpass retrieved his design from the waste bin and thankfully he did.
The pathetic nature of his entry into the room culminating hilariously with a raucous battle where he leaps high to the ceiling and levitates for seconds at a time is riddled in irony. He electrifies the floor and keeps the pair dancing throughout as he routinely attempt to swallow them whole. This is my pick for best boss of this game which is interesting since his situation resembles Mad Jack’s in DK64 who also happens to be the finest fight in that adventure. Mad Jack is far more sinister in nature while Weldar has comically awful sight and continues to talk to you despite being broken down to just his head.
This world is a grower divided in controversy as a glorious puzzle box that continues to engage and challenge the mind more than any other Rare gauntlet replay after replay or an ugly chore. Obviously I am of the former camp.
Thank you for checking out my list! I’m curious to see what you think and if you agree with my exclusion of Conker’s Bad Fur Day since its structure is at odds with the rest.
Keep it wild, dudes.