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Banjo-Kazooie was a Rare gem in the time of early 3D platformers, but Nintendo let it get away

Banjo Kazooie Smash Bros
Banjo Kazooie Smash Bros (Image credit: Nintendo)

For many people, developer Rare is synonymous with Nintendo classic games despite not being part of Nintendo for two decades now. That's because Rare created dozens of hits on retro Nintendo consoles. Among its impressive repertoire there's Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. Now that our favorite bear and bird duo are on Nintendo Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, I couldn't be happier.

Banjo-Kazooie A true classic everyone should play

Banjo-Kazooie was actually the very first N64 game I owned as a kid. Growing up with five siblings, I had to purchase the N64 console and games myself. So, I often used my babysitting money to rent from Blockbuster rather than purchase a game. But as soon as I had checked out Gruntilda's crazy lair I knew this would be the first game I actually bought. The infectious music, zany locations, and quirky characters all work together to provide a unique experience I have never seen anywhere else in a platformer.

Banjo Kazooie Flying (Image credit: Rare / Xbox Game Studios)

Banjo Kazooie Freeze Easy Peak Snowman (Image credit: Rare / Xbox Game Studios)

Source: Rare / Xbox Game Studios

Banjo and Kazooie have their own skillsets that they use to help each other reach new locations and solve puzzles, which makes for some fun problem-solving. Not to mention, the ability to magically turn into various animals with the help of a character named Mumbo Jumbo makes exploration even more fun since you can discover areas in new ways.

Many people compared Banjo-Kazooie to Super Mario 64 when it released since they were both 3D platformers in a colorful fantasy world where you went about collecting shiny golden objects. Coins and Stars in Super Mario 64 and Music Notes and Puzzle Pieces in Banjo-Kazooie. However, Rare's characters were far more crude, ready at any moment with potty jokes or just to say the craziest things. As a kid, this was peak humor and still makes me chuckle today.

Gruntilda Banjo Kazooie (Image credit: Rare / Xbox Game Studios)

If you haven't played Banjo-Kazooie before I highly recommend you check it out on the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service. However, it will be more enjoyable if you can manage to get your hands on the N64 controller for Switch since it has all of the correct buttons and single joystick that the game was designed for. As The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed us, controls can be pretty wonky if you're using a Switch controller with the Expansion Pack games.

While I'm happy Banjo-Kazooie is on Switch, I'm honestly a little shocked it was able to happen given Rare's ex-relationship with Nintendo.

Rare was monumental to Nintendo's golden age Contributions to Nintendo's identity

Donkey Kong Country (Image credit: Nintendo)

Goldeneye 007 N (Image credit: Nintendo)

Source: Nintendo

Back in the 80s and early 90s, Rare made a name for itself by producing several notable hits on NES and SNES, including Battletoads. Eventually, the company caught Nintendo's attention and entered into a partnership with the gaming giant. In fact, the Japanese gaming company considered Rare one of its key developers and gave the British video game company free rein to make a 3D CGI game using Nintendo's characters. That's how Donkey Kong Country for SNES came to be. As we know, it was a huge success and resulted in several sequels and spin-offs.

Rare grew to more than double the number of employees during that time and Nintendo backed it with an unlimited budget as it continued to produce hit after hit. This success continued with Rare's N64 titles. Unfortunately, today Rare no longer creates Nintendo games due to Nintendo's business plan from back then.

Nintendo and Rare breakup What happened here?

Conkers Bad Fur Day Chainsaw N64 Logo (Image credit: iMore)

Rare's founders, Tim and Chris Stamper, fully expected Nintendo to acquire the studio, but the Japanese gaming company didn't make any moves. Nor did it provide the second-party developer with any increased funding after the 90s and 2000s successes. As such, the Stampers began courting other potential buyers and were eventually acquired by Microsoft in 2002 for the large sum of $375 million (opens in new tab), and there Rare has stayed since.

While it might seem obvious to us that letting such a big part of its identity get away was a bad move on Nintendo's part, the Japanese gaming company was intent on moving away from second-party developers at the time, so they weren't interested in acquiring Rare despite all the good games the developer had made. Nintendo historically hasn't always made moves that make sense but that's neither here nor there.

Sea Of Thieves A Pirates Life Jack Sparrow (Image credit: Rare / Xbox Game Studios)

After becoming part of Microsoft, Rare attempted to create a new 3D game starring the Bear and Bird, but Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was so different from its previous games, missing key features of the originals, that it had a very mixed reception. Rare also released a collection of its previous titles including Banjo-Kazooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark in the Xbox exclusive, Rare Replay. Since then Rare has shied away from this classic duo in favor of new characters and creations.

This has lead to several successes, the most notable of which is the online action-adventure multiplayer, Sea of Thieves which released in 2018 for Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. Just recently Xbox Game Studios collaborated with Disney to even bring Jack Sparrow and a few other Pirates of the Caribbean elements into the game. Rare seems to be thriving, quite content and happy with being Microsoft-owned.

Will we ever get a new Banjo and Kazooie Nintendo game? Not likely

Banjo Kazooie Mumbo Jumbo (Image credit: Rare / Xbox Game Studios)

Since Rare holds the rights to Banjo and Kazooie and the company is now owned by Microsoft it's likely we will never see these two again starring in a new adventure on a Nintendo console. The closest we'll probably ever get happened when the two were added as a new DLC fighter in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is a game that already features guest fighters from several other consoles and franchises outside of Nintendo.

Honestly, it's even a little surprising that we got the original N64 game on the Expansion Pack given Rare still holds those rights. In somewhat positive news, it does seems like Rare's hit shooter GoldenEye 007 is headed to Xbox Game Pass according to leaked acheivements, but it's hard to say if it will be coming to the N64 emulator too. That game is so tied up with movie licensing deals that it will take several negotiations between Microsoft, Rare, Nintendo, MGM, and more for it to ever come to the subscription service.

Yooka Laylee (Image credit: Team17)

Fortunately, there is a modern game for Nintendo Switch that has been deemed as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie that Switch owners can enjoy, and that's the similarly named Yooka-Laylee. It was created by several former Rare employees now within Playtonic Games and published by Team17. Just like the cooperative bear and bird, this new platformer stars a green chameleon and his sassy bat friend who use their individual moves to platform each other around a fantasy world collecting golden "Pagies," beating baddies, and solving puzzles. There's even a sidescroller sequel called Yooka-Laylee: The Impossible Lair if you want even more lizard and bat fun to scratch that Banjo-Kazooie itch.

A Rare classic

Banjo-Kazooie was one of the best-selling N64 games in its time and left a lasting impression on the generation of players who experienced it on that retro console. It's so delightful being able to see the original game return to a Nintendo console now that Rare and — by extension Microsoft — hold the rights to these characters. But Nintendo shouldn't have let Rare get away in the first place.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend. 

1 Comment
  • So much of Rare's success was due to its collaboration with Nintendo that it was actually Microsoft that made the bad move expecting the studio to deliver the same sort of stuff without Nintendo's input. What has Rare done since those days that is even worth mentioning? If Sea of Thieves is the best they can do for 20 years...wow.