Banjo-Kazooie, without a doubt, is one of the greatest platformer series of all time. The series rose to popularity thanks to some expertly crafted platfomers in the N64 days, but due to Microsoft’s purchase of the company in 2002, future entries in the series (including the teased Banjo-Threeie, which received beta footage) were canceled. While the series meandered on handhelds for a while, the series’ official continuation was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts on Xbox 360. The game was heavily panned by fans of the series, who yearned for a classic 3D platformer instead of a vehicle-building game. Nuts and Bolts was supposedly the death knell of the series. Fans felt betrayed, believing that a return to Spiral Mountain in its original 3D platformer form would never come to be. But a recent string of events from developer Rare have pointed to a potential revival in the critically acclaimed Banjo-Kazooie series. Tidbits from various Rare employees have hinted at a new Banjo-Kazooie game appearing at E3 2015. But what could this be? Could this be a return to form for the series or more obscure experimentalism that alienates the core demographic?
Nuts and Bolts is widely considered to be a giant middle finger to fans. Between the near lack of platforming and the in-your-face, almost mocking level of fan service (The Banjoland level in particular is incredibly cruel), the game desperately tries to remind you that it’s a Banjo-Kazooie game, but delivers none of the gameplay scope the series was known for. That’s not to say the game is bad. Far from it: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is a great game with lots of solid mission design and customization. It just shouldn’t have been a Banjo-Kazooie game. This level of fan discouragement is what is keeping the skepticism at a high; after the left-turn of Nuts and Bolts, we really don’t know where Microsoft and Rare will take the series should the revival happen.
The lack of successful 3D platformers in retail is a point worth noting, as very few have taken off in sales. It’s a genre that’s more reserved for digital downloads, where simple development can get ample exposure. Rare’s current staff is also of importance, as a majority of the employees who’ve worked on the heyday Banjo-Kazooie games have left Rare entirely. Key figures like Chris Seavor (Conker’s Bad Fur Day), Grant Kirkhope (composer for Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64), and original founders Tim and Chris Stamper no longer work for Rare (though Seavor is returning to voice act Conker in Project Spark). With much of the golden touch from the N64 days missing from Rare’s current lineup, there isn’t much confidence in being able to recapture the magic that made Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie such top-tier titles.
But oddly enough, Microsoft isn’t without its promise either. They’ve done a decent job in reviving classic series lately. Killer Instinct has proven to be a huge hit with fans, despite having an entirely different developer running the show, while the return of cult hit Phantom Dust shows that even the most obscure titles have a shot at redemption. This new approach to the gaming audience shows that Microsoft is listening. Series that have been dead for years or even decades are getting a chance to juice up again and come back to the masses. Banjo-Kazooie could be the next in line.
Altogether, we’re going to have to keep the skepticism going. Rare is a notoriously secretive company, leading to a lot of problems when it comes to communication with the public. With the 3D platformer steadily becoming niche, we’re leaving the spirit of the genre in the hands of those who grew up with it, like Gears for Breakfast (creators of A Hat in Time). But those kinds of developers, the ones who made the kinds of games they loved in their childhood, have proven to be lucrative for Microsoft. Killer Instinct continues to get support from the people who adored the series in their youth, leading to a boom in popularity on Xbox Live. With the right people, Banjo-Kazooie could come back just as strong as it did in the late ’90s. Of course we’re skeptical; we’d be foolish after the cheap shot of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, but Microsoft’s reputation is not nearly as scathing as it was five years ago. For the first time in ages, Banjo-Kazooie isn’t a lost cause.