These two iconic words – spouted from the mouth of a vaguely African witch doctor in a way that only the late 90s could get away with – defined a franchise. Two great games in though, Banjo and his avian pal Kazooie more or less disappeared from gaming history entirely. Aside for a poorly constructed racing game (Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts) released 10 years after Banjo-Tooie, we’ve heard nary a peep from the second most dynamic duo in Nintendo’s history – after, of course, Mario and Luigi.
However, the reasons that Banjo and Kazooie never starred in another game again are not quite as drama-filled as the plight of the Jingos. Instead, it has to do with industry trends, as well as a poorly executed acquisition of Rare by Microsoft. With that in mind, let’s explore the reasons as to why we’ll likely never get the Banjo Kazooie sequel Banjo-Threeie, the game that was meant to be the true three-qual to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise.
Let’s Go Back To 1998…
Way way back in the 1990s, things were looking really good for Rare Games. A lucrative partnership with Nintendo moved from the studio developing low-effort IP fodder, like the Nighmare on Elm Street platformer, to working on NES classics like Battletoads. Soon enough, Rare moved into a more pivotal role in their Nintendo partnership, developing iconic franchise like Donkey Kong, Killer Instinct, and 007 Goldeneye.
Not long after, Rare would develop their most ambitious game yet for Nintendo, Diddy Kong Racing. Centered around Diddy Kong, the so-called ‘nephew’ of Donkey Kong, this racer featured a colorful cast of characters, and an existential sense of dread woven into the plot, one that would define future Rare Nintendo titles, including Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Within Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo (sans-Kazooie) made his debut as a friend of Diddy Kong’s—a powerful racer in his own right, although he had no backstory to speak of.
It should be noted though that Banjo was originally conceived as a minor character in a cancelled game called Project Dream for Super Nintendo, which was also set to be developed by Rare. However, with the launch of the Nintendo 64 and the subsequent success of Super Mario 64, Project Dream was not to be. Instead, Rare decided to redouble its efforts and create a game around Banjo himself, which was actually in development before Diddy Kong Racing. However, even the best laid production plans can become delayed, and Banjo-Kazooie was pushed back to 1998 after his debut in Diddy Kong Racing a year before.
The Rise of Banjo-Kazooie
While Super Mario 64 was the template for the first Banjo-Kazooie title, the game itself ended up becoming so much more. After its release, it subsequently became a critical darling and one of the most popular platforms on the Nintendo 64 by selling over 1.8 million copies. A Banjo Kazooie sequel, Banjo-Tooie, was released two years later. With less emphasis on platforming and more emphasis on exploration, Banjo-Kazooie redefined what was expected from platformers, and was followed up by a long list of hits for Rare, including Donkey Kong 64 and the Perfect Dark series.
In many ways though, Banjo-Kazooie was a turning point for the 3D platformer. Its colorful texture world was populated with a variety of characters, all of who were a lot louder and brasher than Mario and the cast of the Mushroom Kingdom. This was particularly true for Kazooie, Banjo’s foulmouthed partner in crime. Kazooie pushed Banjo into his adventures, creating a kind of begrudging partnership between the two characters.
One unique aspect of Banjo-Kazooie that made the game so iconic was how it combined both Banjo and Kazooie into unique characters that need to work together to solve puzzles and complete challenges. Although the player largely controls Banjo, it is Kazooie’s legs and flying abilities that allow Banjo to interact with the environment in different ways – and soar to new heights.
Above all else, both Banjo-Kazooie, and the Banjo Kazooie sequel Banjo-Tooie, redefined what the 3D platformer could be and influenced subsequent forays into the genre until it fell out of popularity barring recent Super Mario games like Super Mario Odyssey.
The Fall of Banjo-Kazooie
It only takes one bad racing game to kill a franchise. Just ask Jak and Daxter. After Jak X: Combat Racing, the Jak and Daxter franchise was effectively dead – although it at least had a complete trilogy under its belt before it befell the same fate as Banjo-Kazooie. But it wasn’t as though Rare initially had a Banjo-Kazooie racing spinoff in mind from the get-go, let alone two.
At the end of Banjo-Tooie, hardcore fans may recall that upon defeating her in the final boss fight, Gruntilda the witch claims that she’ll be back in ‘Banjo-Threeie.’ In truth, the game was actually briefly in development for the Nintendo Gamecube. There even was a tech demo that was release in 2000 along other Gamecube mainstays like Super Smash Bros. Meeele, Luigi’s Mansion, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Donkey Kong Racing (which was also cancelled and in development by Rare).
However, in 2002, game development became increasingly more expensive, and Rare did not provide Nintendo (who at the time owned 49% of Rare) with more capital to make games for its platform, nor did they opt to purchase the company outright. Because of this, Rare was forced to look to other companies for capital to develop its games, and Microsoft quickly came in with an offer to purchase them outright – which they quickly accepted.
Once the acquisition was completed, Microsoft wanted to use Rare to get in on the handheld market, and had Rare hastily make the Gameboy Advance title Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge, which was initially made to be a spin-off during Rare’s Nintendo-era. This game downgraded the experience to a 2D platformer, and to make things more confusing, was a midquel to the other two Banjo-Kazooie titles. This was Rare’s first game since the Microsoft buyout, and it was quickly followed up by a port to mobile devices, which could barely support the game at the time.
They soon followed this up with Banjo-Pilot, another Gameboy Advance title that was a racer that largely took its gameplay from the flying sections of Diddy Kong Racing. While at Nintendo, it was initially under development as Diddy Kong Pilot, although that IP belonged to Nintendo at the time.
With Banjo and Kazooie now having become largely irrelevant, Microsoft and Rare gave it one last go with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Although critically praised by critics, this Xbox 360 title angered classics fans of Banjo-Kazooie due to its altered character designs and the fact it took 10 years to create after the original title was released. Like its predecessor, it also took the form of a racer, but this time with a great emphasis on building vehicles. This isn’t what fans of the franchise where looking for and while its sales were solid, it largely destroyed the viability of the franchise in the eyes of fans.
Will There Be a New Banjo-Kazooie Game?
In one word, no.
That being said, there has been a lot of rumors around the idea that Banjo and Kazooie might start in a new title, even if it’s not a direct sequel to Banjo-Tooie. These rumors have mostly coalesced around the fact that Banjo and Kazooie recently appeared as paired fighters in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fighter.
While it seems that Nintendo and Microsoft may have come to some sort of agreement here, it should be noted that many other characters from other companies not affiliated with Nintendo have appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, including Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, Joker from Persona 5, and the titular character Bayonetta from Bayonetta. This means that even if there was another Banjo-Kazooie game, then Nintendo would almost certainly not be involved, and we definitely won’t see it released on the Switch.
With Banjo and Kazooie being one of the most popular downloadable fighters for the game though, many people have been hoping that the bird and the bear will reunite for another adventure. Speculation has been furthered by Banjo-Kazooie character artist Steve Mayes in an interview with VGC, where he openly mused about the possibility of Banjo and Kazooie returning in some form. However, Playtonic Games, an independent game developer that is currently staffed by many of the same developers who worked on Banjo-Kazooie, have announced on Twitter that they are not currently working on a Banjo Kazooie sequel, and that the ball simply isn’t in their court to do so – that is unless they were acquired by Microsoft.
It is well-documented that Microsoft and Rare, at least for the most part, have gotten on like oil and water. Microsoft even admitted that the acquisition has not proven to be what they hoped it would be. After a shunted effort on Microsoft’s Kinetic line of games, as well as a lack of sustainable titles under their belt since the Xbox 360 days of Perfect Dark Zero, Microsoft has largely sidelined Rare. This is with the large exception of Sea of Thieves, their open-world pirate adventure title that is being continually supported by the company.
However, with the recent inclusion of Banjo and Kazooie in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, there seems to be renewed interest in seeing the characters go on another adventure. While Microsoft may capitalize on that at some future date, right now, it seems unlikely that we’ll see the two traipse around Spiral Mountain in the near future.