Super Mario 64 and Banjo and Kazooie, two of the best 3D platformers for the Nintendo 64. Both are excellent games, made by Nintendo and Rare. Which one is the best one is purely up to opinion, I do like both of them and having been able to actually play Banjo and Kazooie after having skipped out on it while I had a N64, I figured it’d be fun to at least compare the two of them.
Starting off, we’ll start with the gameplay. Super Mario 64 has you controlling Mario and Mario only. He doesn’t come with any animal buddies, chatty side kicks with a passion for helping you or tall and lean brother. Even with his weight, Mario is still limber on his feet and is rather easy to control. He’s rather responsive and you don’t have to deal with laggy controls or a character who acts drunk. He also comes with all of his moves off the bat. You don’t have to unlock any of them and the only thing you have to unlock that helps him get around are the 3 cap switches which allow you to use a cap that lets you fly/glide, turn into metal or phase through walls.
Banjo and Kazooie gives you a duo that you control and while Banjo is the default one, you eventually get to control Kazooie who can shoot eggs, carry Banjo on her back for once and even fly. The downside being that you have to unlock some of these abilities while chatting with a mole named Bottles, who is not all that fond of Kazooie. Banjo is slower than Mario and doesn’t move like an acrofatic that Mario is but since you’re controlling two characters, you have a wide range of abilities to use. Just don’t try and attack with Banjo’s claws, they are beyond useless.
Both Mario 64 and Banjo have you entering a large hub world that connects you to various other smaller worlds. Mario has Toadstool’s Castle while Banjo has you braving the depths of Gruntilda’s Lair. Toadstool’s Castle is, well it’s a darn castle and is pretty easy to find your way around to the various worlds. There are a few that are a bit obscure to get to but you’ll catch onto them. In comparison, Grunty’s lair is kind of confusing and it can be easy to get lost in thanks to the layout. One has to wonder just how in the hell she gets around her lair. Either she has some hella fly navigation systems or she has a second floor that is much easier to navigate and leaves the more annoying floor for the duo to deal with.
The smaller worlds you explore in Mario 64 are your standard platforming levels, a lava world, an underwater world, an ice world while throwing a few new ones like a clock level, a rainbow level and a ghost circus. Okay so ghost levels are kinda standard by now but really, ghost circus. Not an actual circus but...moving on. Banjo diversifies it’s worlds a bit more, they’re kind of your standard platforming levels but they toss enough flavor into them. Your water world is a pirate island where you help a sad pirate, fight a giant crab and soar the skies. Your cavern level is home a large metallic shark that serves at Gruntilda’s garbage disposal. Your starting world is home to a magic shaman who transform you into various animals for a price. I find Mario’s worlds to be fun but just a tad on the empty side, they are lacking in character or much flavor. Of course you can’t be too hard on Mario, it was the first 3D Mario game and the first game for the Nintendo 64, while Banjo and Kazooie came out years after it.
Now we come to the dreaded part of 3D platformers and that is of the collectathon portion of it. Rare is probably the one who started this sick and disturbing trend of having you collect one of everything to gain the percent needed to completely beat the game. Mario thankfully has you collecting the 120 stars, although only about 75 or so are needed to beat the game. While it forces you to collect coins to get some of the stars, there are usually more than enough to get the job done. Banjo forces you to not only collect the puzzle pieces that allow you access to more worlds, you also have to collect notes to access doors that let you get further as well. It wouldn’t really be a Rare game without having to collect lots of stuff.
When it comes to collecting the main useless trinket you need lots of to get through the game, Mario 64 gives you a vague hint of what you have to do to get the star. Sometimes it isn’t even vague and tells you outright but at least you have an idea of what you have to do. Banjo just tosses you into the worlds and lets you hunt the jiggys down on your own. Some of them can be found easily, others can be a bit obscure, and some are just downright evil to find. This is coming from the same bloody company that hid a collectible you need, in a hidden bonus level. The nice thing is that if you know what you’re doing, you can get all of them in one shot, while Mario punts you out of the level once you get the star. Which can be a tad awkward when some of the stars aren’t too far apart and it would behoove you to go track the other one down once you get the first.
Music wise, Mario 64 has a good soundtrack with some really noteworthy tracks like Dire Dire Docks but also tends to suffer from the fact that it reuses the tracks in various worlds. Nothing is more of an annoyance when you hear the same track over several worlds. Some of the music really sets the mood for the worlds like when you enter the Ghost World or when you soar the skies of Rainbow Ride and when you enter the Hazy Maze to the tune of some throwback Mario tunes. All that said, I didn’t find much of the soundtrack all that memorable. Banjo’s soundtrack is composed by the great Grant Kirkpatrick and has a different tune for each world. The highlight of the soundtrack is actually the second world you enter, Treasure Trove Cove but many of the other tracks are also pretty good. While some of them really don’t set the mood, they are fun to listen to in the game and out of it. While they don’t set the mood, I think the tracks are all really well done and worth an additional listen.
Now I’m not gonna tell you which game is better and wins out. Both games have their merits and they also have their issues that hold them back from the true king of 3D platformers, Super Mario Sunshine. What? Don’t give me that look! Anyways back to the two, I think it’s cool that they aren’t carbon copies of each other. I can play Super Mario 64 for it’s snappy gameplay, the acrofatics and the fact that you get to toss around a giant turtle. Play Banjo if you want to play a Kazooie and Bottles fanfic, the large and colorful worlds or the fantastic soundtrack. Or play both and be thankful that they aren’t a certain 3D platformer where you really have to collect everything and then some.