When we at Nintendo Life think of Rare’s masterpieces from the Nintendo 64 era, we think of expansive and adventurous games like Donkey Kong 64, Jet Force Gemini, and of course the beloved Banjo-Kazooie series. Off-the-wall characters, exuberant locales, and an epic sense of scope added to the hook of what made these gaming experiences so unique and memorable. So how would a series like Banjo-Kazooie translate to the technical limitations of a handheld device like the Game Boy Advance; is it possible to cram all of that platforming goodness into a cartridge with a fraction of the capacity? We’re happy to report that Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is not only a "bear-able" experience, it’s sometimes quite "egg-scellent" as well (sorry, no more puns from now on).
Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is a spinoff game in the series but plays like a sequel to the first Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64. To sum things up, the evil witch Gruntilda travels back-in-time in an attempt to prevent Banjo and Kazooie from ever meeting. With the help of our favorite shaman, Mumbo Jumbo, Banjo is sent after “Grunty” to foil her devious plan. And while that’s about the extent of the story telling, it’s OK, because collect-a-thons like this are about adventuring; for the most part, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge delivers, even if it’s a unexpectedly short experience.
The game plays exactly how you might imagine Banjo-Kazooie to play on a handheld system. Most of the signature moves remain, and you’ll even rendezvous with Mumbo on occasion to transform into a handful of different critters and other various things such as a tank or a candle. The biggest difference here is that instead of a presenting the game in a full three dimensions, you’re limited to an overhead fixed camera angle and a pre-rendered graphical style. This all works relatively well, and even considering this change, still largely feels like a Banjo-Kazooie game.
There are five worlds to visit – six if you include the hub-world Spiral Mountain – each containing the myriad of collectables that should be familiar to veterans of the Banjo-Kazooie series. In each one of these worlds you’ll need to obtain a certain amount of puzzle pieces (called Jiggies) which will grant you access to the next area. To earn Jiggies you’ll need to do some tricky platforming, complete fetch quests, win at mini-games, and so on. If any of this sounds familiar to you that’s because it is – Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is a very straight-forward and conventional adventure platformer.
Aesthetically, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge feels faithful to the series, even if most of the locations and enemies don’t quite capture the same magic as those of previous instalments. The pre-rendered graphics look great and often feel reminiscent of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, which suits the series rather well. However, with a fixed-angle overhead view, some of the terrain often blends together to make it troublesome to judge height and depth while platforming; this very rarely led to our untimely demise, although it did complicate a couple of situations.
As far as the controls themselves go, this is where things can get a bit trickier. Considering the Game Boy Advance has a limited number of buttons - two face buttons and two bumpers – it’s a bit perplexing that the game still requires a demanding amount of button combinations to execute the duo’s expansive arsenal of attacks and abilities. For the most part these actions can be administered without a hitch but there were many instances where we fumbled with the controls because certain combinations felt unresponsive. This by no means was frequent enough to drastically hinder the experience, though we’d be lying if we said it didn’t lend itself to a few minor headaches. But at the same time it should be noted that we couldn’t imagine a Banjo-Kazooie game without most of these signature moves included, so we do understand that limiting the bear and bird's repertoire would've had a catastrophic effect on the game play.
Thankfully there are a handful of mini-games thrown in to distract from the intermittent platforming woes, and while these are ultra simplistic in approach, many are surprisingly fun. Most notable of these will have you fishing for X amount of fish in a limited time. This functions in a simple way; move right and left, and hold B to cast your line according to the distance of the fish. To make matters worse, some waters will also be crowded with crabs – called Snippets – and you’ll have to avoid catching these in your line or risk losing a honeycomb’s worth of health. Don’t expect the mini-games to be robust or in-depth; these are short, simplistic, brainless segments that add a bit of diversity to an otherwise straightforward platformer.
One of the weakest areas of the game is the repetitive boss battles; in each of these you’ll face off against either Grunty or her clumsy partner-in-crime, Klungo, in an arena style battle. These are by-the-numbers battles and rarely will you have to memorize more than one or two patterns of attacks. They don’t do anything wrong per se, they’re just uninspired and underwhelming. Fortunately, the final boss battle is lengthier and more robust, as it’s broken up into multiple segments and features some of the enjoyable game-show puzzles and quizzes we’ve come to enjoy from the series.
When it’s all said and done, it’s completely possible to see everything Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge has to offer in about 4-5 hours. While this may seem like a short adventure for Banjo-Kazooie, it’s not too uncommon for a handheld game, it’s just too bad there isn’t any incentive to keep playing once you’ve wrapped up the main quest. Needless to say, if you’re looking to browse auction sites or retro sections of stores to make a purchase, you may want to do so at a bargain price, because there isn’t much replay value. Thankfully, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable 4-5 hours that should please most fans of the series, regardless of its compressed length.
In the end, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is a solid little platformer, even considering its various shortcomings. Fans of the series and genre would be safe to add this “collect-a-thon” to their library as long as they understand the brevity of the adventure and don’t expect quite the same level of charm present in Rare’s Nintendo 64 releases. This is the closest thing you’ll get to a true Banjo-Kazooie experience outside the originals, so if you’re longing for another trip to Spiral Mountain, you’d be silly to let this one slip by.