One of Rare’s crowning achievements, and arguably the greatest platformer from the N64 era, we’re all thrilled to see Banjo Kazooie making its way onto the Switch virtual console library today! We can’t wait to collect jiggies, rescue jinjos, and of course explore the delightfully crafted worlds the iconic bear and bird traverse. So to get you ready to face Gruntilda again, here’s our ranking of all the destinations in Banjo Kazooie!
9) Rusty Bucket Bay
Rusty Bucket Bay gets a lot of hate, and we’ll admit we also find it often more frustrating than fun. There’s inescapable oily water that slowly depletes your health, there’s a lot of precarious platforming in the motor room that can one-shot you, and don’t get us started on the propeller jiggy. But while these figurative and literal pitfalls make it tough to get all 100 music notes or avoid racking up a larger than normal death count, there’s still a lot of charm here. There’s solid verticality, letting the player climb up the red and white smoke stacks for great bay views. The goblins have their cute little sailor suits. You fight a giant box and it’s somehow… thrilling? Sure, Rusty Bucket Bay is the black sheep on this list, but at the end of the day it’s a challenging and tense late game level that still carries its own weight.
8) Clanker’s Cavern
Continuing with the water theme, Clanker’s Cavern is a much cleaner version of Rusting Bucket Bay, substituting a quick kill economy with some suspenseful diving sequences and a robotic whale friend. Highlights here include exploring inside the mechanical leviathan, battling a herd of mutant crabs, and getting shot out of a blowhole hundreds of feet into the air. Clanker himself is really the major set piece of this level and he’s fascinating, but once you move past him, the drab greys and browns and lack of any defining scenery leaves Clanker’s Cavern feeling a bit dull after the first five jiggies. But it still beats getting constantly killed while still having to deal with water.
7) Mumbo’s Mountain
Mumbo’s Mountain is one of the cleanest first levels ever created in a game, as it introduces the player to a number of movement mechanics with a hilly terrain, fun enemies, and a small but effective space. But as compact as the level is, you still have plenty of memorable moments like the Konga boss fight, meeting Mumbo, and becoming a termite. The only thing holding this back from being higher on our list is that it does lack some of the rich depth that later levels craft. But considering it’s the type of level you can easily beat in about 20 to 25 minutes, the brevity doesn’t make it any less fun!
6) Bubblegloop Swamp
This is the only level in Banjo Kazooie that feels as though it’s been divided into sections, and because each individual section boasts a fun and unique challenge, it ends up making the swamp feel more inhabited. You’ll fight poisonous frogs, hatch an egg, explore a piranha infested maze, and of course showdown with the iconic Mr. Vile for one of the game’s best and most challenging jiggys. Also we’re going to call it and say the Mumbo gator transformation is one of the cutest and also most useful in the game. Sure you don’t really have that iconic sense of location, and it’s easy to get turned around while exploring, but overall Bubblegloop Swamp is a fun time on the bayou.
5) Gobi’s Valley
Now we’re getting into the territory where these rankings are becoming pretty interchangeable. Gobi’s Valley boasts eerie pyramid crypts, snake charmers, mummies, magic flying rugs, and a poor camel that just wants to chill. Soaring through the desert sky is exhilarating (albeit a bit cramped for space), and navigating the maze of doom is pulse pounding and thrilling. The only issues we have here are that it is on the smaller side, though it makes up for it with large pyramids to explore. It’s also similar to Bubblegloop, in that it can feel a bit more task based than exploratory. Still, we love Gobi’s Valley. Now sorry camel, but somebody’s gotta water the plants.
4) Treasure Trove Cove
Treasure Trove Cove is a sprawling beautiful beach with a giant hermit crab boss fight, a marooned belching hippo, and treasure chests galore. This level introduces the game’s flight mechanics, and has a brilliant verticality that lets you test the skies and fly up to a breathtaking vantage point on the lighthouse. Anyone who played this game as a child also remembers diving into the water, hearing Grant Kirkhope’s take on the theme from Jaws, and being attacked by Snackers the Shark. It’s a playground of creativity and open exploration, and while not as densely populated with exciting things to discover, we always love just goofing around on Treasure Trove Cove.
3) Mad Monster Mansion
Spooky, whimsical, and with a surprising amount of toilet humor, Mad Monster Mansion is maybe the most densely packed level in the game. The mansion itself hides countless hidden rooms and spooks, then outside you have the hedge maze straight out of The Shining, the haunted well ripped from The Ring, the eerie shack and planchet game, and the creepy cathedral. Each jiggy here feels like it has its impressive set pieces, and whether you’re reliving an old horror movie, or flushing yourself as a pumpkin down a grumpy toilet, Mad Monster Mansion is just non-stop fun. There is arguably less to revisit here once you have collected all the jiggies, but outside of that, this is a perfect level.
2) Freezeezy Peak
We talked about Freezeezy Peak on our best holiday themed levels, but if we’re being honest, it’s just one of the best levels of Banjo Kazooie in general. It blends that same sprawling explorable space and verticality of Treasure Trove Cove, but every inch of this map is covered with things to discover. It’s incredible how the sled race with Boggy or the Twinkly tree decoration escort mission are just as fun as simply climbing up the giant Snowman’s scarf. Even just flying around for a vantage point to take in the festive colors and cabin of Freezeezy Peak is a delight. Just try not to get snowballed while you’re lost in the festivities.
1) Click Clock Woods
Being able to play through the same level but in four different seasons is a beautiful idea, and Click Clock Woods delivers tenfold on this already brilliant premise. Over Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter you’ll help woodland friends with year long projects, raise a bird child, grow a garden, and buzz around as a bee pollinating the vibrant forest. Seeing the landscape and characters change over the course of this level delivers the most memorable moments in Banjo Kazooie. And that’s why Click Clock Woods sits atop the list.
So get on out there and get ready to explore the many worlds of Grunty’s Lair! And be sure to let us know what you agree and disagree with in the comments!