Best Of 2020: Banjo-Tooie Turns 20 – The Rare Team Tells The Story Of Bombs, Bugs And Bottles

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Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!

This feature was originally published in November 2020.

Nowadays, there’s nary a game that doesn’t finish with a post-credits tease to tee up a sequel or spin-off. There’s always a tantalisingly loose thread or Easter Egg hidden in the DLC hinting at a further instalment. It would be a very bold move, though, to name your sequel and directly reference it in a game that hadn’t even released yet.

Rare’s 3D platformer Banjo-Kazooie was arguably the first credible challenger to square up to seminal Nintendo 64 launch game Super Mario 64. With large, colourful 3D worlds to explore, a cast of loveable characters and a dash of British naughtiness in its humour, it became a fast favourite with fans. It also finished with possibly the best sequel bait in video game history, with the titular bear and bird taking a well-earned break at the beach after their adventure before shifty shaman Mumbo Jumbo shows up with a set of animated polaroid pictures showing innaccessible areas you ‘missed’ with secrets which would be used in the next game.

The team must have been confident in what they had, but was Banjo-Tooie—the ambitious follow-up which launched in North America on 20th November 2000—genuinely on the cards before the first game even released? “Yes it was,” confirms Gregg Mayles, designer on both platforms, “but only as a name and us wanting to include the ‘Stop n’ Swop’ items that formed a link between the two games. What Tooie would actually be had not been thought about at that point!”

“There was a positive reaction to what we showed publicly,” says head programmer Chris Sutherland, one of several Banjo veterans that would go on to found Playtonic Games and recapture the Banjo spirit in the Yooka-Laylee series. “There were a bunch of ideas that never made it into the first game, so it seemed like the sensible thing to do to move onto a sequel. Some of the team originated from DKC games so in some ways it mirrored how we’d rolled straight onto DKC2 from DKC1… I guess it also puts Banjo-Kazooie into a shortlist of “games that (successfully) announced the name of their sequel in the game”!”

The moody second act

Banjo Tooie Bottles Brown Bread

From the very beginning, Banjo-Tooie feels darker—a little more dangerous, a little less forgiving—than the previous game. It’s still very much a fairytale romp but from the off Tooie leans into Brothers Grimm-style darkness. Bottles (bespectacled, move-teaching mole and stalwart pal to the protagonists) meets his demise at the hands of Gruntilda in the introduction cutscene, and mere moments after making the friendly Jinjo King’s acquaintence, he’s transformed into a shambling zombie by the vengeful witch.

“It was deliberate,” Mayles says of the classic ‘darker second act’ approach. “We didn’t want to do the same thing again as the first game and we wanted to surprise players. I don’t think anyone would have expected us to kill off one of the main supporting characters and I can remember us laughing when we plotted Bottles’ downfall. There were some pretty dark and mature elements to the tone that we tried to balance out with our sense of humour, I think my favourite was when Bottles’ family was asking about him and Banjo had to pretend he didn’t know the mole was no more.”

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