Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox 360 is the definitive version of Rare’s N64 classic

by Martin Watts, 5 February 2017

Banjo Kazooie's charming musical intro on Xbox One

Banjo-Kazooie is a timeless N64 game that didn’t need remastering. Nevertheless, Rare’s 2008 re-release, Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version, is proof that you can make an already great game even greater with the right approach.

When Banjo-Kazooie first released in 1998, it made an indelible mark on the gaming landscape. Super Mario 64 had released two years earlier and revolutionised the gaming industry in the process.

Banjo-Kazooie built upon the ideas laid out in Nintendo’s superb effort and ultimately ended up outclassing it in almost every way. In particular, Rare’s bear ‘n’ bird platformer was visually superior to all other N64 games at the time, even The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which didn’t release until almost six months later.

Banjo-Kazooie title screen (Xbox One version)

Rare re-released Banjo-Kazooie in 2008 in remastered form for the Xbox 360 (as a result of the company now being owned by Microsoft). The game has also made its way to the Xbox One, Microsoft’s latest console, through its inclusion in the Rare game compilation, Rare Replay.

Banjo-Kazooie for the N64 is still incredibly fun to play. That said, Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version is by far the definitive version of the game.

To some, this may seem like sacrilege, but the great thing about this Banjo-Kazooie remaster is that it retains everything that made the original great, while adding a few new features, some of which help to make it that bit more palatable to those more used to modern games.

Freezeezy Peak, as seen in high definition in Banjo-Kazooie Xbox One version

What’s the difference between the original game and Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360?

Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version (which is also playable on Xbox One) is displayed in up to 1080p resolution (widescreen) and runs at a locked 30 frames per second.

It features high-resolution textures and improved draw distance and  includes the previously removed “Stop ‘n’ Swop” feature. This also appears in Banjo-Tooie 360 version and enables you to unlock things in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

There are now online leaderboards where you can compare your progress against your friends.

Perhaps the most exciting change is the removal of the requirement to collect each world’s 100 musical notes in a single life or run.

And funnily enough, this version now features the same typeface for text that was used in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

The musical note fix makes the biggest difference to the overall experience. In the original game, collecting musical notes in some of the later worlds could prove incredibly frustrating thanks to some pretty devious platforming segments that felt like insta-death moments (I’m looking at you, Rusty Bucket Bay!).

Climbing up a vine in Gruntilda's Lair in Banjo-Kazooie Xbox One version

Apparently, this was how it was meant to work in the original N64 version, but hardware limitations at the time prevented the development team from implementing a system that could keep track of the current number of notes across multiple worlds.

Regardless, this change doesn’t dumbs down the game, and rather it just streamlines it. It is ideal for those of us who have since grown up and taken on a number of life commitments in the process.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version’s enhanced visuals aren’t groundbreakingly different, but they do impact the gameplay funnily enough.

The increased draw distance means that areas and items are visible from much farther afield. It’s unknown whether Rare originally intended to limit the player’s view to encourage exploration or whether this was a hardware limitation, but ultimately I don’t think it really matters.

If you see something of interest, you’re going to go take a peek at it, not to mention that those who played the original multiple times probably know exactly where everything is anyway.

Treasure Trove Cove in Banjo-Kazooie for the Xbox One

The fact that Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version hasn’t been drastically overhauled from a visual standpoint goes to show just how well the original graphics have aged.

If you’re not used to the blocky, low-poly visuals of early 3D games, then you may think that Banjo-Kazooie looks primitive, especially when you compare it alongside modern games. That said, the colourful and vibrant cartoon-style visuals have certainly aged much better than virtually all of the N64’s more “realistic” offerings.

Timeless design

Putting the visuals and features aside, the real reason you should play Banjo-Kazooie on the Xbox 360 or Xbox One is because it’s still a great game to play.

Rare didn’t make drastic changes to the game not because it didn’t want to, but because it didn’t have to. Banjo-Kazooie’s game worlds are now miniscule compared to the large open-world environments found in modern games, but they’re still immensely fun to explore.

Bubblegloop Swamp, as seen in Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox One

Part of it is down to the fact that Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t really guide you on what to do next. It’s about diving into a world, taking a look around and trying things out.

Such a formula naturally creates frustration at times – you’ll miss something or have absolutely no idea what you need to do. But when you do work something out for yourself or overcome a challenging part, you feel a great sense of reward.

Want to learn more about Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360?

You can try it out for yourself, provided you have an Xbox 360 or Xbox One that is. When it comes to the Xbox One, I recommend buying Rare Replay.

That way you also get Banjo-Tooie and Perfect Dark in remastered form, as well as spruced-up ports of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Killer Instinct Gold and Jet Force Gemini. It’s not a bad deal given Rare Replay’s relatively low asking price.

Banjo-Kazooie (Xbox One) game file select screen

Held B to skip all this boring dialogue?

What I’m saying is nothing short of blasphemy on a site dedicated to N64, but Banjo-Kazooie Xbox 360 version is without a doubt the best version of the game.

That’s primarily because Rare didn’t tamper too much with the original formula when transferring it across to the vastly more powerful Xbox 360; the gameplay is virtually identical, with the exception of the musical note system, which has been streamlined for the better.

Martin Watts

Martin has been running N64 Today since it began in 2017. He has also written for Nintendo Life and Time Extension, and appeared in the 2022 documentary GoldenEra. He got the Nintendo 64 as a Christmas present back in 1997 and it's been his favourite console ever since. His favourite N64 game is Goemon's Great Adventure.