Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge - New Horizons, Shallow Shores
After the passing of my mother twenty years ago, one of the ‘cheer-up’ presents I received from my cousins was a huge stack of N64 games they weren’t interested in playing anymore. I was already an avid N64 player, but my collection was limited, consisting just of Yoshi Story, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart, and of course, Super Mario 64, the first game that was ever ‘mine’, and still the most important game I’ve ever played. Getting those games blew open the world of gaming to me - titles like Mario Party, Star Fox, Pokemon Stadium… but of all those games I received in that wonderful gift, none made as much of an impression on me as a little classic collect-a-thon, Banjo Kazooie. Super Mario 64 lit the spark of gaming in my heart, but I attribute so much of what I love in games as coming from the debut of the bear and bird I love so dearly.
I actually never finished Banjo Kazooie as a kid - that game’s hard, man! - but I put probably hundreds of hours in it, alongside Banjo-Tooie, the latter of which I was probably addicted to for a good month or two. This was back in 2002-2003, and I’d say it was probably more than a decade until I discovered that there was an entire, honest-to-god Banjo-Kazooie experience waiting for me on the Game Boy Advance. Enough with the prelude - let’s take a look at what I’d argue is a somewhat obscure title, considering the acclaim its parent series has received over the years - Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge.
Grunty’s Revenge is a pretty weird title. Rather than putting Banjo-Threeie into development like everyone expected, they took a bit of a much appreciated detour, bringing out banger after banger with games like Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark. All, uh, games I haven’t beaten. I’ll get there. Eventually. Anyway, it was a full three years before the bear and bird duo appeared in their own starring title. A year previously, however, Rare got bought by Microsoft, and there was any chance of Banjo returning to Nintendo… except in the already produced midquel, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge. It seems the game was actually originally in development for the Game Boy Colour, and it just sort of… became Grunty’s Revenge. Man, considering how weird so much of the library on the Game Boy Color was, I’d kinda love to see what a Banjo game on that platform would look like. On the other hand, maybe that isn’t a good idea. I’ve already dug my own grave with the Game Boy Abyss, let’s not think about the Game Boy Color… uh, I’ll think of a catchier name next time this joke comes up.
If anything, Rare should be applauded for wonderfully adapting Banjo-Kazooie to a handheld setting. Its isometric layout, the closest thing they could actually get to a 3D platformer on the handheld, is perfectly serviceable, and leads to a whole different kind of vibe and energy to its parent titles. For better or worse, this is a totally scaled down version of a full Banjo-Kazooie game; you’ve got five worlds to traverse, with a full suite of notes, Jiggies, Jinjos and minigames to collect and tackle. Notes you’ll need to unlock new moves, whilst everything else in service of finding Jiggies, which will unlock successive worlds. Even compared to the other games, the variance in the ways you actually find Jiggies are all over the place. Some require split-second planning, perfect timing jumps and leaps over enemies to make it to a goal… whilst, in other cases, the Jiggy is just vibing on a little island in the middle of nowhere. These… These scare me. On the gameplay front, notably, you’ll be playing through much of the first two as Banjo alone, as Kazooie is kidnapped by Grunty and Klungo in the intro, making up the game’s only real narrative beat. It’s similar to how a solo Banjo is played in Banjo-Tooie, but it was interesting, if a little plain, to see the earlier levels built around having only Banjo as a playable character. As an aside, one thing I appreciated was the usage of Mumbo’s transformations. In previous titles, you could only use each transformation in the world it was tied to, but in Grunty’s Revenge, each of the transformations are usable in each of the worlds - and are actually useful for a Jiggy or two a piece! Sure, in the grand scheme of things this doesn’t amount to much, but I felt it was a really nice touch to design some of the puzzles around, and it was a good element that differentiates it from its parentage. There aren’t quite as many new NPC designs this time around, but the few that we do get have the same weird Banjo charm as the first two games. Sheep, a little puddle of slime (that has two children!), a sexy smelter (don’t judge), a rat who scammed Banjo again and again and again (haven’t we all be scammed by a rat?) and literal snowflakes with eyes (as all snowflakes are, being hunted by the aforementioned capitalist, scammer rats for a cheap buck) are standouts amongst the meager newcomers, but whilst they have that classic Banjo design, the dialogue doesn’t really shine through… though, that’s rather an issue with the game as a whole.
It’s rather surprising how many 3D platformers received, for the most part, fully new entries on the Game Boy Advance, considering how gimped the system was compared to its older siblings, the PS1 and N64. As we saw (unfortunately for me) in the GBA edition of Pac-Man World, many of these 3D series made up for the lack of full-3D capability by employing a isometric-view of the game world. It’s not nearly as immersive or replicative as the original, but it certainly gets the job done - especially in comparison to Pac-Man World. Sure, all the normal problems with isometric platformers are here - there were more than a few times I made a jump I was sure I was going to make, before I plummeted to my death, but these were relatively painless and far and few between. It’s not the most ideal way to play a Banjo game, but it more than serves its purpose, and if a platformer doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out, well, that’s a victory in my book. I know, the bar is on the floor after Pac-Man World. Play it yourself, you’ll see.
Whilst I’d never say I played the previous Banjo games for their story Like I said earlier, the only real narrative beat of interest in Grunty’s Revenge is Grunty’s kidnapping of Kazooie, and little else to speak of. In fact, this does kind of deadens the dialogue for a bit; Banjo’s just too much of a lovely guy, it’s a bit too bland without Kazooie to throw out a classic insult or two. Honestly, at times I forget that this game even has time-travel as a part of it; outside of Bottles’ ancestor, there are almost no references to this premise of the game, made even worse by the fact that we don’t even get ancestors to returning characters like Mumbo (though, this flaw is alleviated by in the intro, Mumbo referring to his ‘handsome ancestor’. If he’s literally just referring to himself, that’s hilarious). There’s nothing really to link the game together, with no narrative elements to literally any of the game's five words, outside of rescuing Kazooie and running into Grunty and/or Klungo. The dialogue is perfectly on the level from what I’d expect from a Banjo game, but it feels rather formulaic at times - Kazooie -always- has something to say, Banjo will always reprimand her. There’s rarely a shakeup to the dynamic you expect from the twosome, and it’s something an actual, proper overarching story really could’ve helped with. Even Grunty, whilst adequate, doesn’t quite feel up to her top-tier rhymes from the previous games, really deadening the overall vibe of the game’s dialogue.
Considering the game’s soundtrack wasn’t composed by all-time great Grant Kirkhope, as was the previous two titles, Grunty’s Revenge does a fantastic job in replicating and iterating on the sound design of its parent series. In fact, I think you could make an argument that Grunty’s Revenge’s rendition of Spiral Mountain might be on par with the original. I challenge you to not be sent a-toe tappin when you hear these sweet, wonderful tunes. Many of the other songs aren’t quite as much of an earworm as Banjo-Kazooie or Tooie’s soundtracks, but considering the composer was matching up with Grant Kirkhope - arguably my favorite video game composer - he did nothing short of a fantastic job. There were, obviously, some limitations with the GBA’s smaller storage size, and you can hear it in the shorter loops of songs, or the vastly reduced amount of noises Banjo, Kazooie, and the other characters will make when they babble-talk. It’s not that big an issue, but it kind of has that effect where once you hear where the sounds ‘repeat’, so to speak, you’ll constantly be hearing it. Just a little feeling, nothing too crazy.
The biggest thing I noticed about this game is that, for the most part, it’s pretty damn easy. After an hour and a half into Grunty’s Revenge, I’d already fully cleared out two worlds, and a decent chunk of its hub world, Spiral Mountain. Even in the later worlds, which do ratchet up the difficulty ever so slightly, I honestly found it more difficult finding puzzles and whatnot to earn the Jiggies, rather than actually obtaining them straight out. I don’t really see this as a negative - outside of one or two worlds, the original Banjo-Kazooie isn’t really a challenging game either, and there was a genuine sense of relaxation to scouring a world, finding all the little puzzles and challenges, and filling out the checklist that’s the bread-and-butter of any Banjo-Kazooie game. Unfortunately, this ease is a detriment when it comes to Grunty’s Revenge’s boss fights. Good lord, these are some of the most brain-dead, ridiculously simple boss fights I’ve ever seen in a game, period. The vast majority of them just boil down to running around - slowly, as the enemy tracking is molasses-like in nature - waiting for a shield to drop, and then hit them with literally any of your moves. Rinse and repeat two or three times, and that’s it. Literally the only times I died was when I accidentally entered the boss fights with only one or two hit points, and even that wasn’t too big a deal.
This all comes to a head in the only non-braindead fight of the game; the final boss. Whilst each section isn’t particularly difficult, you’ll die in only a couple of hits, locked into tiny arenas, and if you lose at any point in this gauntlet (three boss fights, along with a quiz-show style selection of questions and previously played minigames, you’ll be starting right over from the beginning. There are many parts of Grunty’s Revenge that are middling, but this final gauntlet was simply terrible. Now, I know this is a handheld title; I’m not expecting anything on the level of the greats, like Patches or Lord Woo Fak Fak (I really just wanted to write his name), but literally the only bosses in this game are Grunty and Klungo, and outside of some gimmick minigame-esque boss fights, they barely change from encounter to encounter.
To make matters worse, this game is short. Like, really, really short. I spent around four hours in this game, which sounds fine, but that was me collecting pretty much 100% of all the notes, Jigges, Jinjos, and whatever else the game tasked me with finding. If you’re decent at this game - and that isn’t really a hard feat if you’re older then a teenager - I genuinely think you could blow through this game in just over two hours. I don’t really know what to say, but considering the size and scale of some other GBA, sprite-based titles, like say, The Legend of Goku 3, or even the ports of Final Fantasy 4 and 6, they probably could’ve packed another world or two, along with giving us an actual final world to battle Grunty in, into this game and gave it a bit more of staying power. As it is, I plan to be replaying Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie for the rest of my life, but I’d be surprised if I ever come back to this game, knowing it’s such a brief experience.
I know I ended this review on a bit of a sour note, but for what it is, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge is a perfectly fine game in it’s own right, having a real sense of carrying the essence of a Banjo-Kazooie game, some decent spins on classic ideas, and a beautiful set of visuals that are amongst the Game Boy Advance’s better ones. If only it had a bit more to do - a few more worlds, better bosses, a little more of a narrative, and it potentially could have stood on the same playing field as the masterpieces it was born from. Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge isn’t on the level of its parentage, but it’s still fun enough - and brief enough - to be worth a try.
Thank you for reading my review of Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge at the Game Boy Abyss! This is game #20, and I wanted to pull a game from a series that is very, very dear to me, but a title I hadn’t tackled before. I absolutely didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would - it barely holds a candle to Kazooie or Tooie - but I’m glad I gave it a shot, regardless. We’ll be back to our normal dime-a-dozen games next week, though it’ll probably be a short-and-sweet review, as my next game really doesn’t have too much to it. As always, you can find me over @Lemmy7003 on Twitter, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ask a question or recommend a game for me to play. Have a good one, and I’ll see you in my next review!