March 24

Ranking Rare’s N64 platformers

Long before Rare was the studio of Sea of Thieves, the developer was nearly a guaranteed blockbuster machine, churning out one great title after another on the Nintendo 64. They left their mark on a host of genres as they peppered the system’s library with one classic after another: FPS fans had Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark, kart racing lovers burned rubber with Diddy Kong Racing, and platforming fans had, well, a ton to love. Rare showed a knack for 3D platformers right at the genre’s genesis with Banjo-Kazooie and then continued that momentum with Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, releasing all on the Nintendo 64. Since each game is just so darn good, it’s quite hard to rank these four classics, but I took a crack at it anyway.

  1. Banjo-Tooie

Banjo-Kazooie was a tough act to follow up, but even though its sequel comes in at last place on this list, Banjo-Tooie is still very much a high-quality successor worthy of the Banjo name. It’s a lovely game that nails many of the same notes (pun intended) as the original. A classic soundtrack, some very fun platforming challenges, and plenty of fun encounters, puzzles, and items to collect that place Rare’s wit front and center.

The game’s main issues come with an unnecessarily large scope that diminishes the experience’s overall charm and cohesion. While Banjo-Kazooie had sizable worlds that one could easily get lost in, its successors, Banjo-Tooie chief among them, simply made things way too big for most. Additionally, even if you’re conceptually alright with the game’s positively enormous worlds, Banjo-Tooie pushed the N64’s hardware a bit past its limits. Framerate issues and slowdown are uncomfortably common in the game (luckily, Rare Replay allows players to enjoy the game in a less compromised state on newer consoles).

Through it all, though, even if backtracking and loads of empty space get you down from time to time, there’s a wonderful adventure to be had in Banjo-Tooie, full of Jiggies satisfactorily hidden in every nook and cranny of a colorful, exuberant world. Fans of Rare’s N64 output are absolutely missing out if they haven’t given it a try.

  1. Donkey Kong 64

Like with Banjo-Tooie, “bigger is better” was Rare’s dominant philosophy while making Donkey Kong 64. With bigger levels, more playable characters, and more to collect compared to Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 has a ton going on. Players will conquer minigames (including a short bout with the original Donkey Kong arcade game), nab bunches upon bunches of bananas, and unwind perplexing labyrinths that slowly unlock as players solve puzzles and utilize each of the five playable Kongs’ abilities.

The impressive variety in Donkey Kong 64 is an unfortunate double-edged sword at times. Generally, the endless assortment of minigames and challenges is a joy to work through. Alternatively, trudging through thick and thin to a hard-to-reach area only to realize that your chosen Kong cannot collect the color-coded Golden Banana hidden in that spot is a bit of a drag, and the constant back-tracking to switch characters and finish a multi-Kong puzzle weighs down on the experience. For the most part, Donkey Kong 64 is a wonderful time, but it certainly struggles under its own weight more often than it should.

  1. Conker’s Bad Fur Day

With unapologetic raunch and irreverence, Conker’s Bad Fur Day’s emphasis on wild weaponry and crass comedy makes the game quite a bit different from the other three titles on this list. However, it’s also got something important in common with all of them, as well – it’s a fantastically fun game.

The Conker’s Bad Fur Day that we know and love went through all sorts of changes throughout its development, starting off as a cutesy, family-friendly game and landing on a much more vulgar result. The game is full of iconic moments, utilizing the wonderfully tight gameplay and fantastic level design that Rare mastered during this era to create one of the Nintendo 64’s very best games.

While the iconic single-player deserves all of the attention that it gets, Conker’s Bad Fur Day also has a particularly excellent multiplayer mode. Violent deathmatches with your friends are a natural extension of the game’s penchant for destruction. Two decades after the end of the system’s run, my friends and I still cannot resist a few rounds of Deathmatch or Colors. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is one of Rare’s best platformers, one of its best games overall, and a premier moment in the Nintendo 64’s impressive library.

  1. Banjo-Kazooie

A game that is frequently heralded as among the very best of its genre, Banjo-Kazooie is right up there with Super Mario 64 as one of the pinnacles of 3D platforming on the Nintendo. Releasing relatively early in the era of 3D games, Banjo-Kazooie was a fairly staggering accomplishment at the time, and it still holds up beautifully today on the strength of great controls, an amazing soundtrack, and an array of wonderfully varied, colorful, and expertly designed worlds to explore.

While Rare’s later experiments with the genre are still excellent fun, Banjo-Kazooie was a nearly perfect first outing. The tight, compact levels are a joy; they were just big enough to get lost in, but not so big that you were dreading the long, empty walks between Jiggies. The soundtrack is one of my personal favorites across the entire medium (I could listen to the Spring rendition of Click Clock Wood for days). The gameplay expertly hones in on tight platforming and a whole host of abilities that slowly bolster your arsenal over the course of your playthrough. With the exception of that particularly lame quiz show at the end of the game, Banjo-Kazooie pulls no punches in setting up an excellent adventure for collectathon fans. The Bear and Bird peaked with their first outing, but considering how great the game feels even today, it’s no surprise that such a fervent, loving fanbase persists to this day.

Ana Sz.

Author Bio:

It all started in my friend Sophie´s house playing Super Mario Bros. NES was basically my first love. I’m a fan of retro games, especially RPGs and Platforms. This passion got me to create where I write reviews for all the games I use to play with.


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