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My Gaming White Whale: How I finally beat “Banjo-Kazooie”

I was never able to beat my favorite game, Banjo-Kazooie, as a kid. That changes now.

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie absolutely captured me. Some of my earliest memories are of this game — sitting on the floor of my parents’ den, looking up at the square TV screen, N64 controller in hand. I was six or seven, and I was absolutely determined to beat this bastard of a game.

I never did, though. Despite years of trying and over 120 hours of gameplay logged, I could not get past one particular point in the game. That’s not even counting the time I accidentally deleted my entire save file. I vividly remember screaming as I saw Banjo fly out of his bedroom window as that file was deleted. Knowing I had to start all over again was devastating, but it was also exciting. The game was endlessly fun and I kept getting better at it every single day.

Even with the coveted Gamer’s Guide, I simply could not defeat Grunty the freaking witch. Until this summer. In July, I decided to change that. I decided to slay my gaming white whale and finally defeat Banjo-Kazooie.

So gather ’round, and let me tell ya a tale — a tale of a bear, a bird, a witch, and a well-spent July 4th weekend.

The Basics

So, if you’ve never played Banjo-Kazooie, let me break it down for you. You play as a bear with a bird in his backpack. The bear — Banjo– has a little sister named Tootie. She’s a cute little kid. This witch called Grunty wants to steal her beauty and kidnaps her. It’s Banjo’s duty — along with his bird buddy, Kazooie — to go rescue the little bear.

My Instagram post on July 2nd, when I started this Journey.

You work your way through nine different sections of Grunty’s lair, collecting 100 music notes and 10 puzzle pieces in each world. There are also 10 puzzle pieces in Grunty’s lair. So if you’re trying to 100% the game, you want 900 music notes and 100 jigsaw pieces (jiggys). Notes open doors between sections of the lair, granting you access to new worlds, while jiggys open the doors to those worlds. Notes are usually just scattered around the world, while some are hidden well. Jiggys are earned when you complete a challenge or defeat a boss. You can also collect two honeycomb pieces in each world, which give you extra health in your meter.

With me so far? Great.

Random thing to note — Kazooie is a girl, and she is extremely useful. Almost every single move in this game utilizes her. She runs faster than Banjo, she attacks better than Banjo, and my lord does she have one hell of an attitude. I only point out that she’s a female character because quite frankly, it took me a long time to figure it out as a kid. It’s subtle, but her design includes a little red marking on her beak (similar to lipstick) and some long eyelashes. But otherwise, she was just a bird. As a kid, I only saw sexualized female video game characters, so it was incredible to find out that the raddest part of my favorite game turned out to be a fellow girl. And she’s a b---h! I LOVE that. Ugh!

Anyway, on with the game. I picked up the controller on July 2nd, absolutely thrilled and ready to go.¬†After learning some basic moves in Banjo and Kazooie’s little neighborhood (yes, I played the tutorial again) I moved into Grunty’s lair and made my way to Mumbo’s Mountain — the first of the nine worlds.

Mumbo’s Mountain

At this point in my life, the mountain is a damn cakewalk. Even as a kid, I would 100% this level all the time. I know where all the jiggys are, how to get all the Mumbo tokens so he’ll turn you into a termite, and where all the Jinjos are. (These are colorful little creatures hidden in each world. One of the 10 jiggy missions is always to find the hidden Jinjos and send them home. This matters later.)

There’s not a whole lot to talk about here, as it’s the first level and not very challenging. The thing is, no matter how many times I’ve played it, it is still a blast. Learning to shoot eggs, doing the beak buster on all the huts around Mumbo’s home, and even climbing the termite hill is still entertaining. There is definitely a nostalgia factor, but it’s just a good time.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Treasure Trove Cove

This level really got under my skin as a kid. Until my brother and I got the Game Guide from our neighbor, this level stumped us. Even with the guide, we never were able to get all 100 notes. That’s not so much the case anymore.

The source of all fear and failure here was a stupid little shark named Snacker. He’s a jerk and he wants to eat you. However, if you just accept that you’re gonna take a couple hits on your energy meter from this bully of a shark, it really isn’t that hard. There is some swimming and flying involved in this level, and that can also be dangerous. But as long as you strategically find enemies to kill and get energies from, you’re totally fine.

So there’s a little more timing and strategy required in this level, but the learning curve isn’t particularly steep. If you like beaches and pirates and nonsense like that (I certainly do), this is another enjoyable level. I mean, there are treasure chests with eyes and teeth! So fun!

There’s also a very handy sandcastle where you can enter cheats to double your supply of eggs, red feathers, and gold feathers. This is vital later on in the game. You have to find Grunty’s spellbook — Cheato — to do this, but it is such a worthy sidequest.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Clanker’s Cavern

I hate underwater levels. I hate them. They’re a pain in my ass. If I never see Clanker’s metal face again it’ll be too soon. I mean, he’s a sweet garbage disposal, whale robot … thing, but my goodness is his level frustrating.

The jiggys are not exactly the problem here, except for one. There is a key underneath our dude Clanker. In order to bring him to the surface, you need to swim way, way down and swim through the end of the key three times to turn it. The swimming mechanics in this game are hot garbage. That is almost the only complaint I have about the functionality of Banjo-Kazooie. Swimming is a nightmare.

So this means that I had to swim all the way down, hopefully swim through the key once, then come all the way back up to ensure that I did not get stuck and drown down there. There’s a silly little fish at the bottom named Gloop, and he blows bubbles that can replenish your air, but good luck with all that. I died trying to pop his bubbles more times than it worked. So, I took the long, safe way. It took eons. Getting the eight music notes at the bottom of that crevice took even longer.

Once that’s all taken care of, the rest of the level isn’t too bad. The inside of Clanker isn’t too challenging, though there are a few other underwater treasures that will kill you if you don’t pace yourself while collecting them. I was extremely proud of myself once I completed this level, even though it took multiple attempts and way too long.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Bubble Gloop Swamp

Speaking of Gloop and his silly bubbles, here’s another fun level! Again, there are some challenges here, but nothing too infuriating. I honestly think it’s easier than Clanker’s Cavern because there’s no damn swimming. (Death to underwater levels!!)

The piranha-filled swamp provides a little challenge, but with a little dexterity and patience, it’s not so bad. Beyond that, you need to know what to do when you’re Banjo and Kazooie, and what to save for your crocodile form after visiting Mumbo. That way, you avoid taking unnecessary damage.

This is the first level which you can’t 100% at first; you need to come back once you earn the running shoes in Gobi’s Valley in order to beat Mean Mr. Vile. If you don’t know that, you can waste a lot of time and take some serious damage. Besides this jiggy, you can do a clean sweep of this level without much difficulty. I think I had to re-start the notes mission a couple times, but I never made the same mistake twice.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Freezeezy Peak

This is another level where you need the running shoes to complete the level. Don’t even try to race Boggy Bear without them. Even so, that isn’t the biggest challenge here.

Flying is not easy in this game, friends, and neither is dive-bombing snowmen. I tried to rush through this mission a few times and it was a catastrophic failure. Take these snowmen out before you do anything else, though, because they quickly become a pain in the ass. They throw damaging snowballs at out constantly, and they can reach you almost anywhere. Once they’re gone, the rest of the level is much easier.

Also, you get to be a walrus in this level. Thanks, Mumbo!

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Gobi’s Valley

This level was so frustrating as a kid. It’s got mazes, and hot sand, and bees. As an adult, though, I think I only had to start over once or twice. Once I completed a temple or maze, it didn’t give me much trouble again. So, Gobi’s Valley has a learning curve that’s a little steeper than other levels, but it’s nowhere near as infuriating as it was when I was a kid.

It’s actually pretty charming! There’s a really fun memory game where a mummy chases you around, an awesome snake charmer who gives you a jiggy, and a poor camel named Gobi who you just abuse throughout the game. That part’s kinda sad. The dude just wants to relax, but you find a way to get multiple jiggys out of him by beak busting the hell out of him across levels. Poor guy.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Mad Monster Mansion

When I was younger, I could not figure out Mad Monster Mansion. I died constantly. The ghosts were scary and I ran from all of them. I could not find more than 60 notes for the life of me.

This is now my favorite level in the game.

I’m spooky by nature, I’d say. I have a Disney’s Haunted Mansion-inspired tattoo. I’m hosting multiple Halloween parties this year. I shop Halloween aisles for decor that stays out year round. So this is my vibe, and I absolutely thrived this time around.

I think the key here was learning that the Wonder Wing move kills a lot of the ghost enemies in the level. (Thanks, Kazooie, you precious bird.) Figuring out which enemies are even worth killing in the first place turned out to be very important, as was breaking almost every window in the mansion to get notes.

I’m very proud to say I cleared this level in one attempt and absolutely adored every second of it. There were spooks, I got to be a pumpkin, and there was zero frustration. It was just a supremely enjoyable level.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Rusty Bucket Bay

From the highest highs, to the lowest of the low. Take all the things I hate about Clanker’s Cavern, put them with the small frustrations of Bubble Gloop Swamp, raise it to a factor of three, and you get Rusty Bucket Freaking Bay.

This level is a bad time, and I defy anyone to tell me otherwise. It asks you to jump into toxic, shark-infested waters with no discernible way to get out. (The lack of visible exit is more of an N64 display issue than anything else, but still.) The Jinjos are a lost cause here, as is a number engine room notes. The path to get to it was dubious at best and I wasn’t gonna risk it.

This is the first level and only level I did not 100%. It’s simply not worth the frustration. Therefore, I dub it “Rusty F--k It Bay.” You’re welcome.

Notes Collected: 87

Jiggys Won: 8

Honeycombs Found: 1

Click Clock Wood

In the later days of playing Banjo-Kazooie with my younger brother, this was the level that ended it all. We used to go into this level just to try to collect more than, like, 50 notes. It was simply no use. We died over and over and over again, and I just wanted to scream. It wasn’t fun anymore and I simply could not get past the 765-note door that would let me into the next section of the game. Now, if you do the math, I had 787 notes before I even started this level. So in some ways, I already won.

And then I cleared Click Clock Wood in two attempts. I swept the jiggy missions with little effort, and I went back in the next day to get all the notes. The trick was to farm energies. As I made my way up the precarious tree, I’d kill all the enemies and just leave the energy honeycombs lying around. So when I inevitably fell from a very high distance, there was energy waiting for me at all times. I would replenish and go on my way.

Click Clock Wood did not kill me once, and I was free to enter the part of the game I never saw before.

Notes Collected: 100

Jiggys Won: 10

Honeycombs Found: 2

Total Notes Collected: 887

Total Jiggys Won: 98

The Boss Levels

Guys, Grunty’s furnace fun was a damn blast. It’s basically a game show where you answer questions about the game and replay jiggy challenges. I only failed once, but my second attempt was successful. All those hours of gameplay logged in my youth really paid off.

And then I entered the real challenge. I opened every note door that would replenish my supplies. Because I got all but two jiggys in the game, I was able to fill the final puzzle and double my energy. Then, I got to face Grunty the damn witch face-to face. It was the moment of truth, and I was ready.

There are five levels of fighting Grunty. She does three sweep attacks, she hurls fire at you, she flies around and you have to dive-bomb her four times (like the snowmen), you fire eggs into Jinjo statues and they come to life and attack her, then you summon the Jinjonator. This is a huge Jinjo that takes grunty out for good.

I was able to get through the first two sections without much fuss. The dive-bombing section killed me twice, but that’s because I kept missing her and diving right into the castle roof. Third time was a charm, though, and I moved on to the Jinjo section. I died there once, as Grunty attacks you while you’re trying to aim freaking eggs. The second time around, I was able to get into a rhythm that allowed me to release all the Jinjos and the Jinjonator.

My Instagram post from the moment of victory.

That was it. I won. In four days and a total of 16 hours, I was able to beat Banjo-Kazooie. Finally. It was absolutely liberating. I would never again say, “Ah, I love that game. I never was able to beat it, though.” No. No more shame, no more regret. No more wondering what on earth was behind that door I could never get through. I could be proud now. The game that got me into gaming was defeated, and I had such a good time playing through it.

Here’s how I know this is a good game. I want to play it again right now. I would pick up a controller again in an instant. Banjo-Kazooie has always put a smile on my face. Now, knowing it holds up and that I was able to play through the whole time, that smile is just a little bigger.

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