The Banjo-Kazooie universe (バンジョーとカズーイの大冒険, Banjo and Kazooie's Great Adventure) refers to the Super Smash Bros. series' collection of characters, stages, and properties hailing from the series of platformers created by the UK-based development studio Rare Ltd. The games feature the titular duo, the bear Banjo and the bird Kazooie, collecting various items in sandbox-like environments in order to progress. They are often considered to be the most popular and recognizable titles Rare has ever developed, alongside the original Donkey Kong Country series and GoldenEye 007. Once a second-party Nintendo franchise, the series and its developer have remained under the ownership of Microsoft since their acquisition on September 24th, 2002.
With the massive critical and commercial success of the first two Donkey Kong Country games, recognized for their use of pre-rendered CG graphics created on Silicon Graphics workstations, developer Rare wanted to produce more titles utilizing this advanced graphics technology as their groundwork. Among the new games in production was Project Dream (also known as Dream: Land of Giants), a role-playing game being developed in tandem with Donkey Kong Country 3. Inspired by other action-adventure titles like Nintendo's own The Legend of Zelda series, this game would have starred a lone human boy named Edson in a pirate-themed fantasy adventure to stop the ambitions of Captain Blackeye and his band of pirates. The game was planned to be Rare's swan song for the SNES, but as the console neared the end of its lifespan and the game's size and scope increased, it was eventually decided to move production to Nintendo's then-upcoming console, the Nintendo 64.
In an attempt to appeal to a more mature audience, the game's fantasy themes were de-emphasized and its pirate themes strengthened. As development progressed, the team decided that Edson was losing his relevance and replaced him with a different protagonist. He was first swapped for a rabbit, and eventually, a honey bear, whom they gave a backpack to store his belongings. The development team soon realized their game was becoming too ambitious for its own good, so they chose to retool it into a linear 2.5D platformer. When the team saw an early build of Nintendo's Super Mario 64, they realized it would set the standard for 3D gaming and make Dream look outdated in comparison. As a result, they restarted its development one last time, restoring the fantasy themes and using Super Mario 64 as their basis. This final iteration was what eventually became Banjo-Kazooie.
While designing a moveset for the titular Banjo, the team experimented with various ideas on how to improve and expand upon Mario's moveset in Super Mario 64; namely, the ability to double jump and run faster. As Banjo's character model did not apply itself easily to these ideas, they were initially accomplished by simply having wings and legs sprout out of his backpack when necessary. This eventually led to the logical conclusion of a separate character living in Banjo's backpack: a bird named Kazooie. Variation was added to the gameplay through the shaman Mumbo Jumbo, who transforms Banjo into different creatures and objects with unique abilities. With the game's pirate themes gradually diminishing, the role of antagonist was passed from Captain Blackeye to a green witch named Gruntilda. At one point full voice acting was considered, but the team quickly realized how much dialogue would have to be recorded and how much it would slow down development. Instead, they opted for garbled voice clips that sync up to the text, becoming a series staple ever since. To help promote the upcoming title, as well as fill in the vacant holiday release schedule, Banjo was added as a playable character and made his video game debut in Diddy Kong Racing in November 1997. While Kazooie is not present or mentioned in-game, she is mentioned in the instruction manual.
Banjo-Kazooie was initially released in June 1998 to strong sales and critical acclaim, with praise to its detailed graphics, witty dialogue, dynamic soundtrack, colorful cast of characters, and improvements over the foundation laid by Super Mario 64 across the board. Along with other recognizable titles such as GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, and Conker's Bad Fur Day, this game cemented Rare's reputation as a top-tier developer for the platform. The eponymous duo became mascots for not only the company but also the Nintendo 64 itself. Owing to this success, a direct sequel titled Banjo-Tooie was released in November 2000, featuring a more elaborate plot with a darker tone, Mumbo Jumbo as an additional playable character, multiple new gameplay styles including first-person shooter segments, local multiplayer, and a large interconnected world. The duology confounded the gaming community for many years with the mysterious "Stop 'N' Swop" feature, originally meant to use an unintentional quirk of the N64 hardware to transfer data between different cartridges for unlocking special bonuses. However, the feature was removed at the last minute both at Nintendo's behest and due to newer N64 models making it infeasible.
While the Banjo-Kazooie intellectual property was initially a second-party Nintendo franchise, and Banjo and Kazooie were marketed as "Nintendo characters" alongside first-party creations such as the aforementioned Super Mario 64 as well as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, the property was transferred in full to Microsoft upon its purchase of Rare on September 24th, 2002. However, since Microsoft had no stake in the handheld gaming market, Rare was permitted to develop two spin-offs for the Game Boy Advance: Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, an "interquel" with a time-travel plot that takes place between the two N64 games, and Banjo-Pilot, an airplane-based racing game retooled from a Diddy Kong Racing sequel following the 2002 acquisition. Neither of these titles were released outside of North America and Europe, marking the first time the series has not had a release in Japan.
A third console entry was greatly contested within Rare, as the team initially struggled to find a central focus. Concepts for this third game included an expanded remake of the first game with certain gameplay segments altered, and a game focusing more directly on the duo's rivalry with Gruntilda wherein they would compete in a series of rapid-fire challenges. None of these ideas came to fruition; instead the team landed on the concept of constructing vehicles to traverse large, sandbox-like hub worlds and complete missions. This became the foundation for Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, released for the Xbox 360 in November 2008, which prominently features a 3D editor in which the player can construct a multitude of vehicles ranging from four-wheelers to hovercrafts to biplanes. The art style and character designs were also updated for this new game, as it was thought that using high-resolution versions of the Nintendo 64 models lost a lot of the charm in the translation. Thus, everything became more angular and cuboid to match the building-block aesthetic, and the environments and hub worlds were designed to complement the themes of construction. Though it received mostly positive reviews from critics, it was highly polarizing due to its deviation from the traditional 3D platforming formula of the original duology. The game became infamous in the following years as fans felt their expectations were subverted, and in the meantime, Rare temporarily shifted focus away from its original properties to develop games for the Kinect starting in 2010.
Between 2008 and 2010, Nuts & Bolts was followed up by downloadable HD remasters of the two N64 titles on Xbox Live Arcade courtesy of 4J Studios (while also implementing a retooled Stop 'N' Swop feature), as well as Banjo and Kazooie's guest appearance in the Xbox 360 version of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Banjo-Kazooie series characters also appear as downloadable skin packs in all versions of Minecraft. Finally, at E3 2015, Rare shifted focus back to its intellectual properties when they announced Rare Replay, a compilation of thirty titles from across Rare's storied history in celebration of their 30th anniversary as a development studio. Released exclusively for the Xbox One in August 2015, this collection features all three home console installments in the Banjo-Kazooie series, including achievements, developer interviews, and remixed challenges. The original Nintendo 64 version of Banjo-Kazooie is also planned for release on the Nintendo Switch for subscribers of Nintendo Switch Online. However, apart from these rereleases, the Banjo-Kazooie series has stayed largely dormant since the release of Nuts & Bolts. In that time, the majority of the original creative team had split away from Rare to form an independent studio, Playtonic Games; they crowdfunded and released their first project, a spiritual successor titled Yooka-Laylee, in 2017 to generally mixed reception.
Banjo & Kazooie were particularly popular character requests for the Super Smash Bros. series as far back as the release of the original Nintendo 64 installment; on an official Japanese poll regarding characters for a potential sequel, they placed 8th, above characters such as Marth and Meta Knight. Similarly, after the release of Super Smash Bros. Melee, Masahiro Sakurai noted in response to a fan that Banjo & Kazooie could be considered a natural inclusion, but including them was "unlikely for a variety of legal and financial reasons". The duo were meant to cameo as a trophy, but had to be cut for similar reasons.
Ultimately, the duo would finally be included as DLC fighters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, roughly 17 years after the Microsoft buyout due to popular demand. Requests for the characters to appear as playable fighters persisted even after the additions of other highly requested characters like Ridley and King K. Rool. The developers at Rare were aware of the long-running demand and, with work starting in 2018 and spearheaded by artist Paul Cunningham, worked closely with Nintendo in developing Banjo & Kazooie for Ultimate, including their designs, moveset, and music selections. In addition Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox brand, stated in an interview following the reveal that he was open to including the characters in the Super Smash Bros. series for a long time (even stating as such on his Twitter account), and doing so as part of Ultimate's Fighters Pass Vol. 1 was an "easy deal to make" due to Microsoft's strong third-party relationship with Nintendo leading up to their reveal.
Banjo and Kazooie make no appearance in Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. However, in an official poll held on Smabura-Ken (the game's official Japanese website) regarding characters for a potential sequel, Banjo & Kazooie ranked eighth with 33 votes.
Based on responses from fan questions confirming that Banjo & Kazooie would not be appearing in Melee, a popular rumor of the duo being cut from the game manifested, claiming that they (along with James Bond from GoldenEye 007) were planned for inclusion, but ultimately cut because Sakurai could not secure the rights from Rare. However, Sakurai only said that the characters would be difficult to include, not that he had planned to include them.
Both Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie are mentioned among the titles listed in the Chronicle in PAL versions of Brawl. However, no other content from the series is seen anywhere else in the game.
The Banjo-Kazooie franchise makes its Super Smash Bros. debut as the third DLC franchise in the Fighters Pass Vol. 1, being officially announced in the E3 2019 Nintendo Direct alongside the Hero from the Dragon Quest series. In addition to Banjo & Kazooie appearing as a single playable fighter, their series is represented with a stage with multiple cameo appearances, ten music tracks, and nine Spirits. All of the representation from this series was released on September 4th, 2019 as part of the version 5.0.0 update and its associated new content.
Main article: List of SSBU Music (Banjo-Kazooie series)
Arrangements and remixes unique to Ultimate.
Tracks sourced directly from the Banjo-Kazooie games.
Main article: List of spirits (Banjo-Kazooie series)
Games with elements appearing in the Super Smash Bros. series