Considering the internet and social media wasn’t developed the way that it is today, it’s not outrageous to say that the enthusiasm for Banjo-Kazooie has never been higher than it is right now in the days and weeks following the announcement that the iconic duo would be joining the roster of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
The announcement has seemingly rekindled the love of the franchise for gamers old enough to have played the games along with inspiring gamers who haven’t heard or played the games to discover them.
The last game in the series, Nuts & Bolts, is the black sheep in the series and is not remembered as fondly as the other games.
While fans like myself were happy to get anything back in 2008 after lying dormant for many years, it’s fair to look back at it and feel unfulfilled. Nuts & Bolts wasn’t a terrible game, but it was a bad Banjo-Kazooie game as the vehicle-based gameplay just was too far removed from what it felt like to play the first two titles.
The closest thing to a proper follow-up to Banjo-Tooie was Yooka-Laylee, the 3D platformer from Playtonic, a team made up of many team members that worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie games.
Yooka-Laylee wasn’t exactly what fans were looking for either. It was a good game, but it had a smaller number of larger, emptier feeling worlds at least when compared to the smaller but more jam-packed areas you could explore in Banjo-Kazooie.
It’s a shame because as popularity and enthusiasm soars for the duo, longtime fans like myself are scrambling, looking around to see if there’s anyone willing to strike right now while the iron is hot.
Microsoft and Rare as a publisher/developer team are still the leaders in the clubhouse to take on a new Banjo-Kazooie game despite the latter’s essentially non-existent connection to the original games. Microsoft owns Rare and their IP, and anything Banjo-Kazooie related would need be approved by them.
The problem is that the 1998 Rare development team is very, very different than the team that exists now at Rare and are working on Sea of Thieves.
Not to mention, Sea of Thieves has been hitting a stride after months and years of major updates and additions. While sure, they could continue to support Sea of Thieves and develop a new Banjo-Kazooie game, it would be a risky venture for the company considering their inexperience.
The next most obvious choice would be to let Playtonic get a crack at it; however at least as far as we can see, there doesn’t appear to be any traction whatsoever for a Playtonic-developed Banjo-Kazooie game.
The team seems content on building on the Yooka-Laylee franchise and growing their own brand, and those close to the original developers do not believe it is likely that they would ever reunite with Rare/Microsoft to work on a new game.
Microsoft is hurting for IPs that will help build excitement for the Xbox family of consoles and the Xbox Game Pass service. They have been gobbling up studios to help build the next generation of exclusives, but it’s going to be a few years until we see the fruits of their labor. While this is going on, Banjo-Kazooie remains dormant and is arguably their biggest inactive IP along with Fable.
That said, perhaps the best hope for a new game comes from Microsoft’s most recent acquisition announced this year at E3: Double Fine.
Double Fine has the right experience in the genre via their work on the Psychonauts games (certainly more than any other active studio) than any other first-party Xbox Game Studio. While Psychonauts does not play directly like Banjo-Kazooie – A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee are closer modern comparison – they still share some space in the 3D platformer genre.
On top of that, the Tim Schafer-led team are an extremely versatile group of developers having worked on many titles over the years including Brutal Legend, Headlander, and Broken Age.
I don’t know Schafer personally, so I’m not going to speak for him, but it certainly seems like over the years that he has been willing to take on projects that involve other company’s IPs such as the remaster of Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. Banjo-Kazooie is iconic, and it seems like it would be a challenge that Double Fine wouldn’t shy away from if Microsoft, Rare and Schafer all thought it was a good idea.
This is all just hopeful speculation though. There’s nothing indicating right now that Double Fine is, or would be interested in working on a new Banjo-Kazooie game.
A clear, logical, opportunity like this to revive this classic franchise might not present itself again for a while, if ever. Microsoft could just get inspired to do it whenever, but it’s been over a decade since Nuts & Bolts and no one over the last decade has seemed interested in it.
With the burst of new blood being injected into the suite of Xbox Game Studios and the enthusiasm following the guest appearance in Smash Ultimate, hopefully Microsoft is feeling inspired enough now to push a comeback for the bear and bird.