Banzo Kazooie
Banjo-Kazooie vs Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie are two of the earliest and most beloved entries in the 3D platforming genre. Each game earned widespread praise upon release and established legacies as some of the best games of all time, and even today, newer generations of gamers still frequently discover and love these classic titles.

As the two most popular 3D platformers on the Nintendo 64 (later Rare games like Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64 did not quite hit the same mark), it is natural to compare the two, which is what I will be doing today as I dive into the respective qualities of each of these games by comparing them through pre-selected categories that capture many of the main attributes one looks for in a collectathon. So, which is better, Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie? Read on to find out!

Controls and gameplay - Winner: Banjo

Smooth controls and fun gameplay are essential for a great 3D platformer. Both of the games that we are discussing today were once revered as cutting edge examples of what 3D gameplay could entail.

Nowadays, each game is noticeably clunkier, but one has held up significantly better. Especially in the modern era, Banjo-Kazooie is simply much nicer and more cohesive to play than Super Mario 64. While Super Mario 64 is frequently criticized for a frustrating camera and controls that often feel imprecise, Banjo-Kazooie, in my view, is still really great to play, even on the original hardware.

Rare did some very impressive work with that lovably strange Nintendo 64 controller, making it into the perfect 3D platforming tool as they mapped the bear and bird’s wide set of moves and abilities to perfection.

Banjo Kazooie 3
Banjo Kazooie offers a better control and gameplay in general.

Level design - Winner: Super Mario 64

One of the most important aspects of any collectathon is the environments that players will, you know, collect stuff in. Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie each knock it out of the park in this regard. Both games have several colorful, iconic levels chock full of secrets, collectibles, and joy. Platforming challenges, funky characters, and interesting puzzles all await players in spades. As with every category here, it’s a close one. Super Mario 64 ultimately takes the crown, largely because it has a higher number of quality levels compared to Banjo-Kazooie.

Super Mario 64 has fifteen levels while Banjo-Kazooie has nine, with each adding its own exciting hub world. Each game shows off the pinnacle of 3D platforming level design, and neither has more than a couple of dud levels (I’m personally not a huge fan of Lethal Lava Land or Dire Dire Docks in Super Mario 64, and Clanker’s Cavern can be a chore in Banjo-Kazooie).

Super Mario 64 has a wide range of highlights, including classics like Bob-Omb Battlefield, Whomp’s Fortress, and, my personal favorite, Tick Tock Clock. Banjo-Kazooie is no slouch, either, with Click Clock Wood being my favorite level out of either of these games. As such, even though Super Mario 64 wins this category thanks to its wider variety, both games deserve an “A” grade here.

Music - Winner: Banjo-Kazooie

Each game under the spotlight here has an excellent soundtrack - there’s no denying that. Having spent dozens of hours in each of these games, though, I’ve found that one of these games has several more memorable tracks than the other.

Banjo-Kazooie wins here behind the impressive might of Grant Kirkhope’s composing. From the spectacular title music, to catchy level tunes like Click Clock Wood’ Spring arrangement, all the way to the epic final battle theme, Banjo-Kazooie’s soundtrack is loaded to the brim with one hit after another.

Art style - Winner: Super Mario 64

Both Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie are good-looking games, especially for the era they released in. Super Mario 64 is a slightly more colorful game than Banjo-Kazooie, while Banjo-Kazooie’s large, detailed environments are often full of visual delights and creative designs.

Ultimately, Super Mario 64’s iconic scenes, brighter color palette, and greater number of visually varied levels gives it a narrow win over Banjo-Kazooie in the art department. Levels like Rainbow Ride, Whomp’s Fortress, Wet-Dry World, and plenty of others fuel a wonderful visual experience in Super Mario 64. Banjo-Kazooie is no slouch, of course; just take a gander at each of the seasonal variants of Click Clock Wood to figure out why.

Super Mario 64
With its distinctive art style, Super Mario 64 wins our heart in terms of graphics.

Each game fills its world with color and creativity. Super Mario 64 wins here, narrowly. It caters to my tastes just a bit better with its brighter, more pleasing color palette. Its art direction and level design both reflect a more whimsical approach to building its game world, which worked quite well for me. Banjo-Kazooie fleshes out its levels a little bit more and embraces some very lush environments, but the more colorful approach of Super Mario 64 wins out, narrowly.

This is, however, a segment that heavily revolves around personal preferences - some folks might feel that the strengths of Banjo-Kazooie’s art direction outweigh those of Super Mario 64 (after all, the giant Snowbear in Freezeezy Peak is a treat for the eyes), and they’ve got every right to feel that way. These are two impressively pretty games.

Verdict: Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo-Kazooie does not have the same legacy as Super Mario 64, but in my view, it’s the better game. While I might credit Super Mario 64 with a better variety of levels and a stronger art direction, I find that Banjo-Kazooie is a very close second in both of those categories, while I enjoy Banjo-Kazooie’s gameplay and music much more than those of Super Mario 64. Once you factor in controls, and especially how each game feels to play today, Banjo-Kazooie becomes an even clearer victor. As a complete package, Rare’s 3D platforming debut is the stuff of beauty. When it came out in 1998, it set a new standard for the genre that has only been met a few times since.

Today, both games are still excellent to play, but Banjo-Kazooie’s smoother controls and more satisfying collectathon gameplay take it to the next level. While each game undeniably resides in the upper echelons of the genre, Banjo-Kazooie wins the day over Super Mario 64.

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