I've been dissecting what makes BK such a good game for years now; I've published blogs about it in the past under another alias, and bring up the same points again and again pointing out how the game was impressive not just "for its time", but for merits that no game to date manages to replicate. The game certainly isn't perfect, and it breaks its own rules from time to time, but whether by intelligent design or unfathomable amounts of luck, the majority of the levels follow certain rules that encourage exploration, minimal backtracking, major objectives in an open ended game (without restricting core mechanics behind them *coughelderscrollscough*), and reducing frustration and barrier to entry for the more difficult parts of the game while maintaining a sense of progression.
Let's start out at the beginning of every play session: Grunty's Lair. This labrynth is the game's aspects that I've been able to discern the least amount of design philosophy from; there's only one overworld, so I can't very well look for overall structural strategies. Instead, I've analyzed the lair on a room-by-room basis. The Nintendo 64 didn't have the power to load the entire lair at once, so it required loading screens. It's very possible that these doubled as a pacing mechanism, but the animation and actual load times are kept so low that I believe they were there out of necessity, not design. The lair is connected through several doors and tunnels, and it follows the general rule that tunnels don't have loading screens, but doors do. If this was the design from the start, it was limited by the console; the tunnels in the area by Rusty Bucket Bay *do* have loading screens, breaking the pattern.
Because of this, I don't consider a "room" to be an area separated from another because of a loading screen. Instead, I define a room of Grunty's Lair to be an area separated from other areas by a tunnel or a doorway. Tunnels rarely have a functional purpose other than transportation (such as the tunnel with the Gobi's Valley puzzle on the way to Mad Monster Mansion). Hacking reveals that they don't help the game load two connected rooms without needing a loading screen, so that's not what they were for, either. This means that tunnels were added on purpose, despite rarely having content within them. What was the purpose of having tunnels, then? The answer lies in doorways and what lies above both.
As soon as you enter the lair, turn right. The tunnel to Mumbo's Mountain has teeth and red eyes above it. This exact set of teeth and eyes can be found throughout the lair, and they consistently lead to the entrances to the various levels. I'll call these tunnels and doorways "level tunnels" and "level door". Now every inch of the lair up until the Click Clock Woods entrance (which I'll get to later, it's a masterpiece in and of itself) can be classified as either a room, door, tunnel, level door, or level tunnel.
Now, back to the point about why tunnels and doors co-exist instead of just having doors. The very first room of the lair has a level tunnel and a door, one leading to the MM entrance and one to another room. To figure out the genius of the door vs tunnel design, let's keep choosing the door. After going through the door, you encounter a tunnel and another door. When you go through that door, you encounter two level doors, two tunnels, and just one door. When you go through the one door, you get to a room with a level door and a normal door, which leads to a room with just a door. That door leads to a room with two level tunnels, a tunnel, and- you guessed it, a door. Choosing only non-level doors moves you deeper and deeper into the lair; tunnels are meant to designate a side route while doors without eyes and teeth are meant to progress the player through the lair. This adds a "main road" through the lair's hub rooms without an overly obvious road; it adds a sense of direction that other games spanning all genres either lack or are too obvious with.
The level entrances themselves provide an elegant, simple solution to a problem games typically handle with one extreme or another; should the entrance to a piece of content be guarded and delay the player's quickly fading excitement over unlocking new content, or be perfectly safe and risk making the overworld less engaging? In BK, if you unlock a world for the first time, you can enter it safely. On repeat visits, enemies from the level inhabit its entrance room.
Earlier, I mentioned how the end of the lair doesn't play by the rules. After following door after door in the completed lair, you'll reach a water-filled room with a level door and two level tunnels leading to the Click Clock Woods level entrance. As most players will remember, the way to move forwards is to go to the CCW entrance room, then take a short tunnel to the quiz show. This breaks the pattern not only in terms of the purposes of tunnels and doors, but the method of transportation. You advance via a teleportation pad; they were previously only for exiting levels, and this one is far different from the small, metallic one seen before. Together, the game uses these tactics to show the player that what's coming up is going to break the norm; it won't be another hub, it won't be a level. Before the player even steps on the teleporter, they know the end of the game is behind it.
Before I move to the levels themselves, one last thing that's pretty clever; the warp couldrons let you traverse the overworld more and more quickly as you progress through the game without invalidating the areas between them, which is what would happen if they were all interconnected like the silos in BT. All that would matter would be the fastest route from a level to one, which is clearly not the case. You can't simply go up the ramp, through the first door, down the tunnel, into the warp couldron, appear in the RBB level entrance, and enter the level.
Now that the appetizers are out of the way, on to the meat and potatoes of BK's level design- the levels! As soon as you enter almost any level of the game, you have no reason to turn around. The sole exception is CCW, which for the remainder of this post, I'll be ignoring. It follows entirely different design philosophies than the rest of the game, and cannot be properly compared to the first eight levels. With no collectibles hidden behind the entrance, the player is encouraged to look ahead or just start moving. Encouraging the player for moving through the level quickly without punishing them for it sets a fun, fast pace for the level, and going into first person mode is more than accomodated for in the game. GV's first Jinjo is an arguable exception since its voice is easily heard.
When you enter a world in Banjo Kazooie, you're safe. You can leave your console on for a year and not take a single point of damage. This gives the player the perfect opportunity to look around the level as soon as they reach it. Every level has what I call a "goal point"; it's impossible to get more than 8 of the world's 11 jiggies without reaching this goal point. In almost every level, your initial view will reveal this goal point or a way of reaching it. Mumbo's Mountain has its namesake, Treasure Trove Cove has its lighthouse, Clanker's Cavern's pond that leads to Clanker himself is visible from the start, Jinxy is visible from GV's entrance, FEP requires you to move forward a little before being able to see its snowman, MMM has its mansion, and RBB has the boat. Each initial view also has an interesting view, avoiding black ceilings and boring borders. The sole exception is BGS; the wooden maze is its goal point, but it's not easily visible, and the pitch black ceiling isn't very immersive.
Having a tenth of the game's Jiggies thrown at the player right off the bat of each level would diminish their worth, but part of what makes levels so engaging is how they bait you along with a reward right off the bat. Rare solves this paradox with Jinjos. Each level has an easy to collect Jinjo within the first half minute of each level. The only exceptions provide other partial jiggies, such as the crocodile you can feed at the start of BGS or showing you the jiggy in a ghost at the start of MMM. The player feels empowered right off the bat, further contributing to their sense of adventure.
So far I've only been ranting about the level designs from an on-paper standpoint; their execution was strongly supported by Rare's performance in creating the masterpiece. Almost every level has a boss or minigame, and every one is emphasized with Grant Kirkhope's beautiful tracks using channel fading to tell the player that they're either in danger or timed. The sound effects clearly denote what attacks are and aren't affecting an enemy, as well as how harmful something is. The music stopping to play the Jiggy tune emphasizes how important your recent acquisition was, and the call for help from the Jinjos lets you find them easily, making finding them on a single life much more feasible. The enemy designs clearly denote how to kill them; the wall monsters in CC have sharp teeth and vulnerable sides, and are only placed in areas where the smartest way to deal with them would be attacking from the side. Their redskins in MMM, on the other hand, seem equally dangerous from all sides, and are placed in rooms with enough maneuverability that attacking them head on would be viable. The art, sound effects, and music are all amazing on their own, but the way they compliment the game design is a sign of a small team working together to produce a masterpiece.
My fingers are tired and I typed this all on my phone, so I'll stop for now, but tl;dr BK was a well designed game that stands the test of time, and it's loved for more reasons than just nostalgia.
DLC? UGANDA WILL NOT HAVE THIS SICKNESS!