Riding the Backlog - Banjo-Kazooie (Part 10)

By Chris Pranger

Session 10: Grunty’s Furnace Fun and Finale

Here we are at the end of another Riding the Backlog series! After 10 sessions I’ve managed to yet again 100% complete Banjo-Kazooie, only running into some minor hold-ups with some tricky spots in Rusty Bucket Bay and a little bit of drowning in Click Clock Wood, as you do. But at last we’ve reached the end of the adventure and we’re ready to get Tooty back from Gruntilda.

The only thing standing between Banjo and Gruntilda is Grunty’s Furnace Fun, a finale that completely blindsides most first-time players. I know I was blindsided! Who’d expect a collectathon to lead into a gameshow as the penultimate challenge? Everything I’ve learned up until this point will be tested, so let’s play, shall we?

Grunty’s Furnace Fun is laid out to look like a game board of some sort suspended over a cavern of lava. Aesthetically it’s not very pleasing to look at since there are a lot of muddy oranges, browns, reds, and yellows to nearly wrap up the game. Each segment of the board has a different tile on it that dictates what you’ll be asked to do to pass it. At various points the path splits, letting you choose which direction you’d like to go, though all paths eventually lead to the finish.

The first tile is a blue Banjo-Kazooie tile which contains a quiz question with three possible answers. Each question asks you trivia about the game up to this point, such as how many ways were there to get into Clanker’s body or how many Jiggies were required to open Mumbo’s Mountain. I prefer these quiz questions the most since they sometimes do really get you to stop and consider something in the short 10 seconds you have to answer. A wrong answer does damage to you, but with 10 honeycomb segments and honeycomb pieces littered around the game board, I’m not usually at risk of death from a wrong answer. Not usually.

The next tile has an eyeball on it and is another quiz, though this time involving a picture of someone or somewhere. Typically you’ll see a screenshot from a world at an awkward angle, giving you just enough details to piece together where you’re looking. Some of these are easy enough, such as seeing an underwater pipe in Clanker’s Cavern (the only place they appear), but others can get downright devious, such as one picture of some short steps into a dark opening. You know, a visual that looks like just about anywhere.

Music note tiles involve a quiz based around sound, either with a character’s voice or a music track from a stage. I really like this because it benefits those who’ve been paying extremely close attention to the game’s details. Really all of the question/visual/sound tiles are fun because they reward players who’ve been paying attention.

Then there are the timed challenge tiles, represented by a stopwatch. These send you into one of the game’s challenges and put you on a timer, such as having to defeat the Zubbas or Mr. Vile again before the time runs out. I do not like these tiles since they take longer to complete and I don’t enjoy just being asked to repeat what I’ve already done. Quizzing me is fine, sure, that’s asking me to prove my knowledge, but asking me to demonstrate I can complete a challenge I’ve already completed is tiresome.

Mixed in around the board are Grunty tiles which prompt trivia questions exclusively about Gruntilda. If you’ve been seeking out Brentilda throughout Grunty’s lair, you’ll have encountered all the answers to these questions, but if you’ve avoided her then you’re left guessing. I really don’t like these questions since they change randomly every game, so it’s not like you can properly remember them. Worse, because they’re so random, and they don’t all follow the same theme (you can’t just always select the “butt” answer and be correct), you can easily forget what Brentilda told you and still have to guess. A wrong answer still only does a single honeycomb of damage at least, so it’s not too bad, right?

Well here’s where it gets bad: the insta-death skull tiles. It is impossible to avoid stepping on at least a few of these tiles as you play through, and though they’re just trivia questions like most tiles, an incorrect answer sends you into the lava. This doesn’t just take a life from you, it also forces you to start Grunty’s Furnace Fun from the beginning, which is about the most frustrating thing it could do. Considering there’s an instant-death tile as the final space, it’s entirely possible to make a single mistake and be forced to do it all over again from the start. I only failed Grunty’s Furnace Fun once at about a third through it, so I was spared a full wipe at the finish.

There are also one more type of square that show a picture of Banjo in a jester’s hat. Presumably these are Joker spaces, though I have no clue what they do since getting to them requires going down what look like dead-ends, usually past multiple instant-death tiles in a row. I had to look them up and apparently they reward you with two space-skip cards which are definitely useful to avoid the later instant-death spaces, but you still have to go through instant-death spaces to get to them so...why?

I managed to beat Grunty’s Furnace Fun in just two tries, prompting a cutscene where Banjo and Kazooie have to pick which prize they’ll take home between Tooty, a washing machine (or maybe cauldron, it’s not clear), and a gnarly Gruntilda doll. The pair select Tooty as Gruntilda flees deeper into her lair, sending us to a credits roll.

I’m not sure if this is just because it’s the Xbox 360 version of the game that I’m playing, but something messed up here because usually you see the credits roll, getting introduced to various characters in the game, and those characters read the names of the developers, which did happen for me, but what didn’t happen is a cutscene that follows after where Banjo and Kazooie are trying to relax, only for Tooty to scold them and tell them to go finish off Gruntilda. I’m forced to try and recreate the scene from memory since the credits appeared like they were beginning to loop, so I pressed the start button, which sent me back to the title screen for some reason. Reentering my game started me right after the cutscene would have normally played. That sort of bums me out completely, but I’ll manage.

Since all that’s left is to head into the final fight against Gruntilda, I take this opportunity to finish some last little bit of cleanup, specifically in finding Cheato a third time to get the gold feather maximum doubled. It took me a few minutes of trying to remember where he was since my childhood days were a long, long time ago, but the realization to raise the water level in Grunty’s lair to the highest setting and swim into another chamber before the 30-second timer expired granted me the final Cheato secret.

Back at the stairs just past Grunty’s Furnace Fun, the final required music note door demands 810 notes. As someone who’s already obtained every music note and Jiggy, there is nothing left hidden to me. It also seems like a very odd number of required music notes since that equates to 90 music notes per world, or all of the notes from the first eight worlds and then 10 from Click Clock Wood. Whatever the case, it seems like a very random number.

A final Jiggy pedestal resides here, with Grunty claiming it’ll take everything I have left to fill it. She’s lying as it doesn’t. Of my 100 total Jiggies, filling all nine world portraits and now Grunty’s final boss portrait leaves me with six Jiggies left over. To beat the game therefore requires 94 Jiggies, or 9.4 jiggies from each...okay, math just happened in my head. It means that between the nine worlds and Grunty’s lair, you can only skip six Jiggies. Again, it feels like an odd number.

Just past this door are some more music note doors, each higher than the last. Past each door are little pillows with items that give you the maximum number of eggs and feathers, though what seems very odd to me is that none of the note doors require all 900 music notes, making that seem less like an achievement and more like just a personal goal, though being the Xbox 360 version I do get an achievement for finding all 900.

A small antichamber is located just past here that has yet another Jiggy pedestal, requiring another four Jiggies to reveal a picture of a honeycomb chamber. Filling it in turns all my health honeycombs red, meaning I now have double the health, or 20 honeycombs in my health bar. At the end of everything, I’m left with two unused Jiggies, meant only for 100% completion. Weirdly, you don’t even get an achievement for obtaining every last Jiggy, so it’s absolutely for personal pride. That and to access a bonus final ending scene, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Dingpot, Grunty’s personal cauldron, greets us and, after some snark from Kazooie, offers to shoot us to the top of the tower to fight with Gruntilda. I’m ready, with the max number of items, the max amount of health, and every collectable in the game collected. Having no unfinished business, it’s time to bust this witch.

The final battle against Gruntilda is another spike in difficulty, partly because it requires nearly completing the game entirely (94 required Jiggies of 100 compared to Super Mario 64’s 70 required Stars of 120), and partly because Grunty isn’t exactly easy. Or fair. Or, to be honest, fun.

A lot of the game’s mechanics suddenly break down here in the finale. Grunty has multiple phases, technically five, and each one of the moves you’ve learned throughout the game will be tested except for the boots, running shoes, and spring jump. You’ll still have to know how to utilize firing eggs, how to attack and dodge quickly, how to master the art of flying, and when to pull out your Wonderwing to avoid otherwise unavoidable damage. That all sounds reasonable since a good final boss should test that you’ve mastered everything or nearly everything the game has to offer, but there haven’t been any real boss fights up until this point, meaning the final challenge stands alone as a potentially brutal and frustrating gauntlet for inexperienced or rusty players.

Grunty’s first phase starts things off simple where she rides around on her broom, dive bombing in a straight trajectory twice, then thrice, then fourice before stalling out and allowing you to peck her backside. In another break from video game conventions, rather than requiring three hits per phase, she requires four before moving on to the next. After every pecking she’ll recover and throw a fireball at you, her standard way to damage you in this fight. Normally the fireballs wouldn’t bother me but she has really good aim, sometimes perfectly predicting where I’m about to be and tagging me with exact accuracy, Space Invaders style.

Her second phase changes tactics, flying off to one side of the ramparts and hurling fireballs one right after the other. You’re required to jump onto the rampart and hit her with three eggs, prompting her to fly to the next side. The window between her blasting fireballs is too slim to feel fair though since there is a lot of lag between jumping, crouching, firing, and fleeing. Plus, aiming is a crapshow and involves crouching and just hoping you’re facing the right direction, then blasting as many eggs as you can and running before you see if they hit their mark. Each hit also bounces her slightly to one side, meaning you can’t typically fire three straight eggs and then bail, you have to readjust after each shot. By the fourth rep of hiding, firing, and fleeing, the necessary opening to shoot an egg almost demands you just tank a hit.

Between each phase, Grunty fires a special magnetic homing attack that looks like some sort of vicious swirl of death. She also drops a honeycomb piece, which at first made me believe you were required to take the hit and then just heal, but suddenly I remembered about the Wonderwing and realized you had to become invulnerable at just the right moment to avoid damage and not waste the precious golden feather resource.

The third phase is where I’m completely off the bandwagon, ready to call it a day. Grunty takes to flying high in the air, meaning Banjo and Kazooie must also fly into the air and then Beak Bomb four times, a task that sounds simple enough until you realize that Grunty is moving. The game has asked you to Beak Bomb a handful of stationary targets, as well as targets that are actively hurling attacks at you, but never moving targets that only stop when attacking.

Lining up the proper Beak bomb trajectory is extremely difficult, made more difficult since there isn’t a ton of space to fly around, and flapping too high makes it harder to really aim properly. Going too low also won’t work since you can’t Beak Bomb upward as necessary. That means you’ll want to be right about at Grunty’s height to get a good angle, but you’re always slowly descending as you flap, so there’s a constant struggle to get into position, aim, Beak Bomb, and avoid fireballs. After hitting Grunty a few times I made a spectacular misfire, slamming into the edge of the tower between some ramparts and bouncing over during the damage animation, plummeting to an immediate death.

That means starting the fight over from the beginning, back through the first two phases and once more flying around, nearly making similar mistakes in my second attempt. I had a few amazing saves where I would Beak Bomb and just barely skim the top of a rampart, making me exit the flying animation and have to perform a desperation second jump to back up from going over the edge again.

This second attempt proved better, sending me to the fourth phase. Gruntilda creates a barrier around herself as she floats around the center of the tower, shooting yet more fireballs. After dodging a few, Jinjo statues appear in the four corners of the tower, each with an opening for eggs. Firing in a few eggs causes the statue’s stone exterior to break away and a Jinjo to come to life, flying skyward and blasting right into Gruntilda. Finding the perfect window of opportunity to fill each statue becomes harder each time, especially with her aim improving and getting faster. No sir, I don’t like it.

At last, the final phase begins. Her broom destroyed, Gruntilda stands on one rampart with her barrier spell up and continues blasting me with fireballs. Once again, after waiting a little bit, another, larger Jinjo statue raises up from the center of the battlefield, presenting four openings that each need to be filled with eggs. This is the Jinjonator, the biggest, baddest Jinjo to ever live.

This last phase is also just as frustrating as the previous ones, leaving too little time to fire eggs and even hitting me with fireballs through the big Jinjo statue, which just feels unfair. I was shocked, dying in the final battle just from taking too much damage. Gruntilda does not mess around, but a third full attempt through the fight gave me the win, activating the Jinjonator and hitting Grunty with an attack strong enough to fling her from the tower.

We see Gruntilda fall and splat into the ground, leaving a cartoonish Grunty-shaped hole in Spiral Mountain. A large boulder then lands on top of her, trapping her under it. We see her attempting to move the boulder to no avail. If you start your game back up you can even see the boulder bouncing as she tries to escape. I really like this because even in defeat, the game isn’t about to sour the whole experience with a gruesome Disney-style death.

Our foe beat and our Jiggies collected, what do we do next? Well, we watch the second ending, which is more a baddie curtain call as each enemy is presented with their name. This time, there are no actual developer credits accompanying this curtain call. Instead, it’s just a way to see each character one final time before leaving them behind, something that Rare popularized with the Donkey Kong Country series.

After the roll call plays, a last scene starts up with Banjo, Kazooie, Tooty, Mumbo, and Bottles on a tropical beach somewhere properly relaxing. There’s a bit of wrap-up dialogue where Banjo and Kazooie ask if they missed anything this time, to which Mumbo falls down from a coconut tree with some pictures of secrets he claims they missed.

I know full well what these were since in the N64 version, the photos are of two Stop ‘n’ Swap eggs and the ice key, being teased as something that we’ll get to do in the sequel, Banjo-Tooie. It made sense back then because the idea of a sequel was a fun “I hope they’ll actually do this” sort of joke, and the notion of a greater mystery only added to allure of this 100% ending. What were those eggs? What was that key? Why can’t I know? Could I get them in THIS game?

As it turns out, yes, I could get them in Banjo-Kazooie on the N64, though it required knowing secret codes that were not given within the game itself but rather through external sources. I want to say I learned the codes from Nintendo Power. I even went through the process of getting all seven of the Stop ‘n’ Swap items in the N64 version, even though they didn’t do anything. As a kid, it just felt like a fun little conclusion to a bigger mystery, like I’d finally managed to solve it.

In the Xbox 360 re-release though, as I’ve mentioned in previous sessions, having Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts data opens the required pathways to these secrets without me having to do anything at all. Problem is, having Mumbo still show me these secrets and acting like I haven’t already collected them is a huge oversight, especially when it keeps name-dropping Nuts & Bolts explicitly.

Allow me a moment to grouse as an entitled fan, if you will. The original 100% ending just doesn’t work anymore, not when players largely know what the Stop ‘n’ Swap items are and that they can be used in both Banjo-Tooie and Nuts & Bolts. If I’ve already collected the items, the 100% ending should change in some way. At LEAST make Kazooie say, “Yeah, we know all about these items. We already got them.” Make it a fourth-wall-breaking joke like so many other jokes in the game. Sadly the only really good moment is when Mumbo says he’s already seen Nuts & Bolts and Kazooie asks, “Is it any good,” to which there is a very long and unintentional pause before Mumbo finally responds. The way it scene plays out makes it seem almost like all the characters know Nuts & Bolts is widely panned, landing the strongest joke of the game, though a joke it absolutely didn’t mean to make.

But wait, there’s still one more thing to do! Back at Banjo’s house is a picture of Bottles above the fireplace (which is perpetually lit even when Banjo is gone, surely a fire hazard). Standing on the green rug and using the first-person aiming to look up at Bottles prompts a secret bonus game where you have a limited amount of time to put together a 5x5 puzzle of a scene from various levels.

I absolutely love this little minigame because it FINALLY makes use of puzzle pieces in a game about collecting big damn golden puzzle pieces! And it’s challenging! But fair! The first puzzle shows you the concept, that you have to find where each piece goes as scene plays out. Seeing a moving puzzle is cool and works. Later scenes add a new challenge by rotating some of the pieces, really making you think hard to complete them, with the seventh and last scene taking place in the Zubba hive.

Completing each puzzle gives you a new Bottles bonus code that can be entered in the sandcastle, but it sort of stops me in my tracks that these puzzles weren’t included in the game as a means to open the worlds themselves. There are seven puzzles, meaning they really only needed another two to show a scene from every world, and another two after that for the Grunty and honeycomb portraits. I have absolutely no clue why these were hidden in such an obtuse spot of the game, but the cheats they reward are actually a lot of stupid fun.

Each cheat does something arguably really dumb, like giving Banjo and Kazooie large heads and paws, but the king of these cheats is the final one, WISHYWASHYBANJO, which transforms Banjo into a washing machine. It doesn’t look right within the game and clips horrendously, plus Kazooie disappears despite being able to use her moves as normal, but it’s a nice reminder that classic games really did like to just give you something stupid to play with, especially on the N64, and especially Rare games. Remember big head mode for Goldeneye? Delightful.

And there ends Banjo-Kazooie, all items collected and all achievements dinged. After 10 sessions I managed to rack up a little over nine hours of play time, with nearly two hours of that time coming from the final session. And you know what? It was all worth it.

Even after all this time, I was having a great time with Banjo-Kazooie. Sure, it really showed its age in a lot of places, but it was still refreshing to play a game with so few real stakes. If I succeed, I stop a witch from making my sister ugly. If I fail, the witch becomes attractive and my sister becomes ugly. Really, it would have been a bad day in the Banjo household, but not an end-of-the-world sort of day. In between games like Spider-Man where the city is under constant threat from criminals and terrorists, Red Dead Redemption 2 where the West is rough and death is always a stray bullet or snake away, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate where everyone in the galaxy is killed except Kirby, I don’t mind just playing something stupid like “go stop the witch, please.”

The question is now, what do I play next? Do I jump right into Banjo-Tooie and continue Banjo’s adventures, or do I change course and replay something else from the backlog. That’s a mystery for another day, as for now my ride is over.
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