Still crying over a fictional character’s death from a movie you saw years ago? Having trouble letting go of that one episode of your favorite series? Grieving a gone-too-soon show? We are, too — so with this column, EW staffers pay tribute to something in the pop culture world they’re still not over. This time, Dana Schwartz looks back at Banjo-Kazooie’s save-and-quit cutscene.
If you never played the 1998 game Banjo-Kazooie, I fear it’s going to be impossible to describe it without sounding like I’m just making something up right now as a prank or an absurdist work of experimental art about what people will believe on the internet.
Here is the basic premise of this garbage nonsense game: You are Banjo, a brown bear, who keeps a red bird — presumably a friend, but now, looking back on it, more likely a hostage — trapped in your backpack at all times. A witch named Gruntilda learns from her magic cauldron that your little sister, Tooty, is more beautiful than she is, which couldn’t have come as a surprise because Gruntilda looks like a half-melted Halloween candle on sale at Party City for 40 percent off even though it’s October and all witch merchandise should be full price.
And so Gruntilda builds a machine that can transfer Tooty’s beauty over to her. She kidnaps her, and the object of the game is for you, Banjo, to make it to Gruntilda’s lair before she steals your little sister’s beauty. Yes, this whimsical game is both animal- and patriarchy-themed.
But the oddest part of the game, the part that keeps replaying in my memory, the part that I just can’t get over, is the Game Over cutscene that would play every time you saved and quit the game (presumably to go eat some Bagel Bites upstairs that your mom made for you).
Unlike most video games where saving and quitting is viewed as merely a pause in your adventure’s progress, Banjo-Kazooie insisted on a darker route, whereby every time you exited the game’s universe, it was considered losing and you were treated to the pleasure of watching Gruntilda’s evil plan succeed.
Watching that save and quit scene on YouTube years after playing Banjo-Kazooie on my Nintendo 64 feels akin to revisiting a childhood fever dream, one constructed of blocky graphics and jangly music. The overarching sentiment is bewilderment that something so strange that I felt I must have been the only one who experienced it is, somehow, available for public consumption.
If you cannot watch the video above — but really, you should watch the video — allow me to attempt to explain what occurs:
Gruntilda prepares her bouncing quivering torture chambers, one of which contains Tooty, blonde and pigtailed, trapped inside. All of the dialogue is babbles and grunts translated via text on the screen. “Help me Banjo!” your little sister cries. “I feel all funny!” And then after a few electrical buzzes and pops, the transformation is complete, and the viewer gets a glamour shot, panning up from the legs, of the new and improved Gruntilda, with long, thin legs, massive boobs, and a tight black mini dress, emerging from the machine. With her shiny black hair and perfectly sculpted eyebrows, she now looks like a missing, green-skinned Kardashian. And then the second chamber opens, and the creature that had once been your younger sister knuckle-walks out of her chamber like a gorilla, now also green-skinned, with fangs, a dumb, vacant expression, and a massive belly that can no longer be contained by her T-shirt. The jangly music of failure plays, and your sister is now permanently a grunting oaf with blonde-pigtails.
And to reiterate: This happened every single time you stopped playing the game. Not lost the game, just saved and stopped. Banjo-Kazooie blackmailed you into never quitting with a David Cronenberg short.
“When I did this for the first time I thought I done goofed,” reads the top comment on a YouTube video of the cutscene. No, YouTube commenter, you did not done goofed. The game itself done goofed, and we all let them get away with it.