One of our recent Discord Questions of the Week was "Do you have any favorite fan games or mods?" I pitched in a few of my own answers, like AM2R and Project M. There were a few answers from others that I wrote down to check out in the future. There was one response that made me immediately go find an N64 emulator and ROM to patch. You probably figured out what the answer was, based on the fact that you clicked this post to read.
Jiggies of Time is the first Kurko mod that I've played, but given how much I loved it, I might just have to go see what else he's done. If you haven't figured it out by now, Jiggies of Time is a mod of Banjo-Kazooie that places the titular anthropomorphic protag duo into the Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I was blown away at how he was able to take the various environments of OoT and not only make them into Banjo levels, but make them into extremely good and well-designed Banjo levels. This game makes me wish that Kurko had been the level designer for Banjo-Tooie instead of...well, whoever actually did design Banjo-Tooie. (I like BT, but it just loses the thread of what made BK so great.)
You might say "ML, come on, if he's just importing the level design from OoT, the work is basically done for him." That's the thing, though; Kurko adds connective tissue to the OoT locations that makes them more friendly to traversing as a platformer, he puts in new secret areas that feel good to get to, and he also knows when to stretch and shrink the scale of the OoT world to feel better for our favorite Bear and Bird. This mod is far, far more than slapping an OoT skin on BK. This is a phenomenally thoughtful effort at combining these two beloved worlds.
"Beloved" is a good word to use when talking about Jiggies of Time, because the entire game is a love letter. To what, you ask? Well, certainly to Banjo, and obviously to Ocarina; but more than that, Kurko drops in references to the breadth of the Zelda series across the board. There is music from basically every game in the franchise (the Desert Colossus, pictured above, features a Kirkhopian cover of Dancing Dragon Dungeon from Oracle of Ages, if that gives you an idea of the deep cuts we're working with here). Some of the extra environments and connective tissue in the levels is modeled after other Zelda environments, like the Outset Island forest from Wind Waker or the Sacred Grove from A Link to the Past. Even more than just a love letter to the two series being combined gameplay-wise, there is noticeable adoration for basically every N64 game and major character. I found a Snowboard Kids box, for goodness sake. It's like this game was made for me. (I should play Snowboard Kids again...) By the way, there are a host of references and easter eggs I won't mention here because they simply must be experienced firsthand.
If your interest is piqued by what I've written so far, I need to make one thing abundantly clear: this game is, first and foremost, a ROMhack of Banjo-Kazooie. If you aren't a fan of BK's controls or physics, you won't have a good time with this mod, even if the setting is your jam. This mod is not for people who are just passingly familiar with 3D platformers; in many places, this mod demands the very specific BK skillset. Additionally, the game basically demands you to 100% it. The final door opens only if you have 840 music notes...there are 900 in the game. You spend Jiggies to open each level, and the final boss fight left me with only 3 Jiggies...after I had collected all 100. Most painfully, there is hardly a Mumbo Token to spare, and you have to make sure you collect them as faithfully as the major pieces. Thankfully, I love 100%ing games, and I am fairly adept at manipulating our backpack duo, so this played to my strengths rather than turning me off.
Like its source material, this mod isn't without its flaws. Any time a level attempts to go vertical, problems ensue. Banjo and Kazooie just aren't very good at going up, but they're very good at falling down. Death Mountain was the worst offender of vertical level design being a pain, both in Dodongo's Cavern and in the main mountain area. One slip inevitably results in long, tedious backtracking, to the point that I just started using save states if I knew the punishment for falling would be nothing beyond "wasting a bunch of time."
There's also the BK holdover of losing all your notes (and Jinjos) when you die or leave the level. I don't know if this is so baked into the BK engine that Kurko couldn't reasonably take it out, but if he had the ability to circumvent this, I wish he had. There is nothing in this game more disheartening than dying with 99 notes, or, as happened to me in the final level, collecting 80 notes and being forced to leave the level because you were short two Mumbo tokens to transform to get the final 20. It doesn't take that long to get 'em all again upon re-entry, but it feels unnecessary every time.
But in spite of the few annoyances endemic to the engine, this mod is just brilliant, capturing both the spirits of Zelda and Banjo note-for-note. I mean that literally, too, because the music is the perfect combination of Zelda melodies in the plucky, strumming Kirkhope style. It was always a joy to enter a new area and see how the music got Banjo-ified.
The dialogue is very funny, and more importantly, carries the voices of the characters in every way. Banjo is a lovable lunk, Kazooie is snarky and insulting. Mods like this can get into bad fanfiction territory so easily, but Kurko and his writing team do an incredible job at writing in these characters' voices that we're familiar with. Even Grunty's rhymes are on point! There are also fun cameos from Zelda, Ganon, and even Link. I won't get this exactly right, but a great exchange went something like this:
Zelda: Maybe after this adventure, we can play some Smash Bros!
Ganondorf: Perfect! I can't wait to show you all who's boss!
Banjo: What about you, Grunty? Going to join us?
Kazooie: Wait, that's right, you're not in the game!
Grunty: I wanted in, but Sakurai's a coward / He knows I'd be too overpowered!
I just had a ton of fun with this mod. If you're even slightly considering checking it out, I'd encourage you to do so without hesitating. I'm really glad Ian asked that Question of the Week, and even more glad that Val shouted this game out. I don't know Kurko at all, but I already know he outdid himself with this one.