In the wake of “Super Mario 64,” store shelves were filled with games about brightly colored protagonists tasked with collecting assorted tiny objects in 3-D levels. It’s fortunate that most of these titles deservedly faded into obscurity, but a few, like developer Rareware’s “Banjo-Kazooie,” brought something fresh to an already well tread formula.

“Banjo-Kazooie” revolves around Banjo, a backpack-toting bear, and his companion Kazooie, a bird who lives in Banjo’s backpack. Banjo goes through nine worlds to save his sister from the witch Gruntilda.

The game owes much to the traditional adventure game formula of the time, as each world has a variety of items for players to collect. Notes and jigsaw pieces — the equivalent of stars from the “Mario” series — advance the player through the overworld and open up new levels, respectively. Every level also tasks players with finding Jinjos — small creatures who give players another jigsaw piece if they find the five hidden in each level.

The game’s graphics evoke a storybook feel with a style reminiscent of late TV show “Pushing Daisies,” as every world bursts with loads of visual inventiveness. The Nintendo 64’s technical limitations certainly inhibited Rare’s potential palette, but rather than grasp for the visual verité that most developers fumbled toward, Rare took a more stylized direction and it gives the game a more defined sense of character.

Buildings and the enormous overworld — which links up the levels — are all built at comically exaggerated angles and burst with color. Characters have a similarly distorted appeal, as character models are cartoonishly designed, googly eyes and all. Backed by composer Grant Kirkhope’s bouncing score, “Banjo-Kazooie” feels less like a game than an interactive pop-up book.

Levels fall into the usual archetypes — the nature world, ice world and so on — but the game’s twists on these designs make them interesting. Everything in the ice world revolves around a gigantic snowman in the middle of the stage, while the nature world can change seasons, which shifts gameplay and puzzle-solving accordingly.

In addition to the game’s visual strengths, the gameplay has surprising depth. Banjo can learn new abilities in each world, and the game is designed to make sure players fully implement each one. In particular, players can learn how to fly, and this ability to explore levels via an additional plane of movement makes the game feel much more expansive.

Following “Banjo-Kazooie,” though, developer Rareware’s (now Rare) fortunes haven’t been nearly as fruitful. After Microsoft purchased the company in 2002 for $375 million, none of Rare’s games have come close to the successes of their past titles. “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts,” the developer’s most recent title and a sequel to “Banjo-Kazooie” for the Xbox 360, opened to respectable critical reaction and tepid sales.

If Rare’s pedigree — with games like the “Donkey Kong” and “Banjo-Kazooie” series — says anything, it’s that the developer is capable of producing the type of games that can define a console generation. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before they do it again.

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