Update: It's happening! Banjo-Kazooie are joining Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as DLC!
After ample anticipation, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is now available and in the hands of gamers around the globe. Toting a 74-character roster, it's easily the biggest Super Smash Bros. game yet. Still, fans are rallying for a handful of characters to join the fray as downloadable content, and few of these combatants (with the exception of maybe Geno or Waluigi) have the groundswell of support that is currently behind the title characters from Banjo-Kazooie.
The franchise was once owned by Nintendo through the then-second party studio Rare. The original game made its debut on the Nintendo 64 in 1998 and was quickly followed up with a sequel on the same console only a few years later in 2000. Following the imminent launch of the Gamecube, however, Nintendo opted to sell majority ownership of Rare to Microsoft – seemingly ensuring that the character would never see the light of day on Nintendo consoles ever again in the process.
Despite all of this, fans are adamant that they want to see Banjo and Kazooie appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Now, the fact that a competing hardware manufacturer is in possession of the property is reason enough to question whether or not this idea is possible, but a few things have happened recently to suggest that Rare's Banjo may become a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC character.
Microsoft's History With Nintendo Hardware
Following the sale of Rare to Microsoft, the company still actively sought to bring the studio's properties to Nintendo handheld consoles. Games like Banjo Pilot, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, It's Mr. Pants, and Sabrewulf all released on the the Game Boy Advance following the sale of the company. More importantly, Nintendo constantly sought out the development capabilities of Rare despite the fact that the company was developing games on Microsoft's Xbox.
Development for Donkey Kong Country 1-3 on the Game Boy Advance were all handled by Rare and paid for by Nintendo. This partnership and joint interest from the companies continued through to the Nintendo DS era where Nintendo eventually contracted Rare to develop a Diddy Kong Racing port. At around the same time, Microsoft saw value in bringing the Viva Piñata franchise to the DS in order to appeal to a different audience and did so with Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise on the handheld.
Microsoft even had a Halo game in development for the Nintendo DS, going so far as to have the game in a playable state before deciding against pursuing further development of the title. Nowadays, the partnership between the two companies has been focused on dealing with Minecraft, where Nintendo actually granted Microsoft the ability to put Super Mario content into the Nintendo versions of the game. And who could forget this commercial which showcases Minecraft's cross-play between Nintendo Switch and Xbox One:
The two even partnered up to release a New Nintendo 2DS XL console that's themed after Minecraft's Creeper. In this light, it's clear that the two are still competing in several sectors, but an open dialogue about sharing I.P. has always been present and accounted for ever since the sale of Rare.
Xbox's Head Says He'd Like To See Banjo and Kazooie Appear in Super Smash Bros. As DLC
The issue with licensing a crossover character like Banjo for Super Smash Bros. stems from a willingness from both sides to see the character appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Nintendo's stance on the matter isn't clear, but at least fans can find solace in what Xbox boss Phil Spencer has said about the matter. When asked on Twitter about whether or not he'd allow Banjo-Kazooie to crossover with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Spencer stated that he'd be happy to work out a deal with Nintendo to make it happen.
@PedroDarkinson I think it would be cool if Banjo was in the next SSB DLC. We've worked with Nintendo on Rare IP before, no issues.— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) April 3, 2015
This original tweet stemmed from the fan-focused vote for newcomers in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U as DLC, which Bayonetta was said to have won. Still, when approached about whether or not he was still willing to have Banjo join Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in 2018, the Xbox head expressed the same sentiment.
Yep.— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) March 20, 2018
Rare Franchises Found Within Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's Code
This last bit is an exciting prospect for Banjo-Kazooie hopefuls, because it has much larger implications than may initially meet the eye. Back when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate leaked prior to its release date, fans started combing over the code to see if they could find any semblance of what awaits them through downloadable content. What they found were 30 blank spots for Nintendo to add more fighters as add-ons, but, more than that, they also noticed two very bizarre titles that were listed in the franchise list for Spirits – Blast Corps and Jet Force Gemini.
Fans of Rare will recognize these as Nintendo 64 titles developed and owned by Rare, which would require licensing to even consider adding to Smash Bros. Ultimate. It's possible that these were simply added to the game by mistake, and maybe a developer was handed a bin of assets to reference or use in the creation of Spirits and added those series to the list without doing their homework. But a recent interview with Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai (via SourceGaming) has confirmed that a special team was put together to handle the creation and implementation of Spirits – and that sort of implementation took ample research.
So if this much research was done into the addition of each game into the source code, then it's unlikely that these franchises were added carelessly. With that said, it's possible that assets for the Jet Force Gemini and Blast Corps were partially scrubbed in the hopes of preventing a data leak like this, but the franchise names still could indicate that Microsoft and Nintendo were able to work out a deal to bring Rare properties into Smash Ultimate.
Only time will tell what will tell if Nintendo would allow a competing franchise to appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it would be a great way for the property to begin gaining momentum again. At least, it would be better than the Banjo-Kazooie ship head in Sea of Thieves that was added as a means of honoring the franchise.