Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: Microsoft Games
Release Date: November 11, 2008
If you owned a Nintendo 64 back in the day, chances are good that you also owned a copy of Banjo and Kazooie. Developed by Rare, the franchise was one of the highlights of Nintendo's Silicon Graphics-powered gaming system. Heavy on character and humor, the Banjo games were nearly as popular as Nintendo's own Super Mario 64. To many, the characters of Banjo and Kazooie were considered Nintendo icons, so the thought of a third game ever getting released was seemingly dashed when Microsoft bought Rare. Alas, through the magic of negotiation (and we suspect, lots and lots of money changing hands) Microsoft and Rare secured the necessary rights, and the long-promised sequel was born.
Originally mentioned at the end of Banjo-Tooie, the new game once again sees the return of Banjo and Kazooie's rhyming nemesis, Gruntilda Winkybunion, who was little more than a talking skull at the end of the second game. Like its predecessors, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts opens at the base of Spiral Mountain. Our heroes are relaxing at Banjo's place (nicely rebuilt after it's destruction in Banjo-Tooie) and relishing in the good life. Having spent the last eight years with no Grunty (and therefore no adventure), the two have gotten fat and lazy. Banjo loves his snacks and Kazooie is addicted to, what else, the Xbox 360.
The two are enjoying a lazy day when Grunty's skull manages to free itself from some rubble and comes hopping by to threaten our two heroes. Slightly amused, they point out she has no body, and she in turn highlights the dynamic duo's rather rotund nature. As the bickering commences, a rather regal-looking fellow who goes by the name Lord of Games (or L.O.G. for short) shows up to help the two settle their differences. After a bit of sarcastic humor, L.O.G. warps the threesome to Showdown Town, where Banjo and Kazooie will battle Grunty for control of Spiral Mountain. The winner goes home, and the loser spends the rest of eternity working in L.O.G.'s video game factory.
Although the look and feel of Nuts and Bolts is distinctly Banjo-style, the tutorial quickly makes it clear that this isn't the same Banjo you played a decade ago. Rare has evolved the series and taken it in a new direction. Whereas the previous two games were heavy on platforming, Nuts and Bolts relies much more on vehicle play. About 80 percent of your play time will be spent in a vehicle of some sort, and the draw is that many of those will be vehicles that you've designed.
In addition to collecting Jiggys, notes and Jinjos, Banjo and Kazooie will also be collecting vehicle parts. As your collection of parts grows, you can use standard blueprints found in-game, or you can simply let your imagination run wild and build from scratch. Because each challenge allows for usage of a different vehicle, a big part of the fun is designing the most effective solution for the job. For example, in the Banjoland level, which is basically a giant theme park based on the prior two games, there is a large garbage can. One of the missions involves cleaning up the trash and getting it into the can. Unfortunately, the can is a few stories high. Most players will use a helicopter to pick up the trash and fly it in, but one of the developers showed us an alternative solution. He built a custom vehicle that was little more than a large moveable staircase. Rolling the staircase up to the can, Banjo quickly ran the trash up and dumped it in.
Creative solutions to challenges like these will be encouraged, and Nuts and Bolts automatically uploads the best solutions (based on time) to Xbox Live. This means if you're having trouble with a challenge, you can go online and see how someone else did it. Custom blueprints can also be shared over Xbox Live, so if you make something really badass, nothing's stopping you from passing it along to your friends.
Despite the focus on vehicle play, the core of Nuts and Bolts doesn't stray too far from the bits that defined the series. There's still plenty of collecting going on; it's just that now, you can be more innovative in how you do it. During our time in Showdown Town, we wanted to see what was in a more remote area of the city but hadn't yet collected enough Jiggies to get where we wanted to go. Never fear, as the boxes in the corner looked mighty useful. After a bit of creative stacking and a well-placed jump, Banjo and Kazooie were exploring the new area.
As a hub world, Showdown Town does feature a few hidden Jiggies, but its primary purpose is to provide access to the many game worlds that you'll be competing in. Each area requires a certain number of Jiggies to access, and each world has multiple doors with different mission sets.
World design is based on a TV theme, which is appropriate given that L.O.G.'s head is a large monitor with a PONG playfield as a face. Inside each deliberately artificial world, you'll find the typical cast of Banjo characters, all playing appropriate roles. For example, in the first area, Nutty Acres, Mumbo the shaman plays the role of a farmer. In Showdown Town, he's the mechanic. The first time you enter one of the worlds, a short TV-style introduction plays, complete with credit roll. It's a nice touch.
From a visual perspective, Nuts and Bolts is no slouch. It's only running at 30 frames per second, but the game makes liberal use of lighting effects and textures are both colorful and intricately detailed. It's a bright, vivid world that looks like something out of a toy box. As soon as you start exploring, there's a sense of childlike inquisitiveness.
Hardcore Banjo and Kazooie fans are no doubt apprehensive about the shift to vehicle-based play, but after a few days with the game, we can honestly say that those fears are unfounded. There is a good level of depth to the vehicle editor, and the early missions seem to offer a good deal of creativity. The big question here is if Nuts and Bolts can keep up that level of variety through the entire game.
Having players collect items to progress is a staple of Rare game design, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Done right, the collection quests are a lot of fun, but when those quests cross the line into tedious busywork (Donkey Kong 64, anyone?) the game loses its sheen. Here's hoping that Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts stays one the right side of that line and proves that the bear and the bird still have it.
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