Review: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

I’ll be honest: I’ve been eagerly awaiting ths game since I got an Xbox 360. I still had massive hopes when the vehicles were first announced. When the demo arrived my excitement for Nuts & Bolts was increased to an unhealthy level. To my amazement, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts still managed to pleasantly surprise me.

The story begins eight years after the bear and bird’s last adventure, Banjo-Tooie when the evil witch Gruntilda, now just a skull, finally escapes from her second tomb under a pile of rocks. A now-fat Banjo and Kazooie confront the rhyming hag but the Lord of Games (creator of every video game in existence, also known as L.O.G.) interrupts and pits them against each other in showdown town, where the vehicle gameplay begins. The story isn’t anything to write home about as it’s just an excuse for another adventure (like the previous titles).

The important part of the script – The humour that Rare is well known for – is definitely still there. Nuts & Bolts contains a ton of jokes and references to previous Rare games (Grabbed by the Ghoulies gets a massive beating and references to future versions of Killer Instinct, Jet Force Gemini and Battletoads*). Grunty still only speaks in rhymes and Kazooie insults anyone and everyone. The game is never too shy to joke about how rubbish certain aspects (that aren’t actually rubbish) are.

And so you take control of Banjo in the hub level of Showdown Town. Kazooie’s abilities from the old games are removed and replaced with a wrench and a trolley. Mumbo has also given up magic and has become a mechanic, helping you build new vehicles. There are hundreds of parts hidden in boxes dotted around Showdown Town; quite a few of them require the use of some classic platforming skills in order to reach the rewards within. From Showdown Town you can access each game world, which are split into acts containing different challenges.

In the game worlds you can use any vehicle you build (or blueprints you buy if you have the correct parts). The challenges are marked on the map but finding jinjos and notes is up to you. Exploration is as fun as you make it, I decided to stick to a slightly tuned up starting trolley to explore every level in the game. They’re extremely well designed for it and getting to each challenge is a lot of fun this way. It really does feel like a vehicle platformer. If you just jump into something that flies you’ll miss out on a lot of the experience.

Building vehicles is easy. Just select the part and slap it on. In most cases you’ll need an engine, fuel and propulsion. These don’t need to be connected to each other and they simply just work. The only thing you have to worry about is balance and that wheels should be spread out. Stick to those simple rules and you’ll be building vehicles in no time. You can jump into the creator anytime except when you are in a challenge and you can change vehicle while in a game world. It can sometimes be disappointing when something doesn’t work and you’ll likely create a lot of stuff that’s great to mess around with but is ultimately useless for any challenge.

Controlling the land vehicles takes a lot of getting used to but once you get used to how often and how hard to hit the accelerator then you should fine driving around to work very well. Going full pelt always leads to problems. Fast land-based vehicles also need some weight to them or else they may become too floaty (especially with the later parts). Water vehicles control as expected. They are hard to turn and aiming the weapons can be hard due to waves. Hovercrafts turn easily but are hard to send in a straight line. Air-based vehicles usually work extremely well. The handling on planes is spot on (if you make one that isn’t unbalanced) but helicopters heavily rely on the design. Some challenges require you to use a specific vehicle and some of these can be a real pain in the arse to drive.

Making the right vehicle for the right challenge is vital for a good time. If you boil down the challenges there are three distinct types: racing, fighting and fetching. If you take each challenge and build/modify a vehicle to make use of each situation then you’ve got a very varied game. If you use the same method each time then it may get repetitive and you may not get a decent time for all of them. Like exploration, it’s as fun as you make it to be. There are three stages of winnings. A poor time gets you some notes, a good time gets you a Jiggy and a great time gets you a Trophy Thomas (4 of which nets you another Jiggy).If you liked a challenge enough you can also aim for the number 1 spot on it’s leaderboards. You can also download the replays for the top 10 to see what they did.

The leaderboards really benefit the challenges in the Jiggoseum level – a large, fairly empty stadium with a lot of challenges based on getting the best score rather than time. They follow a sport theme and include a long jump, shot put and knocking down dominoes. All of which are a lot of fun and very competitive.

Once you’ve earned a Jiggy you have to collect it in Showdown Town and take it to the Jiggy Bank. This is quite an inconvenience and there isn’t really any good reason why the game makes you do it. More banked Jiggies unlock new acts and game worlds, and occasionally extra parts. Getting 75 (the amount required for the final showdown) shouldn’t be a big problem for anyone, although collecting all of them will be tough. It should take most people around 20 hours to defeat the final boss.
The graphics are spectacular, minus the odd bit of slowdown, there is a massive amount of detail and the effects are spot-on. Everything in the game worlds is made up of man-made objects. The trees and clouds in Nutty Acres are made up of metallic spheres and the beach is woven together. It’s a genius art style that makes everything look beautiful and a joy to inspect close-up.

The music is wonderful. It carries on from the same formula which gifted the first two with such amazing music. Quite a few tracks even include sections which are remixes of previous music. All the music is orchestrated (or played with real instruments. I wouldn’t really call the amazing, simple guitar/banjo/harmonica Spiral Mountain theme “orchestrated”) as it’s all a joy to listen too. The music is like an epic fairy tale. And yes, that Teddy Bears’ Picnic music is still there.

Nuts & Bolts also has a multiplayer mode. You’re limited to the parts you’ve unlocked in the full game so heading into it straight away isn’t a good idea. Apart from a few modes it’s a lot of fun in a non-serious, crazy way; especially when everyone has a unique vehicle. Modes range from races to vehicle-based versions of sports. It’s just a shame that there is barely anyone playing online. The online mode’s setup is also the best I’ve seen in a game. Deep down it is very similar to Halo 3’s system, but with a few great additions. While waiting in the party you can mess about in the Test-O-Track and build vehicles. Parties also stay open while everyone is in a game – you just have to wait in the Test-O-Track until they’ve finished their game. You can also opt-out of a match if you need a break but don’t want to leave the party.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a marmite game. If you look at it and don’t like the look or sound of it then you’ll hate it. If you think it sounds boring then you’ll find the game boring. If you like the concept then you’ll almost certainly read it. I’ve loved playing the game and I won’t stop until I take over the best times and scores.

There’s no denying that Nuts & Bolts is extremely well put together. Everything does what it should and the building aspect is spot-on. I only encountered one or two glitches where my vehicle spazzed out (there are just a few known exploits, too) and nothing feels broken or unfinished. The developers have done a wonderful job making the game and the main quarrels that you may have are related to the main concept. Back in the day this was a sign of a AAA game.

Stay tuned for a review for the XBLA version of Banjo-Kazooie. Unfortunately my pre-order failed me so I’ll have to wait.

*Note: These are probably made up and may not be in actual development.

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