Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review

In April of 2001, I eagerly drove to Bournemouth, collecting my copy of Banjo-Tooie from a video game shop that sold imports. Upon arriving home in the afternoon I popped the cartridge into my Nintendo 64 and started to play. Later that night I was still playing and I couldn't put it down. Fast forward 7 years and here I am on release day of the latest Banjo game writing down some initial thoughts on the game, my 360 switched off and the controller still lying where I threw it.

The game opens with the familiar setting of Spiral Mountain and after a brief history of the series, we get to take control of chubby Banjo who hasn't had many adventures lately and has let himself go somewhat. Rather than heading straight up to meet Grunty I had a wander around the house area and ended up flattening every section of fence just because I could. It's quite apparent just how heavily this game uses physics, as pretty much everything in the world can be knocked about or picked up. After exploring the house area and emptying the entire contents of the skip like a tramp looking for a feed, I got on with the progression of the game.

A new character we are introduced to is LOG (Lord of Games). He claims to be responsible for all the games that are ever made and is fed up with Banjo and Grunty's feud. Now, I don't quite understand this as surely he'd just make a game where they didn't fight? It's like taking a shit on your own carpet and then complaining to yourself.

The game takes place in a brand new, picturesque setting of Showdown Town. This is the massive hubworld that Rare often spoke of during the development of the game and they certainly weren't lying. This place is massive and set out like you'd expect from a Banjo game, like not being able to get up the steep slopes to new areas until you have acquired the sticky wheels for your vehicle, or being cut off from another area because a drawbridge isn't lowered. However, all this seems like a complete waste of time when you consider that the Trolley Floating "glitch" that was in the demo version oddly remains present in the final game allowing you to break the traditional game flow.

One thing is clear, this is Rare's best looking game to date. They have really made a beautiful looking game with superb texturing and lovely lighting which results in very pleasing environments. For the most part, the worlds look amazing, and are bigger than what we're used to, but then they would be to cater for the vehicles you can drive in this installment. Of course every game has a level that nobody likes and Nuts & Bolts is no exception. LogBox 720 is probably one of the dullest levels I've ever played in a game. One plus point is the rather splendid music which includes reference to that Stop n Swop feature that we've talked about once or twice, but even that isn't enough to make the level bearable.

Access to the game worlds is achieved by taking Game Globes from LOG and placing it on the corresponding plinth, which activates it and in turn highlights where the entrances to that world are located. For some reason each world is split into different acts, perhaps to break the tedium of the challenges. You find yourself playing a couple of challenges and then going back to indulge in the traditional Banjo gameplay that Showdown Town has to offer.

Showdown Town is a nicely paced hubworld, driving from place to place, retrieving Mumbo Crates to upgrade your vehicles, rescuing imprisoned Jinjo's, and of course getting the game globes to the correct plinth. In one area the plinth is surrounded by a cage which prevents a simple activation, so you have to take the globe and attach it to the end of a crane and then travel all the way to the cranes controls, making the crane swing over to a chute, where you release the globe and it rolls all the way down a long tube and finally onto the plinth activating the world entrance. This is the kind of gameplay we expect from a Banjo game, but unfortunately Nuts & Bolts is Jekyll and Hyde. Enter a game world and it turns into a different game altogether. Put this in your vehicle, take it there. Jiggy! Race these guys, Jiggy! Now put this in your vehicle, and take it there. Jiggy! For a game stated not to be a racing game, I've done an awful lot of racing, and have been through more rings than Liz Taylor. I probably wouldn't have minded if the racing was fun, but alot of the time it's just the same thing in a different setting.

Don't get me wrong, the concept of the vehicles is a genius idea. Assembling blocks to create new vehicles that behave in different ways makes for an interesting game. The toolset that you are given is very simple and intuitive, but yet capable of creating great results. You can create a vehicle to do the challenge your way, but you are still constrained to the core challenge, and unfortunately they're all pretty much the same. In my opinion, coupling this mechanic with the Banjo series was probably one of the worst things Rare could've done, but perhaps it wasn't them that had that initial idea and maybe they were somewhat forced. Whatever the reasons for doing it, I believe it was a mistake. It's a strong enough concept to stand on it's own two feet as a separate franchise, providing everything in the game worlds didn't focus on challenges, and when it did, they were nicely varied.

There are definitely some good challenges dotted about and make you want to get the best score you can. Not only can you just be satisfied beating your personal best, you can now thrash the pants off other players all over the world and this is where Nuts & Bolts really shines. Seeing the scores from other players gives you something to aim for and certainly champions the vehicle creation aspect, forcing you to come up with even more crazy ways to complete the challenge and beat the top score. We spent ages refining a vehicle to get the most balls into the goal on Banjoland, and eventually got to the top of the leaderboard by a comfortable margin. No doubt this will be topped by somebody else in a way we never even thought of. It's this competitive aspect that will keep the game alive once you've completed the single player campaign.

The game has the usual blend of humour and great characters but it all falls a little flat when you've just been having a conversation with a character and then you are faced with that Choose Vehicle, Create Vehicle menu. This often ruins the flow of the game and I find myself not caring about what the characters are saying.

If there was one thing that could keep the fans happy it was the music, and Nuts & Bolts doesn't fail to deliver. Boasting a fully orchestrated soundtrack, there are brand new compositions tied together with classic Banjo melodies to keep the fans of the previous games happy. I think they've managed to find just the right balance of new and old, resulting in the overall feel that has invoked many an eargasm.

I'm not going to comment on the ridiculous choice of dialogue text because Microsoft issued a statement that it would be fixed with a patch. Oh, maybe I am... I have no idea why, a) this was used in the first place, the loading screen text is so much better, so striking a balance between the two would've solved everything, and b) how this didn't get spotted earlier. It's funny, I looked through the credits, but didn't see Stevie Wonder on the testing team.

Overall, I'm impressed with Nuts & Bolts, and Rare should be applauded for their technical achievements. While I certainly hope this isn't the future of the Banjo series, I wouldn't be adverse to the vehicle aspect returning in a much smaller role next time around.

Score: 7 / 10
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