Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review –
©2008 Aaron Bertinetti
“All the real talent left years ago”.
It’s a sad and misinformed myth that carries far more weight and supposed “truth” than it ought to.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a singular, mighty salvo that refutes that.
For those who haven’t been paying attention or simply feel insecure about playing an (otherwise excellent) piñata gardening game, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a wakeup call…. Rare is very much alive and kicking!
It also happens to be, amongst other things, a blistering critique of game conventions; a gloriously self aware satire of the gaming industry; an effervescent trip down nostalgia lane; and a visually stunning rainbow de force of Rare’s wholly unique art design. But most importantly, more than any other game I’ve played this year, it’s fun. Ridiculous fun!
• It’s been eight years since the last adventure of Banjo the bear and Kazooie the bird, and much has changed…
Banjo is fat and full of pizza. Kazooie is addicted to his 360 and seemingly shouting trademark quacking insults across Live. And the wicked witch Gruntilda (“Grunty”) has nothing but a head to hop on! That is until the self described “creator of every video game ever created” decides he’s had enough of what Kazooie describes as “lame plots” and pointless collect-a-thons that have only resulted in “that Italian gentleman” becoming far more successful than the bird and the bear.
The Lord of Games (“LOG”) arrives complete with Pong face, purple robes and computer-mouse hair implants. He decrees that he will settle the score over Spiral Mountain once and for all by creating game worlds and challenges that the player can attempt in whatever way they desire whilst Grunty does her damn best to stop you.
Rare have very deliberately chosen to abandon the platformer of old and, with characters and clever humour very much alive, have created an entirely fresh experience not just within the franchise but arguably within gaming at large.
• If you’re one of the many nostalgic gamers who yearned for Banjo Threeie, Nuts & Bolts is not your answer.
In fact Rare has been quite explicit that the name change indicates just that. Nuts & Bolts is not a sequel. It is a game that exists within the spirit of a franchise but beyond its traditional (and dated) gameplay design. If you fall into the camp of nostalgic gamers who wish Banjo was the same as ten years ago then Rare has some advice for you in Nuts & Bolts… go grab the originals on XBLA!
However, if you recognise that one of the most exciting facets of the gaming industry is the speed at which design and gameplay is evolving, then Nuts & Bolts will grab you and not let go well beyond the third demise of Gruntilda the wicked witch.
If you’re still not interested, then know that you’ll be missing out on an experience that is overflowing with personality and is, in my mind at least, the funniest, wittiest game Rare, or any other developer this generation, has produced. I almost feel embarrassed that I can get away with only paying A$70 for it, when I know I’d happily pay A$100.
The original Banjo-Kazooie was a platformer… GTAIV is a sandbox… and Nuts & Bolts, minus the violence, is somewhere in between. The key point of difference that makes Nuts & Bolts entirely unique is that whilst the world and rules of the environment are Rare’s (or should that be LOG’s?), the way and manner in which the player progresses is entirely up to them.
Miyamoto gave Mario flowers for fireballs, feathers to fly, and mushrooms to grow. Rare, in contrast, doesn’t prescribe player abilities. Rather the designer is handing the player the parts behind them, and in turn the player becomes the designer of.
If you want to create a feathery, flowery mushroom that can get a speeding ticket you can build it. If it means you can get to a previously unreachable area, complete a challenge, or perhaps boil a dinosaur egg in a volcano while you’re at it, even better.
Players collect and find parts by exploring the stunningly realised and expansive hub world, Showdown Town. Completing challenges within the equally beautiful and themed game worlds will over time reward the player with even more parts.
A player can then jump into “Mumbo Motors” at a click of a button from anywhere in the game and create whatever their mind can come up with.
And it’s wonderfully intuitive. Add a propeller or two on the top and you have a helicopter. Wack on some wings and put the propellers to the side and you have a plane. Put the propellers at the back and add some flotation devices and you have a boat. And so it goes on.
The depth comes from the variety and combinations of parts available and a physics engine, which whilst frustrating those who lack the most basic of understandings, serves to heighten the sense of achievement a player gets from a successful design.
Players progress through the game by collecting “jiggies” on completion of wildly inventive and diverse challenges. The more jiggies a player collects, the more worlds open up, the more challenges become available, the more parts appear in your garage, and the closer you get to the showdown with Grunty.
Challenges always have a desired goal but the approach, tactics and abilities to use are entirely up to the player. The vehicle creation system is a triumph of next gen gaming. By dangling jiggies on a stick the player is encouraged to embrace the freedom and creativity that the game’s design provides to progress.
The player truly becomes the designer of the experience. Watching others tinker away with their own ideas is eye opening to watch. It exposes the way we as individuals think and how limitless creativity can be in a system that not only allows it, but encourages it through ease of use.
For example, one reasonably early challenge in the Colosseum world requires you to knock down dominos that are aligned in concentric circles on a platform. The catch is that once you hit the first domino, your engines shut down and your abilities are turned off. The varying approaches in my own entertainment room were mesmerising to watch. One friend built a giant claw on wheels, another built a battering ram of a tank loaded with explosives, yet another built a wide winged plane to swoop down on the dominos from above.
But perhaps the most ingenious solution came from my brother, who usually adverse to video games had taken to the vehicle creation system with aplomb. He built a helicopter with an air blower on the bottom of his rig.
Whilst most of us had taken varying degrees of hitting the dominos with our vehicles, my brother quietly hovered over the dominos, got to the exact centre of the concentric circles, level out, turned on his blower and proceeded to knock almost every domino down.
It was inspiring stuff, and even more remarkable for the fact that my brother doesn’t play games, and yet after that moment he didn’t want to give up the controller. I should also note that my brother is 25 years old… and yet with wild eyes and gleeful laughter he looked all of about 5 years old playing Nuts & Bolts. In fact we all did!
• Rare has managed to tap into that child in all of us by making imagination king, and rewarding players with an almost instant (virtual) reality.
It’s an amazing experience and adds untold life to a title that’s drowning in things to do. Beyond the main story there are so many more challenges to beat, jiggies to win, trophies to score, musical notes to collect, side quests to complete and easter eggs to find that it’s doubtful that most players will ever see all Nuts & Bolts has to offer.
And seeing is a key part of the experience as there are fully implemented video replay and camera features to relive and upload your best (or worst) moments for the world to see. If you’re having trouble with a challenge and need some new ideas, you need only check the online leaderboards and watch the saved film of a pro at work. If you just want to spend hours in the garage creating X-Wings and Ferraris you can do that to and then upload it to banjo-kazooie.com to be rated and commented on.
And all this is before consideration is ever given to the fully featured multiplayer (online and offline) where players can play standard and not so standard game types, with pre fabricated vehicles (meh!) or by more adventurously (and hilariously!) pitting their imaginations and designs directly against and in co-operation with one another over Xbox Live.
The most remarkable thing about all this content and gameplay is that Rare doesn’t impose any of it. If you don’t like a challenge you can just try another one. If you don’t like creating things, you can just use free default blueprints or buy premium blueprints using the game’s currency of musical notes. If a friend has a better vehicle but you can’t be bothered to design it yourself, he can simply send you the blueprints over Xbox Live.
• In my humble opinion, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the most entertaining title I’ve played all year.
Gears 2 and Fable 2 have been definite highlights amongst many, but nothing has entertained myself, my friends or my family (even my 85 year old Grandma got into the act!) as much as Nuts & Bolts. It’s an instantly accessible title with immense depth in gameplay, a richly detailed visual feast and a witty running commentary on gaming at large. If this title were priced at full RRP I’d have given it a 9, but for a bargain price of A$70 I can’t help but feel the title is a steal, and one that should be under every Christmas tree regardless of a gamer’s age, experience or familiarity with the franchise. It’s a triumph for Rare, and a credit to Microsoft.
• I can’t wait for the next installment… “Spanners and Washers!”
2008 Aaron Bertinetti
Filed under: 1st Party Titles, Console gaming, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Game Reviews, Xbox 360 News Tagged: | Banjo, Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Kazooie reviews, Banjo Kazooie XBLA, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts review, Rare Studios