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Hands-On: Banjo Nuts & Bolts' Workshop Adventure

Find out why even a Banjo neophyte like me got pulled in by the ingenious, humorous originality of this new sequel.

Building stuff like this is surprisingly easy.
Building stuff like this is surprisingly easy.
Back when Rare was making games for Nintendo platforms, the Banjo-Kazooie series seemed a little redundant to me. I mean, in the context of the late '90s, why would anyone make a whimsical, brightly colored platformer on the same system that hosted Super Mario 64? You're just inviting a comparison. Sure, there's something to be said for capitalizing on the success of a hit (and at the time, new) style of gameplay, but if you only had the stomach for so much 3D platforming, Banjo might have come off as something of an also-ran.

It's been eight years since the last significant Banjo adventure, and a lot has changed. Rare's making games for Microsoft now, of course, and you know the Xbox 360 is pretty short on colorful platformers. Then again, this latest Banjo, Nuts & Bolts, isn't exactly a platformer. What is it? Here, I'll let this video do the talking.


Microsoft imposed some story-specific limitations on our coverage, so I'll just go for the top-level stuff here: Gruntilda the evil witch is back to terrorize Banjo and Kazooie...sort of. She's actually been dead, more or less, since the last game, but her skull is still hanging around, speaking in venomous rhymes. Meanwhile, our dynamic duo has gotten pretty fat without any villains to fight against. Then the Lord of Games appears. This guy is basically an old monochrome CRT--displaying a game of Pong that looks like a face--attached to some empty, floating robes. (That's him in the loading screen midway through the video.) This guy is the witty, sarcastic, all-powerful creator of every video game, ever, so he creates a bunch of new, varied action levels that spiral off the game's central hub, Showdown Town, where Banjo and Kazooie can face off against the newly empowered Gruntilda (who is now a head floating in a jar on top of a robot body).

See what I mean?
See what I mean?
One thing that video doesn't convey is just how damn funny Nuts & Bolts is. Not just the occasional one-liner, either; the game pokes and prods at itself, Rare and its body of work, and platforming conventions in really dry, clever ways. It's all kind of meta-humorous, really, like when it rags on the Banjo franchise's reliance on item-collecting, then sends you on a mission to collect a bunch of notes--which are all lined up in a straight path in front of you, so all you have to do to complete the mission is run forward. It mocks Grabbed by the Ghoulies' commercial failure. It chastises you for walking when you could be driving. It's all really entertaining and I laughed out loud repeatedly just in the first few minutes of the introduction.

The workshop and the open-world missions were enough to entice me from a gameplay standpoint, but Nuts & Bolts' humor and personality are what have me extra jazzed for it. It's out in early November, and we've got a build in here now, so look for more coverage and a review between now and the release.
Brad Shoemaker on Google+