Once there was a Bear, a Bird, and a Car?
Banjo Kazooie is, or in some ways should be Microsoft’s platformer mascot. It’s a shame that this game and its characters aren’t the spectacle, or not anymore since the N64 days. But that shouldn’t stop you from getting the newest Banjo Kazooie game because Banjo Kazooie: Nut’s and Bolts is a fantastic game that’s well worth your dollar.
To get everything out of the way for a second, Banjo Kazooie: Nut’s and Bolts is still platformer. It’s just one that is untraditional in a sense. You are still jumping over things, crushing enemies, collecting items, and avoiding obstacles, you’re just doing it with a vehicle instead of the character themselves. It can be said that the Xbox 360 is lacking in more traditional 3D platformers, but this take on the genre is far more interesting than trying to make a decent Mario rip-off, and even Rare themselves recognizes this through some hilarious story and dialog.
The story is starts with Banjo and Kazooie sitting outside playing games and eating pizza. Since it has been almost a decade since the last Banjo Kazooie, both the characters have gotten fat. They later find Gruntilda, who if your remember is the antagonist of all the Banjo Kazooie games, and lost all but her head since the last game. Just before the two fight, the Lord of Games or L.O.G steps in and issues a challenge of his choice to Banjo and Gruntilda. After some self-aware hits on traditional 3D platformers, the game then starts with what it really means, which is the vehicular action in which you are sent to Showdown town, then you set off to collect jiggies in traditional Banjo fashion. The dialog is actually where enthusiast gamers can get the most enjoyment out of the game, and by enthusiast I don’t mean hardcore. People who listen to the press, the current state of Rare, know the frag dolls and all this stuff, if you are reading this review then most likely you are one of those enthusiast gamers who watch the industry news and what people say. If you know all that, you can get a lot of hilarious inside jokes about Rare and the industry, such as asking Bottles what’s up with KI3, and L.O.G telling you that Grabbed by The Ghoulies 2 is coming out.
Gameplay wise, Showdown Town acts like the games hub world and you can actually spend up to or even more than half an hour wandering around town because there is a lot to do and a lot to discover. There’s a lot to benefit just from wandering and discovering around town. You can save Minjo’s which are little creatures that were in previous Banjo games, and if you save them in Nuts and Bolts you can use them to play bingo and earn different parts for your vehicles or earn musical notes which are now the games currency. In showdown town you also do more of the traditional platforming stuff such as jumping, climbing, and walking on tight rope to find musical notes, secret hidden jiggies, or vehicle boxes which you can take to mumbo for more parts. With you, is a trolley that you start off in the beginning of the game. To prevent any cheating with the vehicles in town, you can only use the trolley in Showdown town, but after several acts and stages, you gradually upgrade your trolley so that you have more freedom to explore around the town. Some obstacles such as hills, ledges, and water streams help act as a natural barrier so that you don’t spend 6 hours in Showdown town right when you step in, helping keep the game tight. With the vehicle action inside the town and the number of options you can do, it makes Showdown town feel like a kid’s Grand Theft Auto, since not only can you terrorize the town as there are many people walking about, but you can also explore for notes, jiggies, parts, jinjos, and a lot of other cool options such as going to Klungo’s Arcade as the world keeps opening up.
Of course the biggest thing in the new Banjo game is the vehicular action. Now how this works, is after you enter into an act in Showdown town and each stage has several characters around the map, each representing a specific challenge. These challenges do consist of typical racing challenges, but also currier, combat, and other challenges as well. The brilliance of these challenges is not in its design, but in its possibilities. For instance, you are given a challenge where you have to cross a bridge full of enemies in order to get these large balloons to back where you started. Now the obvious choice would be to take a very large shipping vehicle and cross over the bridge, hopefully smashing whatever enemies are in the way, take the balloons and smash through the bridge again. Or you could just avoid the bridge all together taking a large shipping helicopter and easily moving the balloons one place to the other. There are many challenges that follow a particular format, but none of them are exactly the same, and though there are challenges where you’re given a locked vehicle, those are pretty few and make sense to a degree. Most of these challenges however, you will be designing a particular vehicle for it, and that’s where the vehicle creator starts to come into life.
The vehicle creator is probably the center piece of Nuts and Bolts. At first it may seem like a very intimidating creation set but it’s really not, it’s very much equivalent to Lego blocks actually. Want to make a bike? Attach a seat to some engines and fuel and put a wheel in the front in the back. Want to make a helicopter? Put some propellers and engines on a base and watch it fly. It’s really that simple, if you can think of it, you can basically make it reality easily. There is also a lot of weird possibilities with the vehicles that may come up over time such as I made a helicopter that can detach its upper body so the other half drops down as a boat, somewhat like a James Bond style contraption. These possibilities do not actually come that quick though, the game does a good job of making you earn each part slowly enough so that you can realize what you can do with the parts given to you, but quick enough that you are given a new possibility each time such as folding propellers and folding wings. If you lack inspiration, you can always use Mumbo’s ready built chassis where the base of the vehicle is already done, and you can just slap a bunch of parts on for whatever you want. You can also buy blue-prints from Humba which can spark inspiration of what you can actually do with the creation system. Eventually when you get into the creation system, it starts to become this simple attaching pieces together system, into a very deep creation system. And want to send your creation to someone? You can send your blue-prints to any person on your friends list and they will be given whatever contraption you sent them, which is really cool. Unfortunately there is no infrastructure for browsing through the vehicle list around the world like in a Little Big Planet fashion, but that might just be asking too much from Rare. If there’s any other gripe about the vehicle creation system, it’s that there is no rotating part to put on your engines to control where your power is directed, but that is a relatively small flaw in an otherwise amazing system.
The graphics in the game have fantastic artistic and technical sides to them. The artistic side of things mostly comes from Rare’s pedigree of colorful and imaginative styles to them. Colours pop out from the purple crates to the yellow shorts on Banjo, and the vehicle creation system also allows you to colour your vehicles in a Varity of ways, perhaps in ways you may not have thought of. There are also a Varity of environments, totally different from each other as well, such as the Nutty Acres level which is this somewhat intentionally fake environment, yet breathtaking at the same time. You have clouds hung on wires, sprawling romp hills covered in quilted designs, and oceans with gears running through them. This type of environment is very dream like and helps evoke the playfulness of game. To that contrast, there is one stage called the Logbox 720. Though still colorful, it is in a Tron sort of way. Memory chips and wires sprawl throughout the environment carrying with them currents of electricity signaling through the console’s motherboard. A cool effect is added in this level when you bump into some of these things, in which the screen goes all static and the sound gets distorted. On the technical side, textures look fantastic from the parts to the quilted designs and the walls of each unique environment. Dynamic lighting takes place as light sources casts shadows in real time and the models all look how they should. Never really a jagged edge to be seen unless looked very closely and animations are as exaggerated as the art style, yet smooth and clear at the same time. Of course given the history of Rare with Conker live and Reloaded and Starfox Adventures, the fur and feathers of characters look absolutely amazing given a close look, and look better than ever when utilizing the power of the Xbox 360.
There is also a full physics system at work so expect to not only see rolling boulders and crumbling blocks, but it also affects the vehicle system as well. There have been complaints that the physics are too unforgiving to the user, but these accounts have probably more been about poorly designed vehicles if anything else. A vehicle too light, with a narrow wheel span and with engines far to powerful will cause it to go out of control, but a vehicle with a wider base, that is also somewhat heavier will drive more effectively. Center of gravity is also in effect for the vehicles causing tall vehicles to tip over easily if poorly designed. On objects however, there are totally different properties, such as center of gravity with stacked objects is very forgiving. You can see this by stacking jiggies on your cart 7 jiggies high, and while you drive you can see them at the brink of tipping over, only to stop as they automatically realign themselves. This helps a little with the frustration that some games have of stacking and carrying boxes with a vehicle.
The audio is probably just as good if not better than any other aspect of the game. The music is on par if not surpasses the Nintendo orchestral remakes of their themes. In turn Banjo does the same with the music, giving their themes and audio a revamped feel making it feel nostalgic yet not outdated. However there is a new set of musical pieces in there and the fit absolutely seamlessly throughout the game. While driving through different sectors of you can hear the music change throughout. Driving to the Theater District, you have this carnival sounding tone in contrast to the district you came from, which more so fits the setting you are in which is pretty cool. More importantly, the contrasting settings of each level are also accompanied by contrasting music. Through the romping hills and dream-like feel of Nutty Acers, you have sharp harps, xylophones, violins, and short strokes of cello's in the background perfectly accompanying the playful tone of that setting. In the Jiggosseum, which is a level where it’s like a Roman Coliseum, you have large drums and trumpets going about, with a twist of an electric organ to give it strange but perfectly complementary baseball game feel. The music is nothing short of perfect. On the other hand of the audio, sound effects have a very cartoony sound to them, helping more so enforce the playfulness of the game. There is no voice acting other than the short intro and the game also acknowledges this by mentioning the lack of voices through some jokes, but the use of silly voices does help the lighthearted world and also helps the lines being told from being poorly delivered.
The game also has an entire fleshed out multiplayer mode to go along with it, and the singleplayer is in synergy with the multiplayer mode, simply by the fact that whatever parts you got in singleplayer transfers over to the multiplayer. Obviously this gives people who played the game long enough the advantage, but you can also choose one of the stock vehicles in the mode you are playing which will be enough for you to do whatever objective the mode exactly is, and give you a decent chance of winning. In multiplayer there are a Varity of modes which range from vehicular based deathmatch, aerial combat, sumo, and some pretty unique modes. Of course there is still the standard racing modes and those are all consolidated into the racing menu which has a ton of maps to play on which all have differently designed environments to keep it fresh and interesting. A neat feature in the racing mode is the ability to rewind time, which only rewinds your self and your vehicle but comes really in handy when you fall off a long cliff or crash into a wall. It’s a small but ingenious feature.
Did I fail to mention that this game is packed with value? It’s a 20-30 hour experience which is long in comparison to most games being 10-15 or even shorter than that, and also that is only counting the fact you do nothing but basically
jiggy challenges to the final boss, and even after the final boss, there is still more challenges to be had, parts to be found, Minjos to save, there’s even a global leaderboard for those challenges and a set extended goal from Rare for those challenges called Trophy Thomas’s, and that also is removing from the fact there is a multiplayer mode and you can just play with the vehicle creator like Lego blocks and just make cool stuff. To top this all off, Nuts and Bolts is only 40$, so you basically have no excuse but to at least take this game a good look among the shelves of other games.
Does Nuts and Bolts have problems? Yes it does. The framerate can be quite inconsistent, especially in water (may have been fixed during the latest patch after this review has been posted), the challenges even though are most of the time completely different can also feel repetitive, and the challenges themselves can be a bit frustrating at time especially when aiming for the trophy’s. But in the grand scheme of things and the price point Rare is asking, Nuts and Bolts is a cheap game that’s certainly one of the year’s best.