Good on its own, but not as good a Banjo Kazooie game.
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the latest entry in the Banjo Kazooie series, a series that dates back to the N64. Although it started as a platformer in the vein of Super Mario 64, the latest entry is more of a kart building game than a 3D platformer. And while the new gameplay mechanics do not make Nuts & Bolts any less a Banjo Kazooie game, they certainly do not make it a good one.
In the eight years since their last adventure, the bird and bear duo have become fat and lazy. Grunty’s skull emerges from nearby rubble, her rhyme schemes returning with her after missing Banjo Tooie. She tries to fight her former rivals, but the new character, the Lord of Games (L.O.G. for short), intervenes, and demands that they settle their differences the way they did in previous games: by collecting various tokens. However, L.O.G soon declares that the concept of collecting items is a bad concept, and decides that they should settle their problems by collecting items in his world, only with karts.
Massive irony aside, the game pulls off kart building rather well. It does take a bit of time to adjust to the kart building system, but once you do, you will find it to be extremely intuitive, easy to use, and really fun to screw around with. Any vehicle you can imagine can be created, so long as it has an engine, fuel, wheels of some sort, and a driver’s seat. Rare included several pre-made blueprints for beginners, but once you learn the ins and outs of vehicle building, you will find that anything you can build is just as efficient and much more fun to drive, something you find out in the Test Track. Rare included the Test Track to (obviously) test vehicles, spot out their flaws, and fix them before actually putting the vehicle to use. In theory.
In practice, however, the system does not work like that. A vehicle that may work on the Test Track will sputter and fizzle under the pressure of a mission. No matter how many modifications and tweaks are made, vehicles will still steer incredibly awkwardly. In addition, missions have only two approaches to them: the right way and the wrong way, few missions ever breaking the mold. Did not the fun from Banjo Kazooie games come from the variety in missions? In Banjo Tooie alone, there were racing missions, arcade-game-style missions, FPS missions, traditional platforming missions, and many others. In Nuts & Bolts, however, there are primarily two types of missions: kart racing and some variant on “get something/yourself from point A to B”. On many counts, the latest Banjo Kazooie game comes off as a series of unfulfilled promises. Rare promised multiple approaches to missions that would yield different results for different methods; the result was that you get three prizes based on time limit: a TT Trophy, a Jiggy, and a bunch of notes. We were told that the police force patrolling the GTA-esque Showdown Town would actually do something; what we got was law enforcement that is not only easily thwarted, but also hard to agitate. In addition, while Rare never guaranteed anything to do with buying and collecting supplies, this aspect fails as well. There is nothing wrong with using notes as currency (the role of notes has changed so much from game to game that it is hard to question why this particular game did so this time), but there is something wrong with how they are used. Notes are too easily acquired, since completing any mission will yield notes, and everything is too cheap, meaning that the supplies of every merchant in Showdown Town will be exhausted very often.
While most of this may sound like a betrayal of the Banjo Kazooie spirit, that statement is only partially true. Ignoring the fact that the game is called Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, not Banjo Threeie (as Grunty promised at the end of Banjo Tooie), the latest entry in the Banjo Kazooie series is a Banjo Kazooie game, if a watered down one). Many of your beloved characters, like Humba Wumba and Mumbo, have returned, some getting drastic makeovers. Jolly Dodger is now dressed and behaves like a shady pimp (there’s no other way of putting it, honestly), and Grunty is now a robot…again. It seems that even Rare forgot about Banjo Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge, the low profile 2D entry on the GBA. New characters are introduced, like Pikelet, a corrupt pig/chief of police, Trophy Thomas, a tiger with a palpable desire to win every challenge, and Piddles, Grunty’s useless new sidekick. But why these new characters are needed, even when there is a numerous amount of popular NPCs from previous games, is not really answered. For example, why is Mr. Fit included? He only appeared for one level in one game. Why not Canary Mary, Tiptup, Tooty, Gobi or even Conker (Nabnut was close enough)? In addition, Kazooie might as well have not been in the game, since her only roles are rarely, if ever, used outside of tutorials. Other than the character repertoire, the adherence to Banjo Kazooie hallmarks is mixed; there is a quiz at the end of the game, but the levels seem to parody 80s sitcoms for no good reason.
However, one aspect that has actually been noticeably improved is the graphics. While some fans protested the new character designs (Banjo’s square jaw, Kazooie’s more feminine appearance, etc.), they have made the game much more cartoony, comical, and, in short, better. Animations have become more complex and exaggerated since the days of the N64, characters expressing their emotions through embellished facial contortions and cartoony mannerisms (IE flexing their muscles in a statement of superiority). Lighting has also received a major improvement, especially when compared against other Xbox 360 games. Nuts & Bolts actually feels like a next gen Xbox 360 game, unlike most games, which feel a lot like shiny Xbox games. Yet these great graphics do come at a cost. First, there is a lot of slowdown and erratic frame rate spikes. The high amount of pieces in any given vehicle at any given time means that there is always a high polygon and texture count, meaning many load times. Load screens will pop up constantly, and the fact that individually rendered Jiggies fly to the screen in order to form it somewhat complicates the problems.
Despite these flaws, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a great deal, even coming with a nice poster depicting generic blueprints on one side and the character roster on the other. Taken on its own, the intuitive and just plain fun kart-building mechanics, vibrant graphics, and superb music make it a game worthy of purchase. Nevertheless, the stale mission variety, volatile frame rate, and other minor flaws (collectible items actually being tangible objects, short length, etc.) also make it a game that you should take caution in buying.