Just hit it with a wrench!
Banjo and Kazooie have gotten lazy over the years. In their prime they were the top tandem of platforming, but now all they do is lounge around eating junk food, playing video games and getting fat. I suppose in some ways the platforming genre has taken the same lethargic path, and so Rare are looking to crank things up a gear, get their duo back in shape and change platforming as we know it.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the first Banjo game in eight years, and since then a lot has changed. As Rare put it, no one is interested in collecting items anymore, they only care about blowing stuff up. And while that’s not totally the case in Nuts & Bolts, it does confirm Rare’s plan to move away from traditional platforming, and try something a little more innovative and refreshing.
The bear and bird are still living in Spiral Mountain, barely able to move after eight years of inactivity. The evil witch Grunty is still kicking about in the form of a head and all seems normal with the three seemingly heading for another duel. Luckily, a new character, The Lord of Games (or LOG) is thrown into the mix and presents a challenge to the trio; the winner takes control of Spiral Mountain, whilst the loser must endure the tedious job of working in LOG‘s video game factory.
Taking them back to Showdown Town he gives Grunty an articificial body and knocks off a couple pounds for Banjo and Kazooie. However, he doesn’t restore any of their powers from previous games, so if they want to succeed they’ll need to find a new way to play. This is where vehicle creation comes in.
Showdown Town is Nuts & Bolts central HUB - and also the area where most of the traditional platforming takes place. It’s a tried and tested system that has been used since the days of Super Mario 64. Throughout Showdown Town there are doors to various worlds; to open new worlds Banjo and Kazooie will need to complete challenges to earn Jiggies. Most of these challenges seem pretty simple on paper, but it’s up to the player to build and modify vehicles to complete them.
This is where Nuts & Bolts comes into its own. You’re not required to make vehicles for each challenge as a few require you to use one of LOG’s choices, but when you have the chance its much more fulfilling to customise your own and give it a sense of personality. By completing challenges, collecting Jiggies and exploring the world, you’ll find new parts and blueprints. Parts can be anything from a bigger, better engine, to wings or an egg gun, and you can add these to each vehicle. Blueprints are pre-built vehicles, however, you’ll need the required parts already if you want the vehicle to work.
To add new parts you can enter the workshop. It’s a simple system that’s very easy to use; you just need to select the part you want to add and then move it around a three-dimensional model, clicking it into place where possible. However, it’s not as straightforward as just adding everything you want, you’ll need to take physics into account when creating your monstrosity. Things like weight distribution, or the shape of the hull on a boat will affect whether your vehicle succeeds or not. If you get an area just a tiny bit wrong your vehicle won’t work in certain situations. For example, one time I was taking part in a race, but my car never had enough fuel to post a good time; so I went into the workshop and added some more fuel tanks to the back. I figured it’d be fine and I’d finally be able to finish with a decent time, but instead my car would spin every time I went over a jump because the weight at the back was irregular. It’s just little details like that you have to take into consideration.
But once you get the hang of it it’s a blast. Nuts & Bolts encourages you to play through challenges and then come back later to better your time once you’ve gathered superior parts. There’s no need to spend hours stuck on one section, you can always complete an easier task and move onto another world. It’s a great way to progress that gets you as far as you need to go, but also encourages you to go back and try to complete challenges you failed before when your vehicle wasn’t up to scratch.
Sadly, though, a lot of the challenges can get tiresome, and going back to them can be a bit of a drag. You’ll find one stand-out task amongst a few mediocre ones. It’s a shame because the potential is there and a lot of the challenges are a load of fun. But with such a big game there are a few that fall flat and make you question whether you should carry on or not.
If you do you’ll be pleasantly surprised as each world looks stunning. They’re magnificently rendered and seeing them from sky level is awe inspiring. There’s a sense of beauty hidden amongst LOG’s mechanisms, and even the first world, Nutty Acres, will blow you away. It is let down by some choppy framerate, but it’s forgivable when it looks this good.
The music is of a similar standard. The orchestral score is brilliant, capturing that sense of Disney magic. The recognisable tunes along with the new content prove to a be a big hit, and it really immerses you into Banjo’s world. Little effects like the music fading out as you climb higher and higher is a nice touch to. Rather annoyingly though, none of the characters in Nuts & Bolts actually speak. Instead we’re treated to the dated block of text to compliment random noises. It’s understandable that someone like Banjo wouldn’t talk since his hick voice would just get irritating, but it’d help if the other characters did, especially when this is a game with all the appeal to attract kids.
Multiplayer is an odd inclusion, but considering it’s a fully-fledged feature it does disappoint. There are plenty of game modes to choose from, and just like the single player game the focus is on vehicle creation. You can play a game with stock vehicles, but it’s pretty boring with everyone driving the same thing. However, unless you’ve gone through the single player and built up loads of blueprints, you won’t have much to work with and will get swept away by the competition. It’s not a very rewarding system for new players, so I would imagine a lot of people won’t bother going back to it, especially when the single player is already as hefty as it is.
The sharing abilities are a lot of fun though. You can save videos and pictures to upload and share with all of the other Banjo players out there. And there’s even an option to upload your own vehicle blueprints, so you can find the best players in the world and snag some of their extraordinary creations. This should hopefully build up a big community even if the multiplayer isn’t for everyone.
I feel Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts appeals to a niche market. It will attract kids in the same way Viva Pinata does, but like Rare’s garden adventure there’s a lot hidden below the surface here. The vehicle creation is a superb innovation for platforming and I would hope that Rare build on it in the future, but it isn‘t for everyone and can sometimes get more complex than people would imagine. There’s still traditional platforming to be done in Showdown Town though, and I spent hours just exploring every nook and cranny, trying to find of all of the musical notes. There are some flaws here though, like the monotonous task of having to take every Jiggy and crate back to a bank in the middle of the town rather than just picking them up or smashing them open. A pointless notion.
But it still has a certain charm and feeling of nostalgia that you can’t help but love. It’s a unique take on the platforming genre that’s completely refreshing and exciting. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I feel like it could be forgotten in the winter rush, but Nuts & Bolts is an excellent game - and original as well, even for a sequel. Who’d have thought it?