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Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review

5
  • X360

Inventive, hilarious, inexpensive, and tons of fun--that's Nuts & Bolts in a nutshell.

This is probably not the Banjo game you were expecting.
It was only a matter of time before Rare brought its cutesy platforming series Banjo-Kazooie to the Xbox 360. At some point in the development process, however, a wise person realized the world might not need yet another cutesy platformer, so instead we've got Nuts & Bolts, an irreverent, self-aware, open-world, vehicle-based, Tinkertoy-workshop action game. That's a lot of adjectives, but I'd happily swap them all out for a single one like "stupendous." If you'd told me I would ever like a Banjo-Kazooie game so much, I would have called you crazy. But for numerous reasons I sincerely love this one.

Before I ever got into the unique mechanics that make this such a fun game to play, Nuts & Bolts grabbed me with its bold, batty, referential, self-deprecating sense of humor. The game pokes fun at itself and the Banjo series constantly, with references to the "lame" storylines in the original Banjo games and the fact "that Italian gentleman" has sold far more games in his time. The lampoon job extends to the entire video game industry, with constant jabs at Rare and its other franchises, the Xbox 360, the Frag Dolls, and a lot more. Every cutscene, exchange of dialogue, and mission description is sharper, wittier, and funnier than it has any business being in a Banjo-Kazooie game, of all things. The game can be downright hilarious.

This sort of fourth-wall-busting metahumor is personified in the game's excellent new character the Lord of Games, a self-important set of hovering purple robes with a Pong-emblazoned TV for a face who claims to be the creator of every single video game ever made. At the beginning, Banjo and Kazooie are hanging out on Spiral Mountain, fat and out of work since their last outing eight years ago. Along comes the severed head of Gruntilda, the series' witchy antagonist, looking for trouble again. But before they can square off to see who can collect the most pointless items the fastest, in comes the Lord of Games to restore Banjo's fitness, give Grunty a new mechanical body, and send them off to a hub world called Showdown Town in a race to...collect a different kind of pointless item. The game gleefully wears this sort of game-design irony right on its sleeve.

The workshop is easy to use and adds a ton to the gameplay.
L.O.G. creates a handful of different-themed game worlds you can enter from Showdown Town, and in each of them you'll find the same roster of Banjo characters like Mumbo, Humba Wumba, Bottles, and Klungo waiting to dispense missions that each yield a jiggy (a jigsaw puzzle piece that's the Banjo equivalent of Mario's stars). This isn't your typical assortment of generic ice worlds and desert worlds, though. There's LOGBox 720, where you explore the innards of a gigantic "next-next gen" game console. The Jiggoseum is a sort of Olympic stadium full of athletic challenges. Banjoland is like a comical museum of past Banjo games and historical event all smashed into one small space. The Terrarium of Terror is a vaguely sci-fi-themed glass enclosure full of aliens and gigantic fungi. Plenty more opportunities for jokes go along with each of these worlds, and the game smartly makes the most of them. The first time you enter a world, you get a TV sitcom-style intro with all the Banjo characters playing different comical roles (Humba Wumba is "The Long-Suffering Wife" in the "Green Acres" knock-off) and expertly produced theme music that instantly calls to mind the sort of show that's being aped.

Funny writing and varied game worlds are all well and good, but it's the vehicle-building feature that really sets Banjo apart from other character-driven action games. Make no mistake: This is not a platformer, certainly not in the style of the old Banjo games. You can run and jump, climb on ledges, and walk tightropes--and there's a good number of collectible notes to jump around collecting--but almost all of your traveling and mission action will be done in vehicles.

The workshop is where you can put together all kinds of wild-looking, multifunctional vehicles from generic parts you can find and purchase as you go. The vehicle-building is really easy to get a handle on, and you can intuit how a vehicle is going to perform just based on the parts you add. If you slap a jet engine and a pair of wings on your racing car, you can expect it to fly. An airplane with a couple of inflatable floaters attached to each side can double as a boat. There are gadgets and doohickeys for pushing, carrying, sucking, blowing, and a myriad of other functions. You can get egg shooters, laser guns, homing missiles, energy shields, and a lot more to extend the functionality of your car-plane-boat. Engines and propellers need fuel tanks, and weapons need ammo holders; these things are also easy to figure out and attach. Luckily, there's no rating for aesthetics, because it's easy to make a really horrendous-looking vehicle that just happens to do all the things you need it to do. You can save these blueprints and trade them on Xbox Live with your friends, too.

There are almost as many types of missions as there are possible vehicles.
Initially, I got frustrated with some of the game's vehicle controls, and I suspect most other people will too. But it's not that they're bad; it's simply a consequence of different parts being used together inappropriately. Too many engines on a light car with basic tires will make you fishtail and spin out constantly. But if you add more weight and replace those tires with the high-grip variety, the driving will get way more manageable. So it's more about getting a feel for how the vehicle systems work together and how to tweak out your various rides to get the specific sort of handling and performance you're looking for.

Don't think the vehicle-building is a throwaway feature only die-hard gearheads will get into. It's as integral to the mission-based action as it is easy to get into. There's an enormous variety of mission types available here, all designed around the things you can accomplish with a properly designed vehicle. Various missions will task you with moving cargo, getting into different kinds of combat, running checkpoint races (on land, sea, and/or air), playing soccer, demolishing an igloo, watering some giant seeds, winning a vehicular long-jump contest, knocking down dominoes, running an aerial taxi service... The point is, there's a huge number of different mission objectives. I had around 85 jiggies when I went to finish the game, and didn't feel like I'd ever really done the exact same mission twice.

All that variety is due to how flexible and extensive the vehicle options are. I can't count the number of times I had a problem beating a particular mission, only to go back into the editor and build a better vehicle more suited to the current task that made finishing the mission much easier. That even happened with the game's final boss, which I thought was unreasonably difficult after I failed to beat it over and over. Half an hour in the workshop and I emerged with a new bruiser of a combat vehicle that I used to trounce the boss on my first try. You feel like your ingenuity is really being rewarded when you dig deep into the vehicle possibilities and find more effective (and in some cases, entirely new) ways to approach a particular task. In fact, you'll have to make use of the workshop, as the missions get harder and harder and you'll soon hit a wall you simply can't pass with the stock vehicles. If you truly don't want to build your own, you can purchase blueprints for new pre-made vehicles that become available as you get more and more jiggies. But that would be missing out on half of the fun. I personally enjoyed starting with the stock blueprints and tweaking different vehicles out to meet my current needs.

The game worlds are varied and very nice to look at.
You need 75 jiggies out of the total of 131 to access L.O.G.'s video game factory for the final showdown with Gruntilda. Each of the game worlds is divided into six acts, and each act unlocks based on the total number of jiggies you have, so even when you've opened up all the game worlds, you'll still be opening up new things to do in the old ones. This lets the designers offer harder missions in subsequent acts of each world, so you're given plenty of reasons to visit and revisit all of the game worlds repeatedly as you bank more jiggies in the town square.

Even after you hit 75 jiggies and go fight the last boss, you can keep tooling around to get the remaining 60 or so jiggies from the missions you haven't finished. You can also earn a special trophy for meeting more stringent requirements in each mission than it takes to simply earn a jiggy. Amassing enough trophies will give you even more jiggies, as well as some other achievements, so there's a lot of incentive to go back and replay old missions once you have better vehicles. There are also a good number of ingenious one-off achievements that make you use specialized vehicles to interact with the game worlds' environments in unique ways. ("BBQ Beef" wants you to ferry a cow into the volcano in Nutty Acres, for instance.) Showdown Town also offers lots of side activities and hidden items, including an amusing 8-bit-style side-scrolling arcade game developed by Klungo. In short, there's a lot to do in between missions and after you've beaten the final boss.

The game makes it easy to replay finished missions from a simple menu. Actually, the game makes it easy to access everything. You can change vehicles or enter the workshop at any time from the pause menu. If you ever get separated from your vehicle, you can hold down a button to warp right back to it. These shortcuts are just, well, pleasant. They could have made you return to Showdown Town and visit the physical location of Mumbo's Motors every time you wanted to build, but what would be the point? The game tests your skill when it needs to, but not your patience when it doesn't.

Outside the main game, there's a full online multiplayer mode that takes some of the mission activities from the single-player game and turns them into sports- and racing-themed minigames. This multiplayer mode has full support for ranked matches, Halo-style parties, custom game rules, and so on. I didn't find these quite as compelling as the in-game missions without the carrot-on-a-stick goal of more jiggies, or the ability to tweak vehicles on the fly (though you can use your own designs in some of the minigames if the host sets that option). But the multiplayer is still well-constructed and entertaining for when you're done with the core game.

Cheer up, bear! Your game is awesome.
Your appreciation for Rare's trademark art style is an entirely subjective issue, but I feel comfortable asserting Nuts & Bolts is at least a technically beautiful game. There are a lot of enormous, well-rendered environments that you can drive, sail, and fly around, and each one contains plenty of little touches that go along with the video-game-within-a-video-game theme. If you fly too close to the edges in the verdant outdoor zone Nutty Acres, for instance, you'll see little scan lines behind the sky reminding you that none of it is real. All the characters have silly, exaggerated animations that give them a lot of character in the absence of voice acting, too. The frame rate can get a little jerky from time to time, mostly when you're driving a boat around in the water, but that's rare and not a very big deal. Rare's talented composers are also in full effect here, including Viva Pinata maestro Grant Kirkhope in his Rare swan song performance. There are some classic Banjo themes, as well as plenty of jaunty new melodies that underscore all the game's goofy, irreverent goings on.

Funny, inventive, gorgeous--and cheap. Microsoft decided to charge a mere $40 for Nuts & Bolts, but I got more laughs and more satisfying gameplay out of this one than most of the $60 games I've played this year. And even after spending nearly 20 hours amassing enough jiggies to take down the final boss, I'm compelled to get back in there and keep playing new missions, unlocking new vehicle parts, and exploring more of the game's beautiful world. I had no affection whatsoever for the Banjo-Kazooie franchise or characters going into Nuts & Bolts, but its list of great qualities quietly won me over to make it one of my favorite Xbox 360 games of the year. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
147 Comments
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Posted by OroJackson

Nice Review Brad!

I'll probably check this out

Posted by Media_Master

I'm surprised, good for 360

Posted by SleepyDoughnut

gotta be honest, did not see the 5* coming. and Left 4 dead gets 4*? God, too many games that I don't know which to get!

Posted by ManMadeGod

Dam, 5 stars?
*starts reading review*

Posted by Mourne

Left 4 Dead is definitely a 4 star, so by comparison, I'd definitely consider this a "full" game. Left 4 Dead feels too much like a big mod rather than a standalone title. You're basically playing one big linear multiplayer map with designated points in which you have to trigger an event.

Posted by mudkip9000

Wow, 5 stars? Huh.. Now I'm tempted to get this. I'll be honest, I doubt that it's better than L4D, but I haven't played this game yet.

Posted by DarkHomer

Man, i picked this game up like a day after it came out, got my pre order code, and havent even opened it >.<. Reassuring that its great though,ill have to play it soon.

Edited by Chewii101
Great review! Brad might have incited me to buy this game...even over fan favourites like L4D, Dead Space, Halo Wars....
Posted by ZmillA

Are people comparing scores 2 completely different games got?? Madness!

Posted by Smallville123

Pleasantly surprised by the review.  I'll tell my cousin to check it out.

Edited by LCad

I'm sure this game is fine, but I really don't understand your criticisms of the original Banjo games, Brad.  They were and are both teeming with creativity, humour, originality, fun and Kirkhope masterpieces.  If I recall correctly, you said on a Bombcast that there was really no reason for Banjo when you could have Mario 64.  Compared to Banjo, Mario 64 seems quite undeveloped and uninspired.  It's still great and a landmark in design, but Rare built on the formula in so many effective ways to create such standout games and I'm just puzzled as to why you write them off.  Especially because of your affinity for Viva Pinata.

Posted by Vasta_Narada

Great review, Brad! Personally, I've been into the Banjo games since the first was released, and was skeptical of Nuts and Bolts going in (I despised the thing, before I tried the demo. Play demos people!), so good thing it's awesome.

Posted by Unreal_dro

NICE

HATERS Owned.

its a great game
Posted by Knives

At least the reviews are predictable. 

Posted by Synister_Gamer

Wow, didn't see this coming :o

I agree though, I love the game!

Posted by MagicKiwi

Huh, a very different score than most sites are giving. I might actually check this out now.

Posted by Tru3_Blu3

Whoa...

I am thinking of getting it now.

Edited by xanavi

People are making a lot of comparisons with L4D's score, but bear in mind that Valve's multi-player games traditionally do not review very well but end up being insanely popular (Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike). What most reviews don't tell you is that Valve is incredibly dedicated to updating their multi-player games with free content so the initial retail product is generally a bit sparse. The reviewers often realize this, but there is a dilemma; give the game a score based on the content that could be added in the future or base the review on what's provided at retail. I think the critics make the right choice in the end by basing the review off of the present content, don't you?

Posted by TadThuggish

DEAR EVERYONE:
Brad is right.  Banjo is awesome.  Stop yer bitchin

Posted by John1912

Man alot of 5s being thrown around these days.  Too bad its not enough to sell me on MK vs DC, and this.

Posted by RHCPfan24

Whoa, a surprising review.  I bought it the other day with Banjo on XBLA and have only played that one.  Now I NEED to play this one.  Great review Brad.

Posted by Jayge_

I don't really disagree with any of the review.

If I had to add anything, I would probably heap some praise on Klungo's Arcade (It's hilarious) and describe the Showdown Town activities a bit more; I'd also comment on the fact that I don't like LOG's Choice missions that force you to use cumbersome blueprints.

Otherwise, an incredibly well written review Brad.

Glad to know people enjoy this game as much as I do :-D

Posted by Bulldog19892

Really? A lot of surprising 5 star games lately.

Posted by Apathylad

...Eh, I'm a bit ambivalent on this title. I still have it sealed and I wasn't planning on touching until the patch was released. Still, I wasn't impressed by the demo at all...I mean sure, the vehicle building is interesting but the tasks to collect jiggies weren't very appealing. In the end, it's not the Banjo game I wanted.

Posted by Kohe321

GREAT review, Brad!

Posted by YT

Yay, this was my most anticipated game of the year. I'm glad somebody loves it.

Posted by TooWalrus

That's why I like Giantbomb. They rate a game based on how much they enjoyed it. No equations necessary.

Posted by Pudge

Come on, I trust you guys!!

I played the demo of this and it was painfully dumb and annoying. The vehicle control is awful, and it torture me with the fact that I can actually get out of the vehicle, but it has no uses to get out. Why is this a Banjo game?

And who says there isn't enough room for a good platformer anymore? Especially on Xbox! Instead we get a game that's to complicated for children and too childish for older gamers to take seriously this holiday. I sincerely hate this game.

Posted by XXXXX

Am I the only one wishing Giant Bomb would use half stars in their rating system? Having a broader scoring system would benefit us readers more as to which games are truly classics and which are being rounded up (or down) by default.

Posted by Carlos

AWESOME! im buying it now :D

Posted by High

One site gave this game a "C", saying: "The controls are very clunky and imprecise, with vehicles having the tendency to fishtail around if you back up too quickly (read:  at all)"

Posted by bornagain888

Great review, I bought this game and got original banjo as free preorder bonus. Both are excellent. My twelve year old son played through and quickly tired of both fallout 3 and gears 2, but he keeps going back to nuts and bolts, playing it on line with friends.

Posted by mellenman

im gettin this now

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

I love the game. It just gets so much better as you get further. Unlocking parts and getting better scores is addicting.

Plus, I keep thinking, "Are they going to let me build this? Will they let me fly that high up?" And the answer is always yes. I've built cars that have parts for every kind of mission. A giant tank taxi that goes really fast! You can actually build one vehicle for almost every mission. And they let you attach stuff anywhere! 40 dollars!

Posted by Zuul

Glad I pre-ordered it (mainy for the BK1 code for free)

Now I get to play a great game over the next few weeks.

Posted by deaux

The main complain I've heard about Nuts & Bolts is that there are too many checkpoint races, and that the combat and collection quests are all pretty much the same.  With reviews as varied as this game has received, somebody screwed up.

Posted by MrMiyagi

I think I'll pass on this one and pick up Mortal Kombat instead.

Posted by CoolDrMoney

Excellent review Brad. My copy of Nuts & Bolts arrived 2 days ago and I also have the original's pre-order code, but I haven't had a chance to go home and play them. I'm hella stoked for Thanksgiving break so I can finally dive in

Posted by Gorillawhat

I've stopped looking at the review scores and more at the actual review, and I think everyone should. Giantbomb has a bit of a wonky review scale, which usually only rewards 4 and 5. Don't rely on the score, these guys are putting in alot of time writing the review, so read it! Oh well, I was thinking of getting this game anyway, and with the low price point it's pretty much guaranteed!

Posted by VegaDemonLord

Brad gets new Rare games in a way that I never will. Just not for me, I guess. =/

I used to love Banjo, but I guess things change for a reason.

Great review, man.

Posted by Derios

Good stuff. Really thinking about picking this one up now.

Posted by Milkman

You know, at first, I wasn't all that hyped about Nuts & Bolts. But after reading this review and the way you describe the game, I think I need to play this game.

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Posted by khatru420

hmmmmm, i don't know if this game deserves 5 stars, but good to see a banjo game do good...on this site atleast.

Posted by Roger_Klotz

this got 5/5 but left4 dead got 4/5. I trust the giant bomb staff and I liked the review so I might give this game a try.

Posted by RenegadeSaint

A lot of people who haven't even played the game are bashing this review.  I'm sorry my fellow gamers, but playing the demo does not make you an expert.  Play through the entire game with an open mind and you may someday be qualified to hand out your opinion.  Until then, no one is asking.

Great job, Brad.

Posted by GiantBombchu

awesome, an editor that hasn't bias this game because it doesn't reflect its previous platforming brothers. Awesome review!

Posted by gzl5000

Sounds like Mario 64 meets battlebots.

Posted by vgmkyle

It's about fuckin time a critic gives this game an awesome score!

Posted by TripMasterMunky

Everyone keeps comparing reviews to other reviews. NOT ALL THE SAME PEOPLE ARE WRITING THE REVIEWS. Brad wrote this review. Ryan wrote the Left 4 Dead review. It doesn't mean Left 4 Dead is worse than Banjo or vice versa. It means that TO BRAD, Banjo is a 5 star game. So if you really want to, you can compare it to BRAD's other reviews. Ryan has not played this game so we do not know his take on it. People need to start looking at who wrote the review so they start getting a feel of whom's review's they trust the most and such.

Posted by Kraznor

Completely agree, been enjoying it a lot so far.

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