Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review
Consider my ride pimped.
November 5, 2008 - The long-awaited return of Banjo the bear and his friend Kazooie is upon us, though this time development studio Rare didn't follow its own playbook. The platforming genre has all but disappeared from the gaming world and so Banjo has changed with the times. Elements of Nuts & Bolts will be familiar to Rare fans, but don't expect a trip down memory lane. This time it's all about designing vehicles to tackle a series of challenges. It's a unique idea that isn't for everybody, but Banjo 3 is put together well enough that most anybody willing to put the time in to learn the rules will find a lot of fun. Don't immediately write this game off just because it isn't the Banjo you remember.
Nuts & Bolts may look like the Banjo of old at first glance and a lot of the hallmarks of the franchise are here in force. Gruntilda is back and can't stop rhyming. Jiggies must be collected to open new doors. Musical notes litter the ground everywhere to be collected. There's a quiz at the end of the game. This go around, the reason for the clash between Banjo and Grunty is a series of challenges set up by LOG, the Lord of Games and purported creator of all videogames. He's tired of the incessant fighting and has cobbled together this one as the final contest. The story really only exists as a way to tie this Banjo title to past ones and still have Rare's universe make sense.
You see, things have changed a bit for Banjo. Over the years, he and Kazooie have grown fat and lazy. They've lost their powers and stamina and now LOG has appeared and introduced a new way to play the game. It relies heavily on vehicles designed by the player and is a stark departure for such a well-known franchise.
Even with a different gameplay focus, Nuts & Bolts sticks to the classic Banjo game design sense. You begin the game in a hub world, this time called Showdown Town. From there, you'll travel to other worlds for challenges to win jigsaw pieces and start collecting things so that you can unlock more doors and move through the game. This is by far the biggest Banjo game yet in terms of size, scope, and total things to do. More than 100 jiggies are up for grabs, 1900 musical notes need to be collected, massive and wonderful worlds exist to be explored. And it all follows the idea that you can play at your own pace. New doors will open before you have found everything the previous had to offer and Nuts & Bolts encourages you to skip ahead and then come back and replay old challenges for higher scores. It's a loose and freewheeling design that makes it tough to stop playing and tough to get overly frustrated with one specific obstacle.
While I did spend more time in Showdown Town than any of the individual game worlds while playing Nuts & Bolts, that's primarily because I became obsessed with finding, unlocking, and purchasing every vehicle part so I could create the perfect rides.
Jiggies are back.
Nuts & Bolts features a powerful vehicle creation tool that works a lot like playing with LEGOs. Start with a seat, add some wheels, an engine, fuel and a few blocks to hold it together and you've got a basic car. Add another engine, or a larger one, and the vehicle will go faster. Put a spring on the bottom and you can make it jump. Nuts & Bolts puts the power of creativity in the hands of the player that, when you consider the hundreds of pieces spread across dozens of types, allows for a near limitless set of possibilities.
A race isn't just a race anymore; it's a test of both how well you can drive and how well you can design the car. Knocking over a set of dominoes is suddenly a test of critical thinking instead of just a hand-eye coordination challenge. Consider this example of how a little extra design work and thought can flip a challenge on its head. One challenge puts you in an arena with another squat and powerful vehicle for a sumo match. Whoever falls off the edge of the ring first loses. To win, I decided against making a vehicle designed for power and ramming. Instead, I made a simple little car with an ejector seat. When the foe came at me to knock me off the edge I was sitting near, I ejected and he barreled through my ride before momentum carried him right off the edge while I bounced down inside the ring for victory. Total time spent in that one round: seven seconds. That should stack up well on the leaderboards. I just wish there was more variety here instead of so many race and fetch quests.