Inside Pulse 12

Review: Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Rare
Genre: Action Platform Racer
Release Date: 10/28/2008


Banjo Kazooie is a series that seemed like it might be lost to the annals of time and legality – would Rare, now under the auspisces of Microsoft’s Green empire be able to produce new games for the Nintendo-era franchise? When the third game in the Banjo series (Not counting the GBA games) was finally announced, Rare fans around the world rejoiced. Now that it’s finally here, it bears (Ha!) only a casual resemblance to the earlier games, and chooses instead to reset the gameplay and present and entirely new experience. Did Rare succeed?

1. Story
The story is one of the areas in Nuts and Bolts that provides a clear and direct relationship to the series. It begins with Banjo and Kazooie relaxing and getting fat, satisfied that they had forever vanquished the evil Witch Gruntilda. In a random event, the skull of Grunty appears to our heroes, and a tv-headed “lord of games” aka LOG also appears to set up the framework for the game. It’s long, and fun, but ultimately it doesn’t do much besides create a loose connection for the game. Nuts and Bolts is a strange “game within a game” contest between Banjo and Kazooie and Gruntilda where the heroes have to collect Jingies (and notes and Jinjos) to win the game, where Gruntilda has the vague task of stopping Banjo.

There are many characters that have come over from the first games as well, mostly in new roles as MC of a task. The unique Rare-style of dialogue is fun for longtime fans as well, with insider references to old games and abuse of Kazooie that is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

Story Rating: Good

2. Graphics
In a world of brown and grey, Banjo Kazooie (like Viva Pinata before it) stands apart on the Xbox 360 as a lush and vibrant game bursting with color and charm. The main characters have been redesigned and modernized, with somewhat mixed results – Banjo seems to look more square but somehow it fits, while Kazooie just looks off. All of the characters have charm and there are a bunch of new ones to flesh out the characters brought back from earlier games.

The locations are gigantic and burst with life – each of level is introduced by a TV-style opening that are more funny than not, and provide a good overview of the locations in the world. There is some slowdown in the faster paced races at times, but it doesn’t do much to mar the experience.

As much as the new style of gameplay in Nuts and Bolts is unique and fun, the majesty and size of the levels in Banjo Kazooie would be in a large-scale platform adventure.

Graphics Rating: Classic

3. Sound
Of all of the things that Rare chose to keep from the N64 Banjo games, it’s the jibberish non-language that all characters use in the game. There is literally no voice-acting for characters, all of the dialogue is presented as text with a looping mumble specific for each character. What makes this worse is that the text is super-small, even on an HD TV (and nearly unreadable on a standard def TV). It’s disappointing that with the high polish on the presentation in the game otherwise that Rare wouldn’t do the same for voices, but it seems more like a conscious creative decision, which mitigates it slightly, but not much.

Otherwise, the in game music is well done, fitting each scene nicely. The crash sounds are fun too, as are the responses of people in town as you mow they down.

Sound Rating: Poor

4. Control & Gameplay
The structure of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts borrows from the world of action platfomring, with a large hub that leads to all of the in-game levels. The hub, Showdown Town, only allows the basic trolley vehicle, and has some platforming and collecting elements. The platforming stuff is well done and takes up a minority, but still substantial part of the game. As Banjo, the player can run and jump, and use the magic wrench to move things around. There are collectables spread throughout, as well as some mini games, including my personal favorite in Klungo’s Arcade which is a simple but awesome 8-bit jumping platformer.

Banjo is mainly searching for crates and blueprints, both of which are used to build vehicles. Mumbo Jumbo acts as the mechanic, and with parts and blueprints, he helps you build vehicles for challenges. At first the vehicles are small and simple, but as the game progresses, bigger and more complex vehicles are unlocked, as well as can be purchased in the game.

Challenges will range from races, to fetch adventures to airborne maneuvers. The game progresses from challenge to challenge, with vehicles built for each challenge. The variety of the game vehicles is staggering, with combinations possible that create both gigantic and super fast vehicles. There is not a lot of realism associated with the vehicles and how they maneuver, but there is an internal logic that controls how vehicles in the game behave. It’s strictly arcade controls, so turning tends to be on a dime and acceleration is wildly varied. One of the keys to building the larger vehicles is properly balancing the weight of the vehicle – I found that my biggest pitfall was making vehicles that looked symmetrical but had something that tipped them one way or another, making them steer wrong and generally fail the challenge.

While the Banjo-based minigames and sidequests are optional parts of the game, I find them to be a welcome break from the build a vehicle/test a vehicle/ lose a challenge/win a challenge pattern that Nuts and Bolts settles into. The vehicle building phases are slow, and outweigh the challenge races in gameplay time by a considerable margin. Half of me wishes once you built a vehicle it would last for multiple challenges, but more often than not, considerable changes are needed from challenge to challenge. This does present a unique experience, but slow at the same time.

Control Rating: Good

5. Replayability
Peeling away the story of the single player mode, Banjo Kazooie is ultimately a racing game with a detailed vehicle creation system. The story mode lasts a nice amount of time, with extra time tacked on if you take the side quests and are a completists for collectibles.

The online modes are robust, although sparcely populated when I played online. There are skills-neutral games where everyone is limited to a basic vehicle, then more advanced rooms with more options. There is also a multiplayer co-op mode that isn’t very useful ultimateily.

The vehicle creation tools are somewhat extensive, allowing for tons of combinations and room for experimentation. If you get into the building phase, there is a great deal of replayability, but if you get tired of if quickly, there isn’t much to come back to, unless you need to get all the achievements.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance
Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts wont be confusing anyone with Gran Turismo for realism, as the vehicles obey their own wacky rules of physics more closely resembling Mario Kart. However, in the context of the game, the parts and building all makes sense. Adding engines, wheels, components and steering will have an expected and predictable result, which is a good thing. It might not make sense at the face, but in the scope of what you’re doing, it always fits in.

There isn’t a giant challenge with Nuts and Bolts as much as its one of those games you “play through.” Lose a challenge, just rebuild your vehicle and jump back in and try again.

Balance Rating: Great

7. Originality
Banjo’s platforming and collecting attributes have become somewhat cliché, so Rare decided to wipe the slate mostly clean. Nuts and Bolts is definitely original for the established Banjo Kazooie framework, but also for gaming at large. There is a genre or existing game that you can point to that Banjo resembles closely. It has aspects of kart racers, platformers, arcade racers and a pretty robust user-generated component that opens up more possibilities.

It might not end up as everyone’s favorite game in the series, but it’s hard to argue that the gameplay presented in Nuts and Bolts isn’t original.

Originality Rating: Incredible

8. Addictiveness
Even in the demo for the game, I found it quite enjoyable just to roam around Showdown Town in the basic vehicle and smash stuff up. For longer than I’d like to admit. There is an infectous quality to the world Rare has created in the third Banjo Kazooie game that has unmistaken charm. Every character seems to have a back story and something witty to say.

The building got a bit tedious, especially near the end when the complexity got higher and higher. There was almost a 10:1 ratio with the amount of time needed to build a vehicle vs. how much time is spent actually racing and playing the game.

Additiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor
Usually bringing back a beloved game franchise for a new sequel is enough to bring back fans, but gaming is tricky in 2008 and it’s unclear how Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts actually fits in today’s gaming landscape.

Fans of the original games might be turned off by the drastic change in gameplay style. It’s definitely a game that kids might enjoy, in the same vein of the Mario games. Rare does a wonderful job of bringing the game together in pieces and with tutorials, and although sometimes the game does leave you a little lost to find the next task, it’s faster paced and simpler than Viva Pinata and shouldn’t fall into the same pitfalls with younger players.

I do believe that hardcore gamers that spent time with the vehicle creator would find some longterm enjoyment, especially if they could get past the obvious shift from platforming/collecting to racing/collecting.

Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts has been a divisive title for longtime fans of the series. The starkly different gameplay style is jarring at first and sometimes repetitive in the execution, but there is no mistaking that this is a fresh new experience. With Viva Pinata and Banjo Kazooie, there are few developers in the world that are taking risks and forging into unknown territory and creating games that defy a genre definiton.

The box art is strong, and Rare always delivers a full color instruction manual.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Poor
Control & Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Great
Originality: Incredible
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Even the girl at Gamestop when I picked up the game commented on how much she loved Rare and wished Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts was a platformer and not a racing game. I went in skeptical and found myself pleasantly surprised. The world presented by Rare in Nuts and Bolts is grand in scope and beautiful. Although the gameplay seems rooted in racing, it almost seems more like a platformer with racing – there is little semblance of reality in the vehicles and they respond more like platfom characters than vehicles at times, at least more like kart racers. Those looking for a platformer will find about 20% of a platformer if you go with all the sidequests, and those looking for a fresh and vibrant new generation game that doesn’t wont be disappointed.

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