My experience with Banjo Kazooie and its sequel, Banjo Tooie, was never an extended affair, which is a fact I both regret and plan to eventually resolve. I was a proud Nintendo 64 owner, but never played either game for long, only messing around with the early levels of both. Instead, I spent my time on other Rare titles of the era. Despite that obvious mistake, there was a special spot in my heart for gaming’s only Bear and Bird duo, and I was anxious to see what Rare was capable of this generation after getting a chance to learn the hardware.
The story is set eight years after the events of Banjo Tooie and features an overweight and out-of-practice duo, bloated after the years of extended peace. Without warning, the decapitated head of their old nemesis, Grunty, tumbles down a mound of rubble and vows her revenge. Before an awkward confrontation, the Lord of Games (L.O.G.) appears, Grunty’s body is restored, Banjo and Kazooie are whipped into shape, and a set of challenges are put in place to decide who of them is truly the best. He transports the characters to Showdown Town, which acts as a hub world for the rest of the game’s challenges. The town contains portals to all of the worlds as well as Mumbo’s Motors, the garage where most of the game’s time will likely be spent. It’s filled with fun looking characters, different character upgrades, and NPCs to help Banjo along his quest.
Just as before, Banjo and Kazooie are attempting to find Jiggies, jigsaw pieces which serve as both rewards for completing missions and tokens to unlock later worlds. Each level is themed, and feature characters from the game transformed into themed NPCs in the different worlds. The varied environments are separated into different areas where characters give challenges, which are quite different from those in previous Banjo Kazooie titles, and revolve around vehicular tasks like racing, battling, and transporting objects. Most of the gameplay involves these missions and creating adequate vehicles for the job.
Instead of being a major part of the game, vehicles are the game, and it’s almost like Banjo and Kazooie were literally replaced with Nuts and Bolts. Banjo can do nothing but run, jump and swim, and Kazooie’s wings were clipped, removing all of her previous abilities. The only attack the bear/bird combo can deliver is with Kazooie’s wrench, which also serves puzzle functions and can lift objects into the air. It’s frustrating that Rare decided to put all of their eggs in the vehicular basket and left behind solid platforming, instead of blending them together.
Vehicle creation is as easy and intuitive as possible, closely resembling creating a car or boat out of legos. Players unlock parts at a consistent rate, and it’s never overwhelming or confusing. At first, it was easy to find joy in sticking an engine and some wheels onto a pre-made chassis, simply enjoying the creation of a working automobile, but before long the chains of pre-made vehicles were shattered and my mind was the only limiting factor. The sky (or sea) is the limit, and the amount of possible creations is endless. I worked for hours to create a biplane that can eject into a working motorcycle, complete with egg shooter and passenger seats, which can also combine back with the wings for a quick, smooth getaway. Sadly, there are few, if any times that the vehicle will be as useful as the default aircraft or ground vehicle, and the game’s user-friendly ways get in the way of any innovation in the title, leaving it somewhere in-between LittleBigPlanet and Lego Batman.
This is the main problem with Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. While creating vehicles is extremely fun and interesting, they weren’t implemented in an exciting or original way. Fine tuning a car to give it a better boost in a race against an enemy is one thing, and something that’s been done in dozens of racing games over the past ten years. The same goes for adding floaters to a car, allowing for it to travel over water.
One area Rare managed to surpass most expectations is in terms of visuals. Simply put, Nuts & Bolts is breathtaking. The world is wonderful and vibrant, bringing some of the best stylized graphics this generation. Fans of cartoony graphics wondering what the power of current consoles has to offer need look no further, and the idea of a Mario or Kingdom Hearts looking as good as this is enough to spill puddles of drool about. Because of the amazing graphics it’s even more surprising that Rare decided not to get voice actors for any of the characters in the game. There’s no real excuse for this, especially considering how far of a departure it already is from the series.
If you know your game industry history, Nuts & Bolts should deliver plenty of laughs. Rare spares no opportunity to poke fun at their past missteps, continually lambasting the ill-received Grabbed by the Ghoulies and constantly reminding players of their clichéd and outdated game design tactics. However, despite the polish, the game feels almost unfinished because of the lack of cohesion bringing the different aspects together. I can’t help but shake the feeling that the game would have benefited from more platforming, tying to vehicle portions together without making them the highlight of the game. Instead of taking the vehicles and implementing them into the game they simply stopped once everything seemed to be working, calling it a finished product instead of going the extra mile and creating something truly unique and amazing.
Nuts & Bolts appeals to an incredibly small audience; one that I’m not sure exists. To get the most of the game you must know a good deal about Rare’s past titles and their sales records, as well as being a Banjo Kazooie fan that has no problem seeing the past two games shit on and ignored in favor of a new, strange gameplay mechanic. Not only that, but it’s filled with text and dialogue, and can be quite difficult at times despite having the graphical appeal of games generally meant for children. In other words, they really cut their target audience short, and only a specific breed will really enjoy the game without being overwhelmed by its repetitive and oftentimes unrewarding gameplay. It’s filled with good ideas and the vehicle customization and creation works on many levels, but without anything to tie it all together it feels lackluster, and it’s definitely not the sequel Banjo Kazooie fans have been waiting for.