I have made it no secret for my love of a certain platformer named Banjo-Kazooie. Hell, it’s one of the few games that I still play after ten years, and is really in my humble opinion one of the best games ever made.
When Microsoft bought out Rare all those years ago I was, like many fans, upset over the move. I always thought the match made in heaven we Rare and Nintendo, and everything they ever made was almost always a classic. Since that time the only games worth playing by Rare on the X-box systems are both Viva Piñatas, the original and Trouble in Paradise. Rare has sort of fallen into a second fiddle role on the 360, a very niche audience that really feels like out of place. And with Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts, the long awaited return to the series I have loved since my childhood, it shows.
Instead of pure platforming like the Nintendo days, we get vehicle combat, racing, and customization. I can’t help but feel a doubt that the game would not live up to its lofty reputation in my mind. But lingering doubts aside, Banjo-Kazooie is back, but the times have certainly changed. In a bit of wise humor on their parts, Rare has our heroes growing old and fat, until the evil witch Gruntilda shows up for another tussle against our portly heroes. Unfortunately, the Lord of Games, a purple cloak wearing TV screen, interrupts them and decrees this game has run it’s course, and the final battle will be decided in his own kingdoms, using vehicles.
While pure platforming is all but dead at this point, the game decides to utilize this new customization engine, a gameplay element that really has almost no boundaries. The object here is to use various parts and widgets to create vehicles for varying tasks that require skill, speed, weaponry and some ingenuity. Depending on what parts you have, you can create flying and sea-faring crafts, rams, cages, even rockets and launchers to propel your vehicle and perform various tasks that are set out for the game. This serves as the games keystone, and is really a well made system that allows you to save and scrap designs at your leisure, test out new vehicles, and let your imagination run wild.
And since you basically make the game, the choice is yours as to how to solve a problem. If the battering rams don’t work, try shooting it with a cannon. Not getting enough speed with one engine, try two or three. Give yourself wings to fly, or propellers to soar. The possibilities are endless, and they make up the fun moments of the game.
As the game goes on, better parts are earned, bought or found in the games main hub, Showdown Town. Showdown Town is perhaps the last vestige of platforming left in Banjo-Kazooie. Here you collect different parts that you use to create your vehicles, as well as collecting notes that are now currency, jiggies that open up new worlds, and a new Maguffin, Trophies. The new worlds the game encompasses are almost twice as big as the original game, and just as innovative. Even though there are only six worlds to explore, they are as innovative as their 64 bit brethren. From a farmland, to a Coliseum, to even a model of the 360, and fans of the series in particular will love Banjoland, which is a homage to the previous games in the series.
And while the core gameplay element of creating vehicles is really innovative and fun, there are some execution problems that hinder the experience. First of all, the mini-games that you collect jiggies from are often really simple, with some of them completeable in seconds if you’re real crafty. The game also has really simple Jinjo Challenges that offer tokens for a side mini-game, and all of them are basically a “bring person here”, “find missing item here,” or “hurl item X amount of feet.” The lack of diversity in the challenges makes seeking these out and completing them somewhat tedious.
And while the core of the gameplay is building crafts and using it to solve puzzles, almost all of the sidequests are arbitrary and unnecessary. The side quests involve you finding characters, rescuing them from jail, playing an arcade game, and other mini-games, but they are mostly served for distraction over the main part of the game.
And the multi-player game seems like it would be a great idea in theory, but since the entire online community either never heard of the game or passed it over, few people are online, if anyone at all. Plus, the multi-player game forces you to play the game anyway, so that you can gain access to the good parts that are needed to compete online.
Fortunately, the game is graphically a powerhouse. It is cartoonish enough to be kid friendly, and detailed enough to be great eye-candy. The animations are fluid, the worlds are huge and expansive, and while I wish some enemies would be a bit bigger on screen when compared to your vehicle, it is good to see a lot of action on screen at once without a framerate dip.
Rare still not has lost their touch with witty, tongue in cheek dialogue. Not only does the game reference previous Rare titles (both good and bad.) but it also makes fun of the entire Banjo-Kazooie series as a whole, plus a ton of euphemisms for the older crowd to catch. The cast still has a ton of old school BK characters, and it’s good to see a lot of cameo appearances from friends and foes alike from both games on the 64. The voices have not changed since the N64 days though, and have actually lost some of their charm over the years, but thankfully the background music is still in top form, and gives the game even more character as you traverse through the giant worlds.
So Rare has done it again. Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts is an innovative title with new gameplay mechanics, but also does something more. It has a series grow up after an eight-year absence into something that is fitting with the temperaments of today. It is clear that the old days of Banjo-Kazooie are essentially over. And while the original game will forever be a pinnacle of platforming, and for me one of the best games ever made, Nuts and Bolts is a worthy entry in a series that I hope keeps getting better and better. Final Score- B