November 11 marks 10 years since Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts released on Xbox 360. To celebrate this occasion, GameRevolution’s Tyler Treese took a look back at the latest release in the beloved platformer series.
To say that Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was a divisive title upon release would be a drastic understatement. Some longtime fans screamed sacrilege after developer Rare decided to go away from the pure platforming roots of the series. Others fell in love with the stupendous vehicle customization and the irreverent tone that openly mocked the series’ past outings. In many ways, it was Rare doing what it has always done; pushing the limit in a variety of ways from gameplay to humor.
However, the launch of Banjo’s latest outing was undeniably defined by the cries of longtime fans feeling as if they had been wronged. From forum threads to comments on reviews both positive and negative, it was impossible to read about Nuts & Bolts without hearing how upset Xbox 360 owners were that the game wasn’t a traditional platformer. Of course, there was also a nasty and childish “console wars” element that made the conversation around the launch even more toxic, as many Nintendo fans were still upset that Microsoft had acquired Rare.
This change was viewed as the tech giant not wanting a typical platformer to release on the Xbox 360, which ran in contrast to Rare’s own comments regarding the matter. In a 2008 live chat (via Eurogamer), Banjo creator Gregg Mayles called the genre “too stale,” noting that the studio was “trying something different” with Nuts & Bolts that would make previous games “look limited and very outdated.”
While there are plenty of valid critiques to be had against Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a lot of the complaints online came from fans who had done their best ostrich impression by burying their heads in the sand. Rare and Microsoft were quite upfront about the change in gameplay for the series. “Some fans look back fondly and want more of the same, but the Banjo of yesteryear has no real place in tomorrow’s market,” Mayles said in an interview with Retro Gamer more than a year before the game released. Despite this, many held out hope that the vehicle sections would be a small portion of the experience and were let down as a result.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts‘ Innovation
Despite the controversy, Nuts & Bolts‘ divisive vehicle customization is what makes the game so special. Players begin by creating basic builds, a simple car that can traverse the hills, but quickly find themselves experimenting to create wonderfully weird creations that they would never see in real life. From egg shooters to energy shields, there is no shortage of different features that players can give their vehicle of choice (whether it flies, drives, or floats).
However, all of the incredible vehicle creation would be for nothing if it wasn’t required by the game itself. Banjo’s third adventure features some of the best mission variety in any title. Sure, there are the standard missions you’d expect such as timed races and vehicular combat, but it really shines when things get more creative. Players are taken through missions that have them playing soccer, doing their best Crazy Taxi impression, and getting involved in long-jump contests.
Many of these missions can be incredibly difficult if players don’t have a vehicle geared towards it. In this way, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is constantly rewarding creativity. Players that know how to retool their car and create something that is specifically designed to achieve a goal will have the best time. Unlike a standard platformer where the player always has all of the tools they need at their disposal, Rare instead made players think about how to best approach each mission.
Disappointment Fades With Time
While it can be difficult for some to let go of nostalgia, the original Nintendo 64 games starring Banjo and his feathered companion simply haven’t aged all that well. They were incredible for their time, but the level design and the resulting mess of polygons doesn’t seem quite as wondrous in 2018 as it did when I was playing them as a kid. Nor does the idea of collecting hundreds of items seem like a great time when there are so many other games vying for a person’s time. Even an updated version of the formula (like what was seen in Yooka-Laylee) starts to wear thin over time. If someone wants to revisit that era of platforming, they’re better off going with Super Mario 64 for its historical significance.
Over time, fans have begun to appreciate Nuts & Bolts for what the game actually is rather than what they wanted it to be. This has been aided by Microsoft, which gave everyone who purchased Rare Replay a second chance at experiencing this quirky gem. No game clicks with everyone, but many of those who went back to the 360 classic without expecting yet another cutesy platformer found themselves having a newfound respect for what Rare had achieved.
Even 10 years after release, there aren’t any other games quite like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. The vehicle customization is still an incredible display of easily digestible creation while maintaining the mechanical depth of the most hardcore simulations, and the script regularly lampooning the video game industry is still a laugh riot in 2018. Meanwhile, the originals feel more like an aging relic that can still be appreciated, but don’t leave much of an impression now that the industry has passed them by.