Review: Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

For a long time, gamers mourned the apparent death of the Banjo Kazooie series. Then, one shining day, Rare announced a return to the franchise with Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Fans of the series rejoiced in collective glee – more of the Banjo we knew and loved! Except, this wasn’t the Banjo we knew and loved. No, Nuts and Bolts has taken a completely different approach, now that platformers seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur, at least in the mainstream gaming scene. What has emerged is a workable, enjoyable adventure, as long as you’re not expecting a game anywhere near reminiscent of Banjo Kazooie’s past.

Nuts and Bolts brings us back with Banjo and Kazooie, who have truly let themselves go over the years. Now chubby and out of shape, they spend their time fighting with Gruntilda and lazing around the game world. That is, until the Lord of Games, or LOG shows up. As the purported whiz of all things gaming, he seeks to put an end to this lollygagging. He proposes one final showdown to liven things up. He proposes a race to collect Jiggies to kick things off, which both parties immediately fail due to their lengthy hiatus from the game world. Instead, a new way of gaming is introduced, and this means creating and building different vehicles to tackle challenges.

Banjo and Kazooie are deposited in a main gate world (much like the previous games) named Showdown Town. Pathways to other worlds are opened where jiggies, musical notes, and challenges are up for the taking. The focus is still very much on collecting, and there are a ton of items to collect – over 1900 notes are available, 100 jiggies, and tons of vehicle parts to stock up on to create the best ride around. The worlds that are presented are expansive and fantastic; this is by far the biggest and most open-ended Banjo game yet.

Since there is so much to do, this game is far less stressful than any of the previous installments. Borrowing heavily from the GTA philosophy of “skip around, then come back for the important stuff later,” you can go about completing different challenges in any order. There really is so much to do that you might get lost simply playing around without worrying about the main task at hand!

When it comes down to progessing in the game, you’ll want to get familiarized with building vehicles. This is done in a manner similar to what we’ve seen in many LEGO titles before. Using a host of different pieces, vehicles appropriate for different challenges can be built. Simply by altering one part such as an engine or a spring, you can create a super-fast cruiser or one that can even jump. You are never limited to what is offered by the game’s schematics. If you have the parts available, you can build whatever vehicle your heart desires, and that is where the game truly shines. It’s a blessing for those artsy, creative types who love to play with LEGOs, or paint and draw to create fantastical things. However, if you’re not one of those types of people, you may find that the sheer amount of creations waiting to be made is an annoyance.

The actual types of quests to complete vary, but the glut are actually racing and fetch quests. You’ll get the occasional switch-up like dominoes, or even sumo wrestling. The key to these different matches are how well and how efficiently you’ve designed a vehicle. It’s all in how much work you want to put into creating specific rides. For instance, if you want to do well in a game of knocking over the most dominoes, you’ll have to focus on making a vehicle that’s lightweight enough to maneuver properly, but heavy enough to wreck a host of dominoes. This calls for light puzzle-solving and the patience to work a few of these situations out. If that isn’t your kind of gameplay, then Nuts and Bolts may leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Though these puzzling mechanics work very well in practice, some may be turned off by the world’s strange physics. If you expect a car to move quickly just because it follows the rules of the real world, then you will be in for a rude awakening. Two engines make a car speed up, not bog it down. It can get frustrating, taking into account all of the different factors involved in making a successful vehicle, and that is where I found most of my frustration stemming from. If you can devote a few hours to getting to understand the physics and the way the world works, though, the game will become ten times more fun. It’s all a matter of seeing how things fit together.

There are a vast amount of challenges to partake in, items to collect, and side-quests to tackle, but as fun as all those things are, you’ll be spending way more time preparing than actually playing. As previously mentioned, planning some vehicles will take a lot of time, whereas the actual challenge merits a few seconds in some cases. If you’re not much into the building scene, then this will be a complete turn-off. There’s a ton of content within, though, so it’s worth it to dig right in and see what all you can discover.

This is a very cartoony, colorful game that many may pass up on just because of its youthful look. It’s a welcome contrast to the grays and rusts of the gaming market right now, and for that I’m thankful. Character models are lovingly detailed, as are the environments, though there are some textures that take longer to load than others. Aside from a few technical hiccups, this is a fine-looking game – a much-loved update from the Banjo of yesterday. One gripe that I had was with the perpetual caps-locking of in-game text. It looks ridiculous, and since there are no voiceovers, I often found myself assuming everyone was screaming. Kidding aside, that was a poor design choice.

The game is full of wacky sound effects and sprightly music, nothing particularly memorable. You will most likely get tired of grunting Banjo and inane chuckling, but that’s the tone of the game so you just should go with the flow. It would have been nice to include voiceovers, as that seems like a lazy decision, but text works fine as well.

Multiplayer is quite a mixed bag. Since this isn’t a game most will enjoy simply for the way it’s designed, there are hardly any team games to be found on Xbox Live, so local team games will be the lifeline. There are a variety of different options to employ, but many are so non-user friendly that it’s a good bet players will overlook multiplayer completely. I’d liken the multiplayer to preparation for a soapbox derby. The planning isn’t all that fun, but the actual event is a rush.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a fan of building and creating, then you will absolutely hate it. However, if that just happens to be right down your alley, then you’ll have a blast. It’s simple to work your brain to come up with new and zany vehicles, and the creation process is streamlined. There is a multitude of content to discover and wade through. It’s overall a very solid game that just won’t appeal to everyone. Should Rare decide on a return to form for the Banjo series, perhaps the Nuts and Bolts games will become a well-loved spinoff from the original formula.

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