Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Xbox 360
Banjo and Kazooie have spent almost a decade as a dusty old franchise stacked on a shelf in the back of one of Rare’s ideas cupboard. I can only imagine that a random Rare employee accidentally stumbled across it whilst rootling for a mop, and wondered why the hell no-one was using it, which eventually led to the old duo being brought back into the limelight.
As it was released alongside the original Banjo Kazooie on 360, N&B was always going to have a tough time with being compared to its predecessors. Maybe that’s why Rare decided to shake things up a bit, and change the rules completely. Instead of the platforming action we were all hoping for, N&B provides new challenges in the form of vehicle building. At this stage, purists will be hyperventilating whilst typing furiously on the internet about how N&B isn’t really Banjo Kazooie because it’s far too different. I disagree. Rare mixed two of my favourite childhood pastimes (Banjo Kazooie and building things out of Lego) into one, I couldn’t ask for more. It is disappointing to lose what made the original games so great, but there’s something new in its place, something unexpected.
As you’ll already know, N&B revolves around building vehicles. Start out with a meagre number of different building materials, then explore and expand your collection. The vehicle creator allows plenty of freedom to make pretty much anything you want. There’re very few limitations, and you needn’t worry about aerodynamics or engineering. If it has wheels, an engine and fuel, then it can move. Give it wings and a propeller and it’ll fly. No need to slow things down with careful planning to build a perfectly streamlined car.
My realisation of this fact was quickly followed by a selection of crazy vehicles armed to the teeth with cannons, covered in wheels and powered by about 5 engines. I even went as far as to spray paint the whole thing green and call it ‘The Tankinator’. Clearly, The Tankinator was about as practical as a knife-wrench, but unlike a lot of games, N&B didn’t tell me off for building such a monstrosity. It let me attempt to use it to complete tasks until I gave up and built something which was usable. That’s where N&B stands out. It gives more freedom where it counts than some supposed ‘sandbox’ titles that have as many repercussions as there are options. The vehicle workshop is easy to interpret and use, helping each player to learn the ins and outs without causing too much fuss.
There simply aren’t enough synonyms for the word ‘charming’ to do N&B justice. The environments are vivid, smooth and beautifully made. Not many games can claim to have as much personality as N&B, which rivals Super Mario Galaxy for variety and sheen in the level design. Similar things could be said for the tone all round, through the characters and the way they behave. The dialogue is filled with well worked humour that gently pokes fun at the gaming industry in general. At times it feels as if the whole thing is one big joke, and the characters are just playing along with it or are oblivious. It seems that the enjoyable game that accompanies this joke is just coincidence.
No game comes without its negatives, however, as there are certain drawbacks to N&B. Because of all the potential pratting around you can do, it could take a long stint of playing to actually make any form of progress in N&B. Some may not mind this, but others will become bored before actually completing any objectives, just because of the endless distractions. Also, in some bizarre ways N&B caters for young and old, casual and hardcore gamers. The graphical style and subtle humour allow players of all ages to enjoy, and the variation in tasks can please the casual and perplex the hardcore. Although not many of the objectives are too difficult, completists will still have to put in a considerable amount of time to finish it all.
Like Jurassic Park, Rare have revived a long extinct franchise, taking the DNA of the originals but mixing in new elements. Unlike Jurassic Park, however, N&B doesn’t end with everyone getting eaten by the revived bear and his bird sidekick. It instead ends with a good example of how games should be made – to entertain the audience.