Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review

Lee Abrahams

There was a time, many moons ago, when Rare bestrode the world of gaming like some kind of colossus impressing all and sundry with their ingenious products. Goldeneye, Donkey Kong Country, Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini – to name but a few of the titles that impressed a multitude of gamers. Back in the day they could truly do no wrong but time seems to have been rather unkind to the once great developer, a series of intriguing ideas seem to have flopped one after the other and many have started to question whether their defection from Nintendo to Microsoft was ever a good idea. However, hopeful signs have been apparent thanks to Viva Piñata and now they are bringing back one of their most loved franchises. Will Banjo Kazooie finally be the game to get people talking about Rare again?

The original Banjo games were out and out platforming fare, albeit in a 3D style, reminiscent of a certain famous plumber. The two characters had a variety of powers that they would use to battle through levels in a bid to thwart the villainous witch Gruntilda. Times have changed however and Rare have decided to take a more sandbox approach to this instalment of the series – so imagine Grand Theft Auto but cuter ... a lot cuter.

Pimp my Ride just got real.

My first gripe is with the opening segment of the game as it seems to tilt far too heavily in favour of fan-boys and is not that welcoming to the newcomer (like me). Referencing the earlier games is all well and good but the introduction sequence seems to bombard you with in jokes that make little to no sense to the uneducated. The decision to reduce all conversation to text also makes it a pretty dull experience, not to mention the dubious squeaks and grunts that each character makes gets old really fast. As a starting point it’s not the best and only serves to make the story seem to be pretty drawn out and weak. A cartoon game like this should never require a dull twenty minute opening period just to set the scene.

The story, such as it is, revolves around the return of Banjo’s nemesis, the witch Gruntilda, and her bid to assume control of Spiral Mountain and turn it into some lovely shops. Truly this hag must be stopped (Just imagine how many new Starbucks we’d have to contend with!). As hostilities between the two parties are about to commence the Lord of Games (LOG for short) intervenes and determines that he will hold a contest to see who controls the mountain. Obviously the contest will take the form of a series of interconnecting worlds and random challenges – just like the US electoral process. Banjo’s task is to collect all of the, jigsaw like, jiggy pieces while Gruntilda has to do her best to stop him.

It’s been eight long years since Banjo and his partner Kazooie were last called into action and they’ve kind of let themselves go, so much so that Banjo sports a bit of a paunch and Kazooie is obviously addicted to gamerscore (who would sink so low?). So LOG helpfully gets them back into shape but the, now slim-line duo are still lacking their signature moves. Rather than giving them back their boring old skills LOG replaces their clichéd techniques with a (t)rusty wrench. Kazooie may not be impressed but the wrench is actually the key to the games main game-play. Basically rather than leaping from platform to platform, players will be required to use a variety of vehicles to get around in and solve puzzles. You can build your own from parts you’ll find scattered about or use blueprints to have access to pre-designed rides. With 1,600 different parts available, the choice is almost infinite and what you build is only limited by your own imagination. There are helpful tutorials to guide you through the process and even a testing area so you can see just how well your prized creation will fare – as at least you can spare yourself some embarrassment should it turn out to have the same qualities as a two year old's latest Lego design (though after my initial efforts that’s a disservice to two year olds everywhere). The problem here is that not many people will have the patience to sit down and painstakingly build vehicle after vehicle, so in effect the pre-made blueprints are a lifesaver but they seem grossly underpowered which almost forces you to waste more time building things then actually enjoying the game.

With Showdown Town as a central hub, you can leap in and out of doors leading to various worlds. Once there you have to track down characters who offer you jiggy pieces for completing challenges; there are also optional quests available such as the Jingo challenges and finding all available musical notes (the games currency). Completing a challenge will net you some notes if you do badly, the notes plus a jiggy piece if you do pretty well and all of the above plus a TT Trophy if you ace the event. The TT Trophies can be exchanged for even more jiggy pieces and every few levels you’ll have to best Gruntilda herself. Doing so will upgrade your town vehicle which lets you access even more areas and winning more jiggy pieces opens even more doors and makes more worlds available. It’s basically a procession of challenges to progress to your final showdown with a few optional quests thrown in for good measure. Each of the worlds provides plenty of chance for exploration though only the main town offers much off the beaten track, in the way of hidden vehicle parts, switches and prison breaks to mastermind. The challenges usually revolve around racing, fighting or collecting and even though they have a variety of subtle twists and humour it all starts to get rather old after a while. The fact is that being asked to repeat the same tasks over and over again is never going to be that much fun.

Taking her for a spin in the lush scenery.

Rare have actually gone on record as stating that 80% of the action will take place in vehicles and to me it seems like they’ve gone a bit far. The main problem is with the controls as a lot of the time you can be skimming along with no problems only to hit, what seems like, a minor bump and be slowed to an almost halt or flipped completely. Try to reverse into position and then accelerate away and you’ll end up spinning all over the place, and it’s not an issue that goes away as it seems to happen with pretty much every land based vehicle. You’ll also be forced through a number of narrow passages and tunnels as you complete challenges and if you even scrape the sides your vehicle can be spun 180 degrees and rendered completely stuck, with your only option being to quit and try again. The same even happens with flying vehicles – as you never know what is going to happen whenever you collide with something. Will you carry only with only a slight loss of speed or be spun completely out of control resulting in abject failure? It’s this randomness that makes the game so frustrating as it pops up time and time again and makes some of the challenges extremely frustrating, even early in the game. The fact that they have made Banjo so completely useless when on foot only makes things worse, as you’ll get so sick of vehicles flipping for little to no reason that you’ll want to run around and do things by hand even though the game won’t let you.

However, despite my issues with the driving mechanics, the game really started to grow on me after a while. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before but the lush worlds, fun characters and sly humour mean things add up to significantly more than the sum of its parts. Things do get repetitive after a while but the desire to beat just one more level seems to overwhelm any frustrations you may have. Everything looks beautiful with Showdown Town itself being the jewel in the crown thanks to a wonderful array of things to see and do.

The multiplayer mode seems more than a little tagged on and sees you taking part in races or events that will seem familiar if you’ve played through the single player. A nice touch is the inclusion of play-lists that force all participants to have the same vehicle – preventing people who have completed the game from turning up with vastly overpowered rides to destroy the competition with. If I had a complaint though it’s that none of the tracks and tasks are that challenging and the online population is practically dead even though the game has just been released. A sure sign of a lack of longevity.

He’d spent six months setting that domino rally up.

This is as close to the perfect list of achievements as I think it’s possible to get, with a beautifully steady progression to the full 1000. The online tasks are fairly straightforward too and pretty easy to acquire thanks to the party system, so you can dip your toe into the action to get your points but don’t have to grind for too long. In single player you can rack up a few points easily early on and then pick up the rest as you go, as accessing new worlds and getting new parts will make more of the achievements available. At the end of the day you’ll have to snag all of the jiggy pieces to polish this off so it’s maybe not a game for those with little patience but for me the pacing is superb. I suppose I should mention the humorous in-gags and random tasks that make up some of the points too. A welcome change.

This title is an extremely mixed bag and one that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a game that I really wanted to like but every time I came close to enjoying myself something vaguely annoying would crop up. The world is pretty huge and fun to explore every nook and cranny, plus there are plenty of challenges to occupy yourself with though they start to grate a bit once repetition creeps in. This vast world might have been better served if Banjo had retained his original platforming powers, as the over reliance on vehicles (and their various foibles) makes getting around a pain at times. My advice would be to give it a try and see if the lush world draws you in, as if you enjoy it you’ll be hooked and if not what have you really lost? This game isn’t the return to glory times that many fan may have hoped for but I hope that it’s a step in the right direction.

The audio is probably the weakest aspect of the title as the characters are reduced to irritating squeaks and the music is pretty much a non-entity to be perfectly honest. It’s not terrible but you won’t be turning the volume up either.

The visuals are pretty much spot on and all of the environments are lovely to look at and have plenty going on. Some of the vehicles can look a bit rough around the edges but when you are building them from scratch then a bit of leeway can be allowed.

For a game that relies mainly on getting about via vehicles, the controls seem strangely broken. Certain transport handles far too erratically and some of the corridors and surfaces are extremely unforgiving. You’ll get used to it eventually but a lot of the fun has been destroyed by then.

A good attempt at a platforming sandbox game that just relies far too heavily on its main gimmick. The multiplayer is fun for a while though – but you’ll struggle to find many players due to the throw away nature of the action..

A superb list that will reward you in a gradual fashion but always makes the next step seem that little bit closer, the multiplayer tasks are also fairly easy to grab without spending half your life playing the game.

A fun game that is let down by dubious vehicle controls and a design system that soon becomes tiresome. There is plenty to see and do though and the variety of challenges, for those that stick around, will keep you happily entertained.

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