Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Review: Like Build-A-Bear, But Better
There were a number of reasons that I didn’t expect “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” to be pretty much the only Xbox 360 game I’ve played in the last month or so. Based on previews of the game, and the fact that my Xbox red-ringed the day I received the game, I had little to no intentions of playing the game outside of the average time I planned on spending with the game to write this review. Boy, was I wrong. “Banjo” just kept sucking me back in. Sure, it may have had something to do with my achievement addiction that I though I had under control (wrong about that too), but it’s one of those games that consumes you, and keeps you playing just a little bit longer… and then it’s 3 A.M. “Banjo” caught me off-guard, and kept me playing on, and on, and on. The last time that this exact same thing happened was with “Viva Pinata.” Damn you Rare.
I need to be completely honest to convey a good review to you my reader friends, and I have a confession – “Nuts & Bolts” is the first “Banjo-Kazooie” game I’ve ever played. Yes, that’s right, for various reasons I missed the N64 and various portable iterations of this little bears quest to take down that evil witch Gruntilda. I’ve missed out, I know, so I can neither confirm nor deny if “Nuts & Bolts” is on the same level of addictiveness as the previous titles – I can only speak from my experience, and it’s pretty addictive. I can neither confirm nor deny if “Nuts & Bolts” is even anything like the previous titles, and while I have a hunch that at least some of it is, I can only say that is incredibly unique, and one of the most satisfying games I’ve played all year.
This particular iteration of Banjo’s journey picks up years after the duo last defeated Grunty, and things have really changed; Banjo and Kazooie have gotten fat and lazy from not staying in shape by being heroic. However, Grunty’s skull resurfaces, and comes hopping out of the mountains, and it’s up to Banjo to take her down. Unfortunately, he’s too out of shape to really do anything about it. In the spirit of competition the Lord of Games (L.O.G.) steps in and tries to mediate by proposing a competition – he’ll give Banjo his physique back, and Grunty a body, and they will compete in his world. Banjo needs to conquer six of L.O.G.’s worlds, and Grunty needs to stop him. They both accept and everyone’s transported to Showdown town, and the games begin. Each of L.O.G.’s worlds have a different theme to it, which tie into the tasks that Banjo needs to complete while inside them. The better he completes the tasks, the more golden Jiggies he wins, and the closer he is to taking down Gruntilda.
Longtime fans of the Banjo games may be a little surprised at how the gameplay plays out, since it’s a departure from the platforming of yore, and “Nuts & Bolts” is all vehicle based. Each of the different tasks that Banjo needs to do all take place with him in either an automobile, a boat, a plane, or a chopper of some form. While it may sound like a glorified “Mario Kart” it’s a lot more like “Mario Kart” meets “Super Mario Galaxy” with a bit of “Blast Works” mixed in. Some challenges are straight races, while others involve transporting objects, and some even make Banjo play basketball – but whatever they are, they all center around using a vehicle. Even the boss battles against Grunty all take place in some kind of locomotive object (I’m running out of synonyms for vehicle), and, as potentially repetitive as it sounds, the level of creativity that is injected into this game can only be accomplished by Rare, and, in the end it’s really fun.
The vehicles that you use throughout the challenges are also all unique, in that, you can create your own to suit the challenge. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock a handful of basic vehicles either through the story, or by buying blueprints from Humba, and you can then choose which of these blueprints you want to use for your challenges. However, as the game gets more difficult, and you unlock new vehicle parts by returning boxes to Mumbo, you can either modify the blueprint designs, or straight up create your own. When I picked up the game, I had a feeling that this was going to be the downfall of the game, since I’m convinced that user created content in games, on any level, is still in its infancy, and it is really hard to integrate into a game well. “LittleBigPlanet” is still the only game to get this right, and even then I still have some qualms about how it was done there. However, the vehicle creation system in “Nuts & Bolts was extremely easy to use, and became a necessity towards the end of the game. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy to jump in and out of the vehicle editing, right from the challenge initiation screens - it makes it really easy to add even one key part to your boat, or truck, or rocket in order to win the race at hand.
Unfortunately, for everything that I really enjoyed about “Nuts & Bolts” there was one really big problem I had with the game. Essentially all the worlds in the game are accessed from one central hub called Showdown Town. It’s basically an additional world in the game, that just doesn’t happen to have any challenges in it, and it’s a lot more focused on exploration, and, a “Banjo” staple - item collection. While it’s a nice break from the other worlds, you’re forced to return here every time you want to advance through the game, since this is where you actually receive and deposit your golden Jiggies to unlock other levels. Basically, it becomes a huge repetitive hassle, especially when you’re running over NPCs and being chased by the game’s police for “smuggling” Jiggies. It gets old really quickly, and it tends to be really confusing if you’re trying to find a specific location, or character, since the navigation is rather tiny. Additionally, for all the vehicle creation, you’re stuck using one, very basic (and very slow), trolley while in Showdown Town, preventing you from doing any real exploration until you’ve put quite a few hours into the game
Overall, “Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” surprised the hell out of me, and ended up being a really great game. Longtime fans of the series will be happy with all the little touches and fan services that Rare have included throughout the game, especially in Banjo Land which is essentially a museum of old “Banjo-Kazooie” games. In fact, this may have been the best written game of 2008, and, if it wasn’t the best, it was definitely the most amusing. It was almost on the level of 2007’s “Simpson’s Game,” but without all the quality voice talent. “Nuts & Bolts” an extremely addictive game, even if you aren’t a fan of the “Banjo” series, and at a discounted price, you really get your money’s worth with this package, and it’s absolutely worth a shot for any gamer looking to have some fun, without needing to shoot something.