Sunday, 21 December 2008

Review - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

  • Game: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: None
  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Genre: 3rd Person Adventure
I loved the original Banjo-Kazooie games – a lot. They were part of the epitome of the N64’s very limited catalogue consisting almost entirely of 1st Party Nintendo releases and Rare games. My childlike eyes (literally at the time) were astounded at the visual candy being force-fed through their pupils, and the sheer amount of moves the duo had set the bar for 3D Platformers, or ‘Adventure Games’ - as every venture into the three dimensions from a 3rd person perspective seems to be labelled. So naturally, like many others I’m sure, my excitement was built up at the thought of a new Banjo, only to be dashed moments later when Rare announced ‘the catch’.

You see, not content with giving the fans what they want, developers are constantly adding new ideas and twists that are sometimes unwarranted in their games. One glance at Sonic the Hedgehog and his legions of freakishly deformed woodland friends is proof of this. It is as though the industry is more afraid of someone saying that their new great game has a similar likeness to their old great game, than actually releasing compressed turd on disc that sells like balls on lukewarm cakes. It’s like someone complaining that I look not too dissimilar to my father and proceeding to put a wrench in my ear sideways in the name of “keeping things fresh”.

Rare’s “keeping things fresh” for Nuts & Bolts is the frankly bold idea of customisable vehicles with which you complete the various missions – usually consisting of “take this from point A to point B” or “race me”. Initially this is very clunky as you start the game with just a trolley on cheese-like wheels, but gradually you’ll gain parts that increase performance. Stop me if I start to sound insane, but why does the player need to be punished with something that handles like a sled pushed down a hill on potatoes, when at this point in the game they are just getting to grips with the controls as it is? At this stage too, any attempt to create your own vehicle will be met with something that steers far worse and looks like the lego creation of a spastic orang-utan.

Beautiful stuff, really.

Eventually though the game starts to pick up and rather ironically it’s after the part featured in the downloadable demo. While not strictly Banjo-Kazooie – the duo have had their abilities ‘taken away’ – the characters are well aware of it, and even that they are in a game. The trademark Rare humour is still there and guaranteed to raise a smile, especially when poking fun at themselves as developers. Kazooie even quips about hoping this game sells better than Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and it just reeks of that classic Banjo-Kazooie atmosphere. You collect ‘Jiggies’ - which are to the series as stars are to Mario – for completing the aforementioned missions, and your income to spend on new vehicle parts consists of musical notes dashed around the place to collect.

When charged with objectives in the main game worlds, the vast majority of the time you have the choice of what vehicle you use to complete it. So if you need to push giant footballs into a goal, you’d probably choose a vehicle with pincers that hold it into place while you valiantly charge headfirst through the target. Sometimes though, challenges require more of you than your current blueprints collection can provide a solution to, so you head over to Mumbo’s Motors for a bit of classic ingenuity; slapping on extra parts and creating from scratch what you need. While this is undoubtedly the spirit of the game, sometimes it can make challenges redundant. One such objective required the transport of a small antenna all the way up a rickety and dangerous path, past numerous rabid enemies baying for bloody fur and feathers, and traps designed to make bear and bird jam out of you, taking roughly a minute in the standard trolley vehicle to traverse. I however, quickly jumped to the workshop and slapped a couple propellers on the side of the trolley to make a helicopter, setting myself up to blissfully sail to the objective above in less than ten seconds. While there is a challenge in getting a trophy for every high score or fast time possible, this will only test you for so long as the game rolls at a particularly placid pace through undemanding station, parallel to easy street. The only real challenge comes from controlling your means of transport that you create in the name of independence from the game holding your paw all the way.

I really couldn't tell you what's going on here. Is that… is that an aardvark? Well, that's awesome.

Visually, the worlds created by Rare are stunning. Looking at Nuts & Bolts should be a pastime in itself, as dozens of gorgeous effects burst out of the screen at your unprotected eyes, burrowing through the optic nerve into the “ooh, purdy” part of the brain. Utilising various lens effects such as depth of field and bloom, as well as what I’ve come to dub as ‘Rare grass’ – unnaturally straight blades of grass that seem to be implemented just to tell you that Rare made this game. As well as this is some absolutely stunning water shaders and effects. The first world, ‘Nutty Acres’ shows off this water to sublime effect, and it really is like looking into the heaving bosom of God (assuming that we’re talking about an awe-inspiring female God here, and not a chubby sweat infested bloke). All this ‘Rare grass’ and heavenly cleavage can take a toll at some points however, and the frame rate threatens to piss itself and die when the action gets too hot – barely even jumping over 30fps if naught is going on.

While not strictly Banjo-Kazooie, this new iteration still retains the classic characters and humour, and is a charming game in its own right. Granted, I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who would have been ecstatic with a ‘proper’ sequel in the form of Banjo-Threeie, but if you like your games light-hearted and are up for a delightful romp, you could do much worse than Nuts & Bolts.


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