Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts Review - January 20

Birds, bears, and big old ball bearings, as we take on Rare's platforming behemoth, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.

Banjo Kazooie on the N64 was revolutionary, there’s no denying that. While it’s recent port to the 360’s Live Arcade has shown to even the most nostalgic sentimentalist it’s not quite timeless (punching giant turnips wasn’t quite as fun as we remembered), and while Rare’s string of titles under Microsoft management have steadily tarnished their once reputable name – a giant dustbin filled with Grabbed by the Ghoulies discs in Nuts and Bolt’s second level confirms even its makers look back on their first Xbox game with disdain - Nuts and Bolts is the most charming and accessible game of 2008. So why couldn’t most of you care less?

Because of games like Gears of War 2/Fallout 3/Far Cry 2 (delete where appropriate), that’s why. The 360 was never the console for little cousin Mo, and since such phrases as ‘Wee Play’ have entered the lexicon of kiddies everywhere (honestly, a year ago such a term would have made a nun blush), in the shadow of the Wii all Microsoft seem able to do is bring out shooter after shooter in the hope they can divert all casual culture traffic to Nintendo and tap into rich, hormonally-challenged teenage goodness with a focus on blood n’ guns. Like Noughties Ninty, the likelihood of Banjo using Kazooie to chainsaw through a scaled underground beast is slim indeed, but debuting on the 360 amongst men with questionable chest diameters who do just that make you wonder if Rare have lost the plot – surely a game so bright and jaunty belongs on the Wii?

The world is vibrant and beautiful, but artificial.

No, Rare haven’t lost the plot – if anything, they couldn’t have picked a better home for everyone’s favourite bird and bear. Picture this: you come home, tired and deflated from your job at the Plant (run with me on this). Your boss has treated you like a rug and your wife put too much salt on your pork chops (and you don’t even like pork chops!). So, you pick up the 360 pad and get blasting. After much virtual violence you open the curtains and realise you’ve just spent and evening tearing a Locust horde limb from limb. You feel satisfied. Come the next evening: you’re deflated, frustrated, even a bit repressed (come on, admit it). The only solution? Yep, more limb tearing. You pop in Fallout 3, pick up your favourite katana and tear wasteland scavengers into little tiny pieces. And it was good. Come the next evening: the work day has ended, your boss was a ponce and you burned your tongue on the pot noodle your wife left out before going to see Mama Mia with her ‘girlfriends’. As the routine dictates, you pop in Far Cry 2 and get massacring. You look outside – the sun’s still up. This wasn’t as fun as it used to be. The perfect solution? Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts! (It took a while, folks, but we got there in the end).

So, we’ve affirmed that Nuts and Bolts is in the right place, and that it’s come at the right time, but, is it any good? Yes, aside from a few niggles, its bloody fantastic. Making use of Havok, the same wonderful, if slightly too realistic physics engine found in Halo 3, Nuts and Bolts is essentially a gigantic vehicle workshop. Eschewing the tired platforming formula in favour of driving, flying and swimming (engines are faster than legs, and anyway, look at the scores Spyro and Crash Bandicoot are getting nowadays), you’ll collect the necessary parts to build your dream vehicle. Already, Youtube is awash with Deathstar recreations, Sputnik replicas and, ahem, giant frogs, and with the ability to buy parts such as giant springs as well as ready-made creations like a flying Union Jack (‘who said Rare were too patriotic?’ reads its tagline) the game plays out like a marvellous physics playset. But less geeky-sounding.

It's great to see Banjo in all his next-gen glory. Playing football.

Aside from Banjo and Kazooie getting their hands dirty with a spot of mechanics, this is essentially Banjo – a fact the developers are keen to self-depreciatingly highlight throughout. The 5 levels are all accessed through one huge hub world, and within classic characters such as the short sighted mole Bottles and the just-shy-of-being- politically-incorrect Mumbo challenge you with a variety of missions, most of which reward you with something you’ll need to progress.
After a while, as if to share in the player’s nostalgia as well as reinforce niggling suspicions that not self-depreciation, but a freshening up was instead needed, Kazooie will impatiently spout lines such as ‘yeah yeah, we get it, win the race and receive a puzzle piece’. While the challenges, numerous as they are, are afforded a great deal of replayabilty thanks to the powerful creation tool as well as a novel feature that allows you to download other players best scores from Live leaderboards and upload your own, after collecting what seems like the millionth musical note, Jiinjos, Minjos, puzzle pieces and orb, you start to equate Rare’s irony-infused design with the nervous fat kid at school – he makes fun of himself before anyone else can, then stuffs another jam doughnut in his gob.

Nuts and Bolts has been in design for years, and it shows. It might have looked comfortable on a Toys R Us shelf with the words ‘Wii’ printed on it, but the power of the 360 gives it a vibrancy and colour otherwise lost in the shuffle of shovelware and masked space marines. Coincidentally sharing the same sort of ‘cardboard n’ felt’ design as LittleBig Planet (the two have been in development for roughly the same amount of time), each patchwork field and cardboard rock looks as if cobbled together by a Blue Peter presenter.

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