Genre: Kids Developer: Rare Publisher: Microsoft Classification: G Release Date: 20th Nov 2008 Platforms:
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The Good bits
Vehicle creation is awesome.
Graphics are great.
The Bad stuff
I can’t ever get over Rare leaving Nintendo for Microsoft, ever, ever.
There’s an overall lack of challenge variety.
There’s a bunch of reviews up already for Rare’s latest Banjo Kazooie game, offering scores ranging from pretty-sweet-i-guess to unamusing-time-waster. So it’s certainly interesting to find out that, regardless of the score, most reviewers only want to comment on one thing: the demise of the former Nintendo
bestie since joining the Microsoft arm during the Xbox/Gamecube/PS2 period.
I say interesting rather than surprising, because game reviewers are pitifully nostalgic creatures as a rule. Most tend to associate the Rare/Nintendo golden years alongside early teenage gems like their first kiss or earliest recognisable clump of auxiliary hair. When Rare got snapped up, it was like they’d looked out the window to see their teenage sweetheart getting into Dad’s Mercedes. After that, it was tempting to paraphrase the old saying: Hell hath no comments section like a gamer scorned.
Since then, things have finally cooled to a point where game reviewers have crossed their arms and DARED Rare to win back their hearts. But so far they haven’t succeeded, in spite of some decent review scores and regular releases. Some fools even hoped that Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts would finally get the two lovebirds together. Expectedly, it failed.
We first heard about Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts when LittleBigPlanet was starting to generate buzz. Finally, both systems had a front running title where player creation was a core part of the gameplay. Brilliant! It was like the first glimpse of gaming 2.0, hailing a golden future for developers when gamers would make all the games themselves out of tiny little blocks. After all, surely these gaming journalists were into Lego before they hit the NES? At any rate, the online consensus was that Rare’s idea was A Good Thing.
The early reports were right too, because the vehicle creation is the most fun part of Banjo Kazooie. Aside from it being slightly tricky to delete mistakes, putting blocks together is easy and the rules are simple. Besides, the builder engine lets you know straight away if your machine is far too broken to ever love. Of course, it doesn’t tell you when your machine is only slightly broken, but taking your new motorbike out on the track to find it wheelies into a backflip on the slightest incline is all part of the fun.
The machines segue into the gameplay quite simply. As in any 3D platformer game, you’ll receive a task from a character in the game that will be rewarded upon completion with an item that helps unlock the rest of the game. The new part is that where all these tasks may have been completed by an expanding combination of moves, now they’re completed by an expanding combination of parts. The even newer part is that if you’re really clever when designing your machines, you can ace many of the tasks with relative ease. “Rewarding cleverness?” I thought to myself, “what a rare thing indeed!” The sheer horribleness of this internal pun actually caused me to stop for a second and notice that for every cool challenge, there was yet another time trial or checkpoint race. That bothered me for a second, but I pressed on.
Soon I found myself scouring the hub world obsessively looking for cool new bits to add to my machines; larger engines, lighter wings, better weapons. Suddenly I was a kid again, digging through the lego bucket like a demented mole to find the space themed bits. Once, aghast, I caught myself giggling out loud, like a girl at a pyjama party. Was this love, I thought?
Well, maybe not, but it was at least a summer fling to be looked back at wistfully. And let me state for the jury that this wasn’t about looks. It’s a gorgeous looking game, with massive draw distance and a kitchen sink approach to colour palettes. It wasn’t the story either, with the “game within a game” concept providing all manner of quips, quirks and fan service. It was easy and enjoyable to get sidetracked, and nothing ever stood out as flawed or rushed. But what was missing?
The most annoying thing is I started out this review blatantly suggesting that mild childhood trauma was responsible for Nuts and Bolts’ less than glowing reviews. On reflection, this may have been a tad hasty. After my hours with the
game, it’s clear that on gameplay, polish and innovation, it comes so close to a nine it could reach it by simply not clipping its fingernails for a week. But one glaring flaw stands out. In the previous Banjo Kazooies, the gameplay could be endlessly extended with ever more fiendish combinations of the move set. Vehicles just can’t compete with that. Once you’ve got an amphibious flying racecar with guns, there’s just no more crazy left. Just a lot of fetch quests and time trials.
Dear Banjo, Kazooie, nuts and also bolts, here’s the thing: if it was going to be love, it would have lasted until the bitter end. Oh well, we’ll always have the Jiggoseum.