Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts Hands On
30/10/2008 at 09:51
Emperor Ming speaks
When Peter Moore quite famously (and recently) said "There's no place in the modern games market for a developer like Rare" (or words to that effect), there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the gathered geek masses.
Thing is, he has a point. I can see exactly what he meant when I'm playing Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, because games like this really are few and far between now. In a market dominated by soulless shooters featuring little or no innovation, or identikit racing games jostling for position on the starting grid, a game featuring a bloody annoying bird and a slightly daft-sounding bear shouldn't really garner a second glance.
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts really doesn't belong on the 360 at all. On the Nintendo platforms, Rare were a developer who could guarantee each and every new release issuing forth from their Britsoft development studio would be met with worldwide anticipation. From NES, to SNES and even through to the N64, Rare's output was phenomenally successful. Since Microsoft bought them up, they seem to have fallen out of favour and the blame must partly lie with your average MS Gaming type who really doesn't quite gel with Rare's stock in trade cutesy-pie core products. We'll ignore Perfect Dark because it's a series not even worth mentioning here really.
So, Viva Piñata is universally hailed as being sumptuously beautiful but is largely ignored and I fear the same thing will happen with Banjo Kazooie, which is a shame because Nuts and Bolts really is superbly executed.
Dipping into the demo, most gamers above a certain age will start to feel a bit uncomfortable with how child-friendly it all is. Cute Wallace and Gromit style tunes blare out from your speakers while your eyeballs are assaulted with every candy-like colour of the rainbow.
Banjo and Kazooie have got to be two of the most unlikeable characters ever featured in a game. Banjo meanders around like a big dumb idiot, and Kazooie is the bird equivalent of a nagging spouse. I never liked their games on the N64 (partially because Nintendo / Rare paid to demo the first Banjo Kazooie game on our demo pod N64 while I worked at Electronics Boutique and that horrible title tune drilled itself into my brain like a worm through an apple) and I still don't like them now. But they're absolutely beautifully rendered and in fact the whole game looks stunning, a real showcase for the 360 (though your average run-and-gun gamer would probably violently disagree).
The premise of the game is that once again you're trapped in an insane world, pitting your wits against the evil Grunthilda. Set 8 years after Banjo Tooie, your quest is to do the bidding of the Lord of Games (LOG) and complete various quests to unlock the identity of the true owner of Spiral Mountain.
As ever, Grunthilda will use every means at her disposal to stop you and employs an army of evil mechanoids who will hamper your task at every opportunity.
Thankfully Nuts and Bolts feels like an entirely different game to the N64 versions, because this time around, Banjo can use his mechanical nous to construct various crazy vehicles to aid him on his quest. With the help of the mysterious gibberish-spouting Mumbo Jumbo and the delectable Humba Wumba, you can attain parts and blueprints to help you build bespoke transportation, whether it be wheeled or winged. This part of the game deserves a lot of attention as it's pretty much ensured a preorder from me because it's just so much fun tinkering with different configurations, even trying to make your own bolted together clones of famous movie or TV vehicles (the developers have already stated that people have made X-Wings, Landspeeders and other daft stuff in the game). Brilliant stuff.
The entire game pretty much hangs on whether the vehicle construction and customisation system works well enough to pull in casual players and also give hardcore gamers something to exercise their creative sides with. Thankfully Rare have put together one of the neatest design tools I've seen since Spore's creature creator.
The vehicle workshop in BKNB is blissfully simple to use, feeling like a cross between Meccano, Kinex and Lego. The vehicle bay is like a 3-D grid with parts slotting neatly together on several levels. You are given a basic tutorial that tells you the requirements for simple vehicles, and once you've gone through this you'll have a better understanding of how to use the parts you can collect in supply crates dotted around the hub world of Shodown Town.
Your first few creations might just fall apart at the seams the minute you wheel them out of the garage, so there's a neat vehicle testing area which you can use to really put your creations through their paces (think of this as a giant Tony Hawks Pro Skater park). Once you've finished giving your vehicle a shakedown you can then venture back out into BKNB's blue-sky worlds and put your creation to good use.
Backing up the vehicle support is a magic wrench, which can manipulate objects, turn keys and whack enemies. It's like a cute version of the Zero Point Energy Gun from Half Life 2. The only annoyance is that every time you use it, that bloody bird pops its head out and unfortunately you can't turn round and whack IT with the spanner.
Collecting notes, power orbs and crates will eventually allow you to unlock new areas and gameworlds. Obviously in the demo you are limited to the hub world and one of the initial areas but there's plenty to do and a lot to see surprisingly (it's a pity more demos aren't as fully featured as this).
Flipping the bird
Rare's game-design heritage shines through in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. There's enough brit-centric daft humour to make kids giggle, and enough challenging gameplay to keep adults happy. Controls are intuitive enough for the most part, but sometimes manipulating objects with Mumbo's Magic Wrench can be a bit of a pain, particularly if you're trying to wrestle something unwieldy into your vehicle's collection tray.
It can get a bit annoying when Mumbo constantly nags you about getting back into your vehicle if you spend extended periods of time on foot. BKNB is a platform game, but in sharp contrast to previous outings you really are expected to make the best use of the vehicle workshop and your creations as much as possible. Perhaps it was a quirk of the demo levels but when you're trying to concentrate on one particular task (balancing on a rope to access one hard to reach area) being pestered about leaving your vehicle behind every couple of seconds can get a bit tiresome.
Returning for a moment to Emperor Ming...er I mean Peter Moore's rather unfair comments about Rare's prestige in today's market, it seems a shame that Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts may well end up being a game that sells in piffling small amounts simply because it's a little bit too far removed from the staple fare of most 360 gamers. But if you fancy a break from endless gunplay or racing, you could do a lot worse than this. We'll cover the game in full once it hits shelves on November the 14th but in the meantime