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Review: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

John Funk | 24 Nov 2008 15:00
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As you progress through the game, you'll acquire additional vehicle components, and the Workshop, operated by shaman-turned-mechanic Mumbo Jumbo, is where Banjo and Kazooie go to pimp their ride. This can range from relatively minor alterations, like slapping a bigger engine on a pre-made blueprint for more power, to building one's own vehicle from scratch. There are only a few necessities when creating a brand-new transport: You need an engine, and engines need fuel. If you want to put a gun on it, you need to have ammunition. If you want it to go on the ground, it should probably have wheels; if you want it to fly or float, you need something to help it do that, and so on. Otherwise, the only major limits are the laws of physics.

If I needed to win a race, I took a small car and threw five more engines on it. If I needed to smash up some baddies, I built a squat tortoise of a vehicle and covered it in spikes. For one mission that involved transporting some items across the map, I made what was essentially a big platform and attached a bunch of balloons to it. Sure, Banjo-Kazooie doesn't quite have the creative flexibility of LittleBigPlanet, but that's like saying the Sears Tower isn't as tall as the Burj Dubai.

The amount of options at your fingertips aside, the question that Banjo-Kazooie fans have been asking themselves since the announcement is still, "Well ... is it fun?" Is the vehicle-based gameplay a worthy successor to the brilliant platforming of the first two games?

In a word, no. I wanted to love Nuts & Bolts the way I loved Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, and I didn't. This isn't to say that the game is bad. It's certainly entertaining, and figuring out different ways to tackle some of the missions set in front of you is pretty satisfying, maybe even more than actually accomplishing the tasks themselves. The gameplay of Nuts & Bolts is good ... it's just not great.

It feels like even more of a letdown that the vehicle-based gameplay doesn't work as well as it could have, because all the other pieces to the puzzle are easily up to the standards of the first two games. Nuts & Bolts looks great; it's full of vibrant color which is refreshing amidst a sea of gray and brown "adult" titles, and the different worlds are smartly designed and full of references to past Rare games for long-term fans to enjoy.

The game's biggest asset, though, from start to finish, is its charm. The writing is clever, and you can tell that the team at Rare really relished having a chance to poke fun not just at themselves but the entire videogame industry as well. One of the early worlds takes place inside a videogame console (a la Reboot) where the dimwitted Klungo laments not being able to connect to his Interwebbys, and Banjo and Kazooie must face off against a clan of hardcore female gamers called the "Hag Trolls" whose biggest assets are their "good marketing."

As in movies like Shrek, the humor in Nuts & Bolts is aimed at children but witty enough to make older gamers and parents smile, and it's a huge part of the reason why the game keeps being enjoyable long after one would think the vehicle gameplay ought to have grown stale.

Bottom line: Nuts & Bolts is simply charming, featuring witty writing and a willingness to make fun of itself that is truly refreshing in today's game industry. Just don't expect the vehicle-based gameplay to blow you out of the water.

Recommendation: Rent it - kids should love it, and older gamers certainly can as well.

John Funk is busy working on his Banjo-Kazooie version of Halo's Warthog.

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