E3 Hands-On: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts

One of the undisputed gems of the Nintendo 64 was the action platformer Banjo-Kazooie. The title followed a pair of buddies as they battled the evil witch Gruntilda and her minions, all the while collecting musical notes and jigsaw pieces (referred to in-game as “jiggies”) in order to unlock new areas. Now, after a long absence and a botched sequel (the utterly skippable Banjo-Twooie), the pair is back for another adventure, and this time they’re packing some horsepower.

The driving element behind Nuts and Bolts is building and using vehicles in order to accomplish objectives. In the demo we got to try out on the E3 show floor, you found yourself in Banjo Land, an homage to past titles in the series. Scattered around the world were pre-made vehicles which you could use to climb up tall hills, reach remote areas, and generally explore areas no bear can traverse alone. Our personal favorite was the buggy with a spring and gyroscope, which would allow you to launch the vehicle high into the air and then do tricks like flips and spins before you came down. The Microsoft rep on-hand explained that this particular car would be good for stunt challenges, where you have to perform tricks in order to score enough points to advance.

We also got a very small taste of the vehicle editor, where you can take in any existing contraption or create your own from the ground up in order to make a custom transportation machine. For our purposes, we took an existing design and slapped some wings and jet engines on it and made ourselves a buggy ready for both land and air. The construction room was jam-packed with items to use for building (there will be well over 100 parts in the final version), but we were assured that you had to unlock pieces as you go, so someone can’t simply head in at the beginning of the game and create a machine that can best any challenge. Also, the gradual introduction of pieces will allow players to slowly learn the intricacies of how to construct vehicles, rather than throwing them to the wolves straight away.

Of course, there’s no reason to have all these methods of travel if you can’t use them, and that’s where the challenges come in. Whenever you’re in a challenge level like Banjo Land, various points on your mini-map will be highlighted with jiggie icons. Heading to one of these locales will start a challenge that you must pass successfully if you want to win the coveted piece. The objective we tackled concerned George the Ice Cube, who had slid away from his wife and ended up in a hot desert. Because George is so big and can’t be moved by hand, Banjo was given the option to choose one of three already created vehicles to scoop up the rogue frozen block and get him back home.

We first tried tackling the challenge with the “beginner” vehicle, a cart with a large, shallow bowl on top where we could sit George down and push him back up the mountain. However, physics got the better of us, and every time we tried to stop or change direction George would invariably slide out and fall back down the mountain. Strangely enough, the Microsoft rep mentioned that almost no one had been able to complete the objective with that vehicle, and we’d actually have an easier time with the “advanced” contraption. In this case, we powered up a helicopter which used a sticky ball to grab onto George and haul him up the mountain. After a few tense moments of trying to perfect our command of altitude control as George swung wildly about, we got him back to his beloved wife, free to continue his chilly life.

Nuts and Bolts is shaping up to be the sort of game that will appeal to anyone who likes problem-solving and figuring out their own way to do things. The game is sure to shape up a bit like Spore’s Creature Creator in that it’ll likely take you a few failed attempts before you really make something good, but once you do, you’ll take greater pride in knowing that it was solely the result of your skills and abilities that you managed to figure it out. Now, instead of taking the vehicles developers have designed for you to achieve a goal, it’s all up to you to make it happen. If you’ve ever wished for a game that gives you unparalleled freedom while retaining some sense of overarching structure, this is it.

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