The original Banjo-Kazooie did one thing exceptionally well: cloning Super Mario 64. Everything from the level layout to the moves was strikingly similar to the pudgy plumber’s first trip into the third dimension. Considering this, it is strange to see that the newest entry in the series, Nuts and Bolts, isn’t even a platformer. With such a huge change to the formula, is the latest Banjo entry worth jumping into?
When Nuts & Bolts begins, you are caught up on what the characters have been doing since Banjo-Tooie. You are then told that all of the on-foot platforming from the original series is being thrown out and replaced by vehicles. Over the first few hours of gameplay, you are given several cars, planes, and boats and asked to complete a number of objectives while they show you the differing racing and collecting mechanics. You are also introduced to the game’s central innovation: the vehicle creator.
The vehicle creation tools in Nuts & Bolts allow you to drag and drop parts onto an open canvas and develop any type of transportation that your imagination can come up with. You start by adding a seat, follow that up with an engine, and then go through the rest of your available objects — which include weapons, armor, paint, and hull pieces — to see what else you want. The creator is very easy to jump into, and the game offers several training videos to watch if you are having trouble. As you progress through the game, you will have to make everything from transport aircrafts to warships, and the process can only take a few minutes to build a fully functional rig. The creator is open enough to create almost anything that you want, as I have seen in-game variations of Star Wars ships, lumbering dinosaurs, gigantic robots, and even various … umm … body parts, all of which are packed with weaponry and features.
The game requires that you use these created vehicles to beat the assorted challenges available in the game world. For the first third of the adventure, you will able to use premade cars to breeze through the objectives, but the game requires that you use custom rides for many of the later areas. This may seem repetitive, as having to use the creation tools before every mission grows tiresome over time, but the game counters this by providing a steady flow of new vehicle parts for you to tinker with that reenergizes your interest in the creator and opens up new creative possibilities. The game also doesn’t restrict you when creating vehicles for missions in most cases. You could, for example, use a plane in a car race if you wish, or you could just load your vehicle up with grenade launchers and blow all of your challengers off of the road for an easy win. This freedom is very welcome and adds some strategy to your decision-making.
Your reward for finishing any of these challenges is a jiggy, which is the Banjo equivalent to a star in the Mario series. You need 75 jiggies to reach the final level and will search for them in the 6 massive worlds that you can explore. The levels are housed in a central hub disguised as a bustling town, and a lot of vehicle parts and bonuses can be found here. Over the course of the game, you will explore a coliseum, a beautiful sunny island, an amusement park called Banjoland that features areas from older Banjo titles, a dome stuffed with extraterrestrial plant-life, and even a level inside of a gaming console called the Logbox 720. There are also a number of bonus games available to discover, including the fantastic old-school 2D platformer arcade game known as Hero Klungo Sssavesss Teh World! that has you carrying Earth over a number of gaps and hazards while protecting the planet from evil red blobs.
Each challenge in the game requires an extensive use of vehicles and usually focuses on racing, escorting characters or objects, shootouts, or item retrieval. There are also a number of original missions, such as a Soccer mode that has you pushing giant balls into the goal area that adds a bit of variety. While Rare did come up with a number of ways to switch up the formula, most events boil down to variations on the above listed base types, and the repetition in mission design does grow a bit tiresome as the hours tick by. A possible way to spice the game up would have been to include some on-foot missions similar to previous Banjo games. Instead, the game is 100% vehicle-focused and the only real point to getting out of your car is to collect some items that are in hard-to-reach places.
Nuts & Bolts also includes a full online suite that lets you and seven friends party up and jump onto Xbox Live in a number of different modes spanning two categories: sports and race. Sports includes variations of football, golf, basketball, and sumo wrestling among others, while race includes modes such as air battles, circuit races, and hurdles. The best part of the online mode is that it allows you to see, race, and even share custom vehicles with other people. The game runs fine online, and offers a lot of fun modes that mimic the single-player challenges.
Unfortunately, these modes can be difficult to control thanks to some problematic handling. Even if you align everything perfectly while creating your vehicle, the flight and water controls feel loose and you will often find that the driving is a bit unresponsive. The targeting is also problematic, as the game doesn’t provide a reticule to help you with aiming. This forces you to rely on lock-on weaponry in more difficult battles as the standard guns can be hard to hit with.
Unlike the controls, the visual and aural presentations in Banjo are uniformly excellent. The backgrounds in each world are full of clever graphical touches, from the Nintendo 64-like character models used as decoration in the Banjoland level to the Tron-like world of microchips and game disks in the Logbox area. The game is bright, cheerful, and full of vibrant colors that look like visuals taken from a theatrical 3D animated film. The character models in Banjo are also nicely detailed, with expressive facial movements and nice detail like the fur on Banjo’s back. Each world looks remarkably different from one another and the hub-like village area is full of things to do and see.
The music is made up of a fully orchestrated score that brings back some recurring themes from the original titles that now sound better than ever. The sound effects fit the cartoony style of the game with overly exaggerated explosions, clangs, and booms while the various vehicle noises seem to fit your craft nicely no matter how unique it looks. The voice acting is a mix of grunts and mumbles that feels like a natural way to make these characters talk.
At only $40, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a terrific value. Getting 75 jiggies took me over 18 hours, and you can easily spend double that time getting the rest of them, playing online, and creating new vehicles. If you are a fan of earlier Banjo titles or mission-based driving games in general, I urge you to give Nuts & Bolts a chance.