What do two of the gaming world’s most recognisable video game characters do when they’re not featured in a game for ten years? Apparently, they sit around eating pizza and playing video games not having a care in the world. This is what I was introduced to when I started playing Nuts & Bolts, and from that moment on I just knew the game would provide me with humour like I’d never seen before.
For those new to the series, which started back in 1998 on the Nintendo 64, Banjo is a bear and the protagonist of the story who with the aid of Kazooie – a bird – must defeat the evil witch, Gruntilda. Whilst Banjo and Kazooie have been piling on the pounds, the skeletal head of Gruntilda has spent the last eight years bouncing out of a cave.
This time around Rare have taken a completely new approach to the series and the game’s story revolves around a video game within a video game. From the off we are introduced to Lord of Games (also known as LOG), a floating cathode ray tube monitor displaying the game Pong. LOG has created a video game in which it wants Banjo, Kazooie and Gruntilda to feature. After an obvious reference to Viva Piñata and some more laugh-out-loud moments, the characters enter Showdown Town in which the video game begins.
Developers like to include the odd reference to their other titles in their games and Rare are no different. You could even go as far as saying they’ve gone a little overboard with it. Nuts & Bolts contains numerous references to the likes of Viva Piñata, Kameo: Elements of Power and even ‘Xbox-flop’ Grabbed by the Ghoulies, which pre-occupies various bins within the game. Without a doubt the most interesting references are to Killer Instinct, Battletoads and Jet Force Gemini, which all apparently have sequels “in the pipeline.” Whether this is another aspect of Rare’s comedy genius or an actual announcement is a pondering thought.
Rare have never failed to make me laugh in a game and Nuts & Bolts is no exception. The comedy will appeal to players young and old just like Conker: Live and Reloaded did a few years ago. Many Banjo-Kazooie fans may be disappointed by the prospect that the majority of the game is racing-based, rather than the traditional platformer. Being an avid fan of racing games, the new approach from Rare went down quite a hit with me, and when I got my paws on the game I was slightly disappointed though mostly joyous. The handling of the vehicles at first is fairly awkward but I soon got used to it and was driving around Showdown Town in my trolley like a professional.
Not only can you drive around in vehicles, but you can design and produce them in Mumbo Jumbo’s workshop. Using parts collected throughout playing the game, you can design vehicles to suit the needs of your challenges. The customization of the vehicles is very simple to use and if that wasn’t enough, you can even obtain blueprints from the game’s characters to assist you on your adventure. New blueprints and parts for your vehicles can be unlocked at certain jiggle milestones; picked up in crates around Showdown Town and purchased using notes, and I’m not talking about a fiver. Instead, musical notes.
Banjo-Kazooie was always known for its collectible musical notes and jiggles, which make a welcome return in Nuts & Bolts. Musical notes are situated in various places within the game, normally in groups and can be used for buying parts, blueprints and hints among many other items; whilst jiggles must be earnt via participating in an assortment of challenges throughout the different worlds. These challenges range from collecting items for the game’s characters to racing them round a set course.
The single player adventure will take players a fair while to complete, though the fun doesn’t stop there. The addition of multiplayer came as quite a surprise for me, and what a surprise it was. The Xbox LIVE feature of Nuts & Bolts contains seven different game modes, each based on difficulty and whether you want play as a team or on your own. The majority of the game modes work well, though there is one very irritating aspect. In some of the game modes you are forced to use LOG’s vehicles, which are normally very clumsy and slow. Other than the vehicle choice and the fact that games are hard to get, due to the small numbers of people playing the game online, the online multiplayer is a hit. Whilst it may not live up to the same standards as the single player, it’s another welcome addition to the game.
As for the game’s achievements, they are rated quite highly in my books because they encourage the players to complete the game to the limits: unlocking all the jiggles, finding all the musical notes and even participating in some activities they may not have thought of doing within the game.
Graphically, Banjo-Kazooie has never looked better. I can’t fault the details and all the game’s environments look fantastic, which comes as a surprise, as the worlds are fairly large. As for the audio, the soundtrack fits Nuts & Bolts really well, though it’s the lack of voice acting which lets it down for me. The amounts of text you’ve got to read through to understand the story is quite a lot, this could have easily been solved by introducing voice actors, and not only that, but on standard definition televisions the text is too small to read.
As well as problems with text length and size, Nuts & Bolts does contain other problems. Long loading times (which can be marginally helped by installing the game to the hard drive) and very obvious frame rate drops spoil the game’s rather nice presentation.