Monday, December 15, 2008
Playing Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts at E3, I wasn't quite sure what genre it fit into. The previous two games in the series were straightforward Mario 64-esque platformers, but the demo I played made it seem like it was purely focused on building vehicles. Having actually sat down with the finished product, it's apparent that it's more similar to its predecessors than I originally thought, and the new vehicle creator adds a brand-new element to the gameplay.
Whereas Nuts & Bolts is still a platformer at heart, the excellent customization options help this tried-and-true format stay fresh. By purchasing, finding, or earning parts, you can head to the garage and put them together in any way you see fit. Once you have a decent amount of these parts, the variety of vehicles available is only limited by your imagination. You can create quick, nimble cars for racing levels, or bulky tanks with cannons for stages that require some offense.
While this creation process is very easy to work with, it's not completely idiot-proof. I spent a decent amount of time constructing a giant battletank, complete with cannons and a giant fist on the bottom of its frame, only to discover that these weapons were jutting out farther than the actual wheels. I was disappointed to learn that I couldn't even drive it once I took it out into the wild, thanks to my wheels spinning uselessly in the air. Thankfully, this is no fault of the game (just my own stupidity), and situations like these can be quickly remedied. You simply load up your vehicle again, make some minor tweaks, and your creation will be driving, flying, or hovering across the stages in no time.
Because of the vehicle creation aspect of the game, missions can be tackled in countless ways. If you find yourself failing with the pre-made vehicle suggestions, you can jump right into the creation mode and design one specifically for the mission at hand. Instead of a "pass or fail" system for clearing stages, you can finish them in one of three tiers. If you're exceptionally speedy you'll get a Trophy Thomas award, while you'll only receive the standard jiggy piece if you hit the average time. Take too long, and you'll only be taking the musical notes you collected back to Showdown Town.
Level progression feels like it's taken straight from the Nintendo 64 days, as you'll unlock new areas within stages by collecting "jiggy" puzzle pieces. It may be an old formula, but it still works. Each of the six main worlds has a ton of different activities and challenges, and the hub Showdown Town area features plenty to keep you occupied as well.
You'll find that your abilities are somewhat limited when you get out of the driver's seat and start walking around. Outside of a couple basic wrench attacks, Banjo is mostly reduced to jumping or carrying things around. Most of the time, the carry system works alright, but it occasionally targets the incorrect object. For instance, in a mission that required me to carry three flaming lava rocks to water in a limited amount of time, there was more than one instance that the game thought I was trying to pick up nearby musical notes instead.
Nuts & Bolts features an immediately likable presentation, filled with beautiful scenery and plenty of self-referential humor (it takes numerous shots at previous games in the series, specifically their reputation as collect-a-thons). While there is the occasional camera issue or hiccup of slowdown, it's never enough to seriously distract from the experience.
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is simultaneously a great throwback to classic 3D platformers and a breath of fresh air in the genre. The level progression may seem straight out of Mario 64, but the new vehicle system makes it more than just nostalgia. With over 100 jiggy pieces to collect, a multiplayer mode, and literally endless vehicle options, Banjo's newest adventure is sure to keep fans of the genre busy for a while.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 8.0
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