Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360) Review

It's Tuesday, and I have a new review up and ready to go. This is a special occasion because it's my 150th review! Feel free to cheer at your computer screen regardless of if you're in the room with someone or not. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts got a lot of mixed reviews. Which side of the fence did I lean on? Well, you probably already skimmed down to the score, didn't you? You tricky devils! Regardless, all pictures you see here (save for the box art) were taken by me. I wish to share more for tomorrow's update, so stay tuned!

Bear and bird burn rubber.

The original Banjo-Kazooie came out in 1997, and while it was basically Rare's me-too Super Mario 64 clone, it did a lot to make itself better than its inspiration. In 2000, Banjo-Tooie was released and infuriated everyone with Canary Mary. Eight years later and only one handheld game since, Banjo-Threeie is finally-- what? It's not Banjo-Threeie? Then what is it? Why, it's Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts for the Xbox 360. With more horsepower means larger worlds, so is this the game that Banjo fanatics have been clamoring for?

Witch v. Bear III. Only on PPV!

Since their last adventure, Banjo and Kazooie have become quite complacent with their heroic selves. They once again defeated the evil Gruntilda in Banjo-Tooie, and years later the pair have fattened up considerably. Suddenly, Gruntilda is back from the not dead to challenge bear and bird once more. Having had enough of the eternal squabbling between the bird/bear pair and the rascally witch, suddenly the Lord of Games (or L.O.G.) comes in to end this rivalry once and for all. L.O.G. transports the three to the bustling Showdown Town. The rules are simple. If Banjo and Kazooie can beat Gruntilda, they win. And so the game is on. The story is told through in-game cutscenes with gibberish dialogue, something fans will feel nostalgic towards. The writing is hilarious oftentimes poking fun at the game, Rare's fans, and gaming culture in general. You can say all you want about Rare, but they haven't lost their touch with humor for sure.

Banjoland features objects from past Banjo games.

But how do Banjo and Kazooie beat Gruntilda? It can't be so simple, and it isn't. The goal of Nuts & Bolts is to collect good old fashioned Jiggies, golden puzzle pieces. These Jiggies open up new worlds for Banjo and Kazooie to explore. There are six worlds in all, and each world has several acts with new acts opening as Banjo's bankroll of Jiggies rises. Each act has different missions to complete. Each mission complete means a Jiggy for bear and bird. Collect 75 Jiggies, and you can challenge Grunty in one final showdown.

The biggest change to the Banjo-Kazooie formula is that the traditional platforming parts of the franchise are little to be seen. The game's hub world, Showdown Town, is where Banjo can explore, climbing poles, balancing upon electric lines, and et cetera. Banjo and Kazooie don't have any of their old moves from past games, so in their place are customizable vehicles. Wait! Where are you going?! It's not that bad of a change!

The majority of non-vehicular action
occurs in Showdown Town.

To complete the various goals of Nuts & Bolts as well as getting around each world in a faster manner, vehicles are needed. There's cars, carts, boats, hovercrafts, trolleys, copters, planes, and whatever else you can think of. You can use templates from the game and tweak them if you don't have the creative touch, or you can build your own vehicles from scratch. You can put a big engine or series of engines to make your vehicle faster, but you'll need to equip a lot of fuel to keep that gas-guzzler going. You need to concoct your vehicular creation accordingly or else it's liable to fall apart on you immediately or tip over from a lack of balance. Some vehicles just handle poorly, and it can be frustrating in a race having you and your opponents' vehicles stick together or having your vehicle spin around due to a small rock or other environmental annoyance. Speaking of racing, the multiplayer component of the game is all races based on different routes in the different worlds. It runs smooth, it plays clean, and yes, mute everyone talking since it's Xbox Live.

Nothing like a day at the beach to clear the mind.

For those expecting traditional Banjo-Kazooie gameplay, as if vehicles didn't make it clear, let me kill the last thread of hope for you. The exploration and puzzle aspect of collecting Jiggies is gone. Each world's act has a number of characters that have missions for you to complete. You just need to follow the on-screen radar to locate them. A lot of the missions follow the same objective type. Bring this here, destroy all of these there, race me to here, protect me to there, and so forth. There's enough here that the game doesn't get tedious, and if you don't score high enough to be awarded a Jiggy, you can replay missions without having to return to the correct level and act to do so. It's a different, almost sandbox, take with the franchise, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily poor at all. The only gripe I have is bringing your collected Jiggies to the center of town in order to have them tallied up. It's cute at first, but by the fiftieth time it gets tedious to do.

Nothing like some dogfighting to clear the air.

Nuts and Bolts really is about trial and error most of the time, and there were several moments and missions where I cursed the stars at my failures. The true fun of the game comes when you realize that there isn't just one way to complete a mission. No, there's a whole variety. Let me give you an example of what I mean. One mission in Banjoland, the museum-themed world of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts showcasing environments and objects from past Banjo games, where you have to play a soccer challenge. You need to score a given amount of goals within the time limit. At first I was struggling to push the balls across the hilly surface of the level towards the goal. This was a slow and arduous process, but I eventually persevered. Then I tried customizing my vehicle to have a set of blocks extending from the front of the car, a corral for the balls if you will. A ball would enter the corral, and with enough skilled, careful driving, it would cross the goal line. My time on the mission was much better. Then I decided to be smart for once. The idea hit me like a wrecking ball. I built a cage on top of my vehicle, and I had Kazooie use her wand to pick the balls up and drop them into the cage. I drove this soccer ball-filled cage to the goal line, and voila! I had a new record and a minute shaved off my original time. That's the magic of Nuts & Bolts in a nutshell.

Did I mention there were defenders?

In a nutshell regarding Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts' visuals, they are some of the best I've seen this generation. Colorful, vibrant, everything running a smooth rate, technologically impressive, it's all a privilege to look at and play. The soundtrack features an orchestral remaking of several new and classic Banjo-Kazooie themes. Banjoland itself is a medley of past world themes from Click Clock Wood (Banjo-Kazooie) to Cloud Cuckooland (Banjo-Tooie). In a word, the soundtrack is sensational-- not just for fans of the series but lovers of music in general.

The game is graphically gorgeous.

For those fiercely dedicated to the platforming glory days of Banjo, you're going to be deeply disappointed. This just isn't the Banjo-Threeie everyone wanted. But if you can look beyond what this game isn't and look at what this game is, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a solid winner on a console needing more of these types of experiences. There's a huge amount of longevity given the options available to the player when building vehicles, there's multiple missions to perfect and beat T.T.'s best times in, and it's still fun to run around Showdown Town on foot reminiscing about older times.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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