After a long absence from home consoles, the bird and bear pair are back with an adventure that takes them outside of their platforming comfort zone, ala Banjo Pilot for the GBA. However, unlike that portable entry, Nuts and Bolts doesn’t completely do away with platforming - it’s just secondary to Nuts and Bolts’ vehicle creation and exploration that allows you to take your crafts on land, through water, or through the air. Players who completely fell in love with the series’ blend of platforming and item collection are certainly in for a shock, but as someone who found that formula to get old after a while, I wound up welcoming the change in format, although it still took some time to get used to.
I hope that series die-hards warm to the game eventually, as it is a well-crafted game, and still showcases the duo in a “collect-a-thon” - with tons of music notes and “jiggy” jigsaw puzzle pieces to collect. What Rare mainly did was change the method in which you get them. Instead of primarily using platforming skill to snag your rewards, you’ll have to rely on your driving skills, which, like platforming, will require some precise movements in order to prevail. Platforming has been shifted to the back burner, and is now mainly used as a means to acquire music notes. While this massive gameplay shift may seem very restrictive, it isn’t as big a deal as it may seam. You’re free to leave your vehicle at any time and just explore the game’s massive world at your leisure if you so desire. Doing that in the hub world will allow you to become acquainted with its citizens, who aid you in your quest by selling blueprints, or just give you activities to kill time, like playing an 8-bit-inspired side-scroller or even engage in a modified game of bingo.
This wide variety of gameplay options helped me enjoy Nuts and Bolts more than past B&K games. Before, the “collect-a-thon” gameplay became tiring very quickly without having other kinds of gameplay to break it up. Now, Rare has done that with all of the other mini-games available and the addition of a robust roster of modes on Xbox Live. Using vehicles to get around also speeds up the pace a bit, which further helps to prevent the stagnation caused by constant backtracking on-foot that hurt the past series entries.
The core gameplay’s shift of focus from on-foot to vehicular gameplay is even more jarring with the addition of an in-depth vehicle creation tool. However, after a little while, you’ll be able to unlock (or use music notes to purchase) designs that will give you a perfectly usable, if unexciting vehicle to get the job done. You can modify it as much, or as little, as you want. Players feeling really adventurous can even create their vehicles part-by-part - a very time consuming effort that certainly yields amazing-looking results, but isn’t a realistic option for most players. Despite that, I’m glad that the option is at least available, and not being forced into any one style of vehicle creation is a godsend. You can also exchange blueprints with friends, allowing you to download their designs or vice versa. Nuts and Bolts offers up just the right amount of freedom for the player in this regard since those who don’t want to delve into the creation tool don’t have to, while those that do can have a blast creating the craziest-looking vehicle they can imagine.
Of course, creating a zany-looking beast only does so much good - if it doesn’t control well, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, a well-balanced vehicle will control just fine once you’ve gotten over the initial learning curve for each kind of vehicle. The only major downside to the vehicle controls is that it can take a long time to organize your vehicle’s parts in such a way that it is properly balanced and will then control as it should. Fortunately, Banjo’s on-foot controls are easier to get the hang of, and are also incredibly responsive. So much so that they’ll allow you to easily jump from area to area with ease, or even walk across a tightrope to obtain some new goodies without complications.
Online, Nuts an Bolts not only makes getting vehicles easier, but also allows you to keep track of a photo album of your favorite pictures taken through the in-game camera tool, and features an impressive array of online modes to enjoy. You can test your mettle with races on land, in the air, or in water, or engage in some sports-themed games, like soccer/football, basketball, golf, or even a good, old-fashioned stress-relieving demolition derby. The mode variety is quite impressive, although the rules for each game type are tough to read on-screen, so you’ll likely have to learn through trial and error, which much like vehicle balancing, makes the experience a bit more aggravating than it should be.
Like its predecessors, Nuts and Bolts isn’t too heavy on plot, and what’s there is mainly presented through text. Younger players used to games featuring full voice over work may not like it, but I vastly prefer a text-only approach since very few games have really nailed voice acting. However, while it skimps on plot, Nuts and Bolts is heavy on humor. Much of it comes from having the characters point out the gaming cliches that were present in past Banjo games, but some of it also comes from Rare poking fun at itself (like mentioning the commercial failure of Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and changing some of the classic Rare games shown in environments to have disc text that either acknowledges its shortcomings or shills a new installment). The tongue-in-cheek humor keeps the game’s tone light-hearted, and also adds an incentive to progress through the game since you’ll be treated to more humor with each new area you unlock.
However, while I love the humor, it is hurt because text is far too small. It makes reading (and therefore appreciating) the game’s jakes, along with crucial gameplay decisions, like the explanation of a challenge (or online mode), and vehicle creation much harder than they should be since instruction for each is text-heavy and badly impacted by this problem. It also doesn’t appear to be an issue caused by using it on an SDTV, as I’ve tried the game on two SDTVs and one HDTV and all have had the problem. An Xbox Live update is scheduled to be released soon to remedy this issue, but it never should’ve been one to begin with.
Aside from the text problem, Nuts and Bolts is usually visually dazzling. Its environments and characters are immaculately detailed, which combines with a hub world full of characters and some of the best usage of bloom lighting I’ve seen this gen combine to make the world come alive. Unfortunately, the lush visuals do cause the frame rate to lag a bit - never enough to dramatically affect gameplay, but it’s still slightly annoying when it happens.
Nuts and Bolts’ audio is more of a mixed bag than the visuals. Its music is quite beautiful at times, and features a good mix of revamped series tunes along with new stuff that fit’s the worlds, the actions, and is there’s nothing technically wrong with it., the game’s music isn’t particularly memorable, although it does fit its setting and is fairly soothing at times. The goofy, cartoonish sound effects (like boops and boinks) for actions further the light-hearted tone, but can get old after a while - especially since they’re also used in menus and accompany every button press.
Overall, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is an excellent game that gives the series a long-overdue overhaul. Rare has packed it to the brim with gameplay options, giving it a lot of replay value, and allowing it to be enjoyed in either short spurts or longer, more in-depth play sessions. The amount of freedom given to the player is surprising for an all-ages game, and while the more intricate parts of the game’s design may baffle younger players, it still provides an experience that can be enjoyed at a basic level by anyone. At just $40, Nuts and Bolts is an incredible value.