There are a lot of questions you could raise when a developer decides to take an existing franchise and run with it in a completely different direction. Banjo Kazooie isn’t the platform games you remember on the N64 anymore. All the old school nonsense has been thrown out (or rather, onto the Live Arcade,) and replaced with user-generated-content-friendly vehicle creation game. The first thing that will strike you about this game is that a considerable amount of effort has gone into making the game come across as not only self-aware, but rather quite aware of its context in the pantheon of Rare titles. The premise is that this weird Pong face type of guy shows up called the Lord Of Games (commonly referred to as LOG,) breaking up a brawl between the now-podgy Banjo and the lone head of the witch Gruntilda. With a brief reference to the collect-a-thon of the games past, the main characters are transported to Showdown Town which acts as the hub world of the game, filled with NPCs which have a single line to say (via text because there’s no voice acting,) when you happen to run them down in your trolley.
Showdown Town is the most intricate, detailed part of the game with plenty to do, and it makes a good first impression. Of course, the actual way you progress in the game is beyond one of the many doors in the hub world, in one of the handful of worlds with a consistent theme (and many entrances.) These worlds don’t compare favourably to Showdown Town, generally you go in, complete a few challenges for Jiggies (golden jigsaw pieces, the milestones for progress,) maybe collect a few notes, leave and go through another door to find the world the same world, slightly changed with different challenges. This is okay in the end, because the focus is definitely on the challenges and the interesting ways you can complete them.
Vehicle creation in BK:N&B is pretty good, but it could have been great if only they felt better to control. Functionally, there’s a wide variety of things you could design your craft for, and the missions play on this quite well, but for whatever reason, the crafts you build aren’t a complete joy to control – when flying through the sky, the axis seem to be temperamental about trying to pitch and turn at the same time, and felt like my jet was twitching unexpectedly sometimes when simply trying to line up with a checkpoint. On the ground and water, subtle brushes on the side of your craft seem to experience high friction, often resulting in you getting turned around completely. This sounds like a harsher complaint than it really is, as it is by no means a game-breaker. For me, this meant that I really had little to no interest in playing the multiplayer side of things, and that evenly matched races (in other words, races where the craft you race is forced on every entrant) seemed more frustrating than the other events. The niggles I mentioned are heavily mitigated by the wildly varying challenges; they’re all set up by the standard Banjo cast playing a certain role within the aesthetic of the world you find them in, and they all have some crazy tasks for you, from getting a sail-powered wheel based craft to the top of a giant alien plant, or playing an impromptu round of golf with a spherical sheep. You’ll need to design craft for speed, for combat, for transport, for manoeuvrability, for weight specifications, for bulldozer potential, for herding, the list could really keep going and going, and the parts available to you are just as numerous. Although your crafts will never require the rigorous testing that you might expect to do to one of your mechs in Chromehounds, it does have some level of awareness of how things are distributed on your craft. For the most part, you can get away with slapping engines and/or jets on some wings on top of a tripod of wheels and it’ll behave fine so long as you make a paltry gesture towards symmetry and even weight distribution, but on the same token, if you want to go deep, you can get those little performance boosts by tweaking and testing to perfection, so the creation process strikes a nice balance between rewarding the ridiculously hardcore and not alienating the casual.
In fact, the theme of rewarding the hardcore but not terribly penalising the casual is quite prevalent throughout the game, back in Showdown Town, there’s a myriad of activities you can engage in, like Jingo Bingo, freeing the innocent Jingos and incarcerating the bad ones (though being being black and snickering evilly seems a bit like racial profiling if I’m honest,) combination safes to unlock, crates to find filled with vehicle parts, and even a somewhat hokey “arcade” which consists of one old-school looking game called Hero Klungo Saves The World and utilises the jump button to great effect (actually this one I played through to the conclusion, so as hokey as it is, I have to admit there’s something cool and addictive about it,) but you don’t actually have to do these if you just want direct progress to the end, which is an epic challenge after you collect your 75th jiggy. Nuts And Bolts even seems somewhat geared towards casual play, since each individual challenge can be done in a matter of minutes, if you don’t include the variable amount of time you’ll spend crafting a contraption fit for the task, and that feeds back into the player tailoring the experience to suit themselves. The construction process can be expedited by use of the default chassis’, which is a collection of basic arrangement of the cube and wedges that make up the bodywork of any vehicle, or alternatively you can spend hard earned notes on prefab blueprints, so you truly only have to go as deep as you want to.
Probably the most standout feature of Nuts And Bolts is the writing; Kazooie and the cast make frequent references to things in the culture sphere of gaming, previous Rare games, the Frag Dolls (via a parody equivalent “The Hag Trolls”,) etc, another list that could go on and on. It feels quite unfortunate that it’s all delivered by text, when you have lines this clever and so well placed to hit the target audience, it’s a real shame that there’s no voice acting compelling players not to simply skip over the dialogue boxes (lest they use their reading and comprehension skills.)
Videogame purchasing advice often seems to come down to how much money you have to burn, and with Nuts And Bolts launching at a budget price, it’s certainly more a question of whether you have the time. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts is certainly a rewarding single player experience, with plenty of variety and some solid creation tools. If you’re down with the aesthetic, not bitter about the lack of platforming, and are keen to get your hands dirty creating a vehicle to flawlessly achieve your goals, this is a title you shouldn’t miss.