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Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

 

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

ESRB: Everyone 10+
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Platformer
 
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Developer: Rare Ltd
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Features

1 Player offline
2-8 players online
1 MB game save
Leaderboards
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p

Famed game developer Rare Ltd. has revived one of its most beloved and successful franchises, Banjo-Kazooie. The latest release is the third instalment in the series. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts should entice new and old fans alike as the famous bear and bird duo return in stunning high definition for a unique adventure of epic proportions. Rare always makes such beautiful and enjoyable games. Titles such as Golden Eye and Perfect Dark come to mind not to mention the popular Viva Piñata and Donkey Kong series. With such a rich background I was looking forward to the new Banjo experience.

Graphics

At first glance this Banjo-Kazooie title has a distinctly childish look to it. The game is bright and colorful with beautiful looking characters throughout. Look past this though and you will see that the game’s depth in design is stunningly impressive. It seems every little corner of every area has a polish that only a development team like Rare can provide. These guys and gals still have what it takes to make video games look so good. One of my favorite areas was one where large gears hold up metal clouds in the sky. It’s a marvel look at both technically and creatively. Nuts & Bolts may not have the serious graphic engines of say, Halo 3, GTA IV or Gears of War 2, but it is equally as impressive and to be fair all these games are completely different genres. Nuts & Bolts is very graphical and technical in its own right. The lighting, shading, textures and beautiful landscapes certainly count as a tour de force experience. The game has to be seen to in action to for you to get sense of the scope and detail of the environments. Furthermore, I found little to no signs of clipping nor did I find any frame rate issues at when I played. I did fight a bout of online induced lag which made things a bit choppy. Overall I was pretty impressed with the visuals.

Sound

Rare has always had great music in most of their games and Nuts & Bolts is no exception. While mostly orchestral in nature the game also has a fantastic sense of what works. There were a couple of upbeat tunes that matched the quirky levels perfectly as the characters bounced around with choreographed perfection. I began to hum a few of them as they defiantly drew me into the game along with the graphics. I even found myself in one of the various levels just sitting there as I listened for almost ten minutes soaking up some musical goodness. I’m already looking for this soundtrack.

Being a bit of an audiophile I was pleased to see and hear the game in Dolby Digital surround. The surround sound is lively and active as any game I’ve heard in recent years. Sound was so clean I could hear such things as the flapping of wings, distant booms, and approaching machines with great separation and enveloping sound. I wish all games could sound this good with such fine attention to detail being such a pleasure to hear. If you listen closely you will also hear some familiar tunes and themes running throughout the game. Rare pays a bit of a homage to the fans of the older games by redoing some of the old faves and including them here.

While the game has no voice work to speak of (no pun intended) you will recognize certain ways the characters communicate and converse. Some people might find the grunts, squawks, and otherwise random noises coming from the speaking characters annoying, but it fits the spirit of the game. I didn’t find it annoying in the earlier games and I didn’t find it annoying now. It’s actually better now because the sound quality is so much better than the Nintendo 64 of yesteryear.

Gameplay

The story of Nuts & Bolts is quite strange, but yet somewhat interesting. The Lord of the Games (aka LOG) is tired of the petty squabbling between Banjo and the evil witch Gruntilda (aka Grunty), so he has arranged a showdown to decide the rightful owner of Spiral Mountain. Claiming to have created every video game ever made, LOG has built the game worlds in which the contest’s challenges take place. To win the deed to their homeland and prevent the evil witch Gruntilda from developing it into tower blocks and malls, Banjo and his best friend Kazooie battle over land, sea, and air against their long-time rival. Familiar faces from the past appear such as Mumbo, Jumbo, Bottles, Captain Blubber and the Jinjos to lend a hand, along with an equally colorful cast of new friends and foes. Gamers will encounter such enemies as Trophy Thomas, Piddles, Lord of the Games and Grunty’s mechanically menacing army of Gruntbots.

The first thing veterans of the series will notice about Nuts & Bolts is the change in focus from its pure platforming roots to a vehicle-based action adventure. Rare says approximately 80 percent of the game occurs in a vehicle and judging from my time playing that seems about right. Some gamers who are fans of the older games may be a bit disappointed at the new direction in gameplay, but I think it actually mixes the right amounts of each gaming type to a tee. This game may look funny at first, but if you play it you can see all the depth that is actually put into the vehicle creation system. The introduction of vehicle building is a stroke of pure genius in my opinion as it adds a whole new dimension to an already inventive platformer.

The game itself is pretty straightforward and jumping right in to the action is the best way to tackle Nuts & Bolts. The early levels are a bit of a tease, designed to ease the player into things. It really begins to pick up an hour or two into it once you have begun to accumulate a decent sized collection of vehicle parts to start your construction. Vehicle parts are literally the nuts and bolts of the game and it can be considered your currency if you will.

The game's challenges throughout require a high level of button pressing (which can be difficult) and the level of difficulty is heavily determined by using the right tool, or vehicle so to speak, for the job. You are given a basic set of blueprints or drawings to start the game with, after which it is all up to you. You can practically build whatever you like provided you have the necessary parts to do so. Not only should your designs look good on paper, they must also be practical. If your machine doesn’t perform well enough to complete the challenge it is back to the proverbial drawing board.

I found out pretty quickly how inadequate poorly designed machines are. For example, in one challenge my objective was to protect a statue from raiding airplanes. On my first try, I made what I thought would be an effective and useful attack plane. After dog fighting for a few tries I found the plane to be cumbersome and quite useless. My next idea was to not fight them but to cover the statue so I built a huge tank made of steel which was big enough to actually cover said statue. Instead of trying to fight the attacking the planes, I parked my contraption on the statue so that it was covering the target. They AI continued to attack my new contraption whey the attacks did not damage me that much and I lasted long enough to finish the challenge. While the process is not perfect, and some frustration may set in after repeated attempts, creative thinkers should love the games tinkering theme. For me this game is very fun and the cartoony feel lends in the new novel approach that Rare has come up with.

Rare’s approach to encourage community sharing is also unique in that Nuts & Bolts allows top players to upload their replays for a given challenge along with their vehicle blueprints. If you are having trouble beating a specific challenge and don't know how to finish it, you can hop online via Xbox LIVE to see how the top-ranked players did it. If you end up downloading any blueprints you can do a number of things with them. You can try to replicate their performance enabling you to finish your challenge or you can head into the workshop for your own custom tweaking of the downloaded vehicle. You can then go for an even better score by improving on the original design. This also may work against you though as by tweaking the wrong parts you may finish poorly or not at all. Think of it as an interactive strategy guide only this one is built into the game and does not cost a thing.

Downloading blueprints does not mean you can immediately put them to use. You need to have the parts to tinker with and this is where the more traditional Banjo-Kazooie style of platforming action comes into play. Parts boxes are scattered throughout Showdown Town. Once you have found and brought back the parts boxes to the shop you can then find out what’s inside. I suppose it’s a bit of an incentive to collect every last box because you do not know what is inside them until you have brought them back. You can also purchase the most basic of parts from a vendor, and this is a handy little out in case you are having trouble finding that one key item or if you need a little help being creative.

Banjo-Kazooie spans over several different worlds that are quite large to downright huge in size. Showdown Town (which can be deemed your home base) is easily as big, if not bigger, than any of the game worlds that you will explore over the course of the game. Some parts of the town are blocked off in the beginning, but more and more of the world opens up as you progress. Some obstacles or puzzles are relatively simple while others require a bit of creativity to surpass. You will have to use your creative side for some of the head scratchers as the most obvious answer is not always the right one.

The game includes some other key features along with the few I’ve touched on so far as Showdown Town also packs a few creative diversions. One is the gym where you can improve Banjo and Kazooie's stats. There is also the bingo parlour and Klungo's arcade to visit. It seems that Klungo has given up his evil ways (for fans of the older games) and seems to be fighting for good the guys now. He also appears in his own rudimentary 8-bit game. I found it is quite easy to get sidetracked wandering around Showdown Town, soaking up and admiring the level of detail and fun the game exudes.

Not all is rosy in this new adventure. There are a couple of issues that popped up during my playtime. One was the computer A.I. will ALWAYS win in a collision. It doesn't matter who hit who, if I rammed an A.I. vehicle with all my might I was always the one spinning off while the AI driver went on his merry way. I noticed this over and over again, and yes it became a bit frustrating as they never ever seemed to bend or break no matter how hard you hit them. Another key issue I had with the game was with vehicle control. Granted control issues understandably can arise because of the custom vehicle creator. After all not every custom vehicle is going to as well as some others, but the control problems I experienced happened with the pre-built vehicles as well as with the custom ones. For the most part I found vehicles did as I expected but they seemed to be prone to spinning out and pulling 180’s with a fair amount of frequency. It felt as if the vehicles would suffer from extreme understeer causing it to spin erratically. Even on soft or smooth corners I found myself feathering the analog knub ever so slightly, trying to avoid the spinouts. It's moments like these that had me wanting to hurl my controller out the window. It was disappointing to hit this speed bump in a game that really has a high level of polish otherwise. To be honest though the game is so compelling it can almost be overlooked.

Going online with Banjo-Kazooie offers a multitude of different options (27 different game types) and plenty of opportunities to show off your custom vehicle. On paper the online multiplayer sounds great, but it actually is not as fun as I hoped, precisely because you can use custom vehicles. Players who have spent a lot of time in the garage, building, tinkering, and tweaking a number of custom vehicles will have a large array of blueprints to choose from when going into online battles. They have a huge advantage over the rookie players who may not have a grasp of the game and have little in the way of an arsenal to fight with. Unfortunately there is no matchmaking aspect like in Halo or Call of Duty where players of similar rank and experience are put together. However, should you want to be successful perseverance is key here and you will be rewarded in the long run. The game allows you to take snapshots of opposing players’ creations in the lobby and you will be able to generate blueprints from the pictures with ease.


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