I was just as worried as many of you were when I first heard that the latest installment in the Banjo-Kazooie series would be less of a platformer and more of a racer. I have fond memories of the original Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64, which was an excellent platformer that actually held up pretty well when I played it again only a few months ago. I'm happy to say it's turned out even better on the Xbox Live Arcade, which I would have bought in a heartbeat had I not preordered the third game, Nuts & Bolts.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts won me over with its opening cutscene. Eight years of stuffing their faces with pizza and playing video games as left Banjo and Kazooie fat and lazy. When the evil witch Grunty's skull unearths itself from the grave, the Lord of Games (or LOG for short) decides to make his appearance and make their fight more interesting by forcing them to compete in a world of vehicular challenges. While this is a departure from the classic platforming style of the old games, Banjo can wander about on his own two feet just like the good old days. The platforming elements aren't as great as the old games and the duo lacks the variety of abilities they once possessed, but it's still nice to do some item collecting on foot once in a while.
Considering 80% of the game is spent behind the wheel, it's important that the game doesn't suck in the driving department. I'm happy to say that it doesn't completely suck, but the vehicles don't handle as well as they could. You'll often find yourself flipping over or flying way off course, which really sucks when you're in the middle of a tough challenge. Once you get used to the game a bit more, things get a little better, but it still feels like Rare could have put a bit more work into making the core gameplay handle better. It all feels very floaty (seriously, I've had a supposedly heavy vehicle be knocked into the air and gently float back down) and very hard to control at times.
Even though I'm not 100% certain I enjoy taking on challenges, I do enjoy just about every other aspect of the game. When you're not entering LOG's game worlds and collecting Jiggies through challenges, there's a large hub world where you can do some platforming to collect Notes (the game's currency) and Mumbo Jumbo's crates (which contain more parts). Of course, you do get a basic trolley to drive around town, making it easier to cart around any crates you may find, but it needs some upgrades to really get anywhere. You can use any vehicle you build in the game worlds, but LOG will restrict you to the trolley in town. What kind of platformer would this be if you could just build motorized stairs to aid you in your item collecting rather than earning upgrades to open new areas for exploration?
Speaking of motorized stairs, another part of this game that will suck your life away is Mumbo's Motors, where you can build your dream car, plane, hovercraft, or whatever other crazy inventions you can think up. You'll need a lot of parts to get really creative, but from what I've seen in the demo and online, there are some cool parts that could make for some interesting contraptions. I've already spent a few hours messing around with the editor, even this early in the game when I have so few parts. When starting a challenge, you can usually pick a vehicle you've created or even make one up on the spot. It's fun to test out ideas and see what works in what challenge. You can even save your creations and send them to friends!
The online multiplayer was pretty fun the few times I got a game going, though it can be unbalanced unless you use pre-made vehicles. I could see it being a lot of fun among friends, especially since the game features local multiplayer, which is a much needed feature in today's online-centric world. Leaderboards are also present, giving players even more to compete over.
Diehard Banjo-Kazooie fans may have trouble getting used to all this vehicular nonsense, but I'm sure they'll find comfort in all the familiar faces. Nuts & Bolts is riddled with inside jokes and references to the first two Banjo-Kazooie games as well as many other Rare titles. The game is also quite aware that it's likely to be hated by fans and keeps a good sense of humor about it. The idea of Banjo and Kazooie being stripped of their platforming skills and tossed into a world of racing seems like a kick in the nuts to fans of the series, but the game does a lot to please the fans, too. I feel as though my enjoyment of this game takes a hit because I've never played Banjo-Tooie, but the references I do get make me smile every time.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a hard game for me to judge. The gameplay has its flaws, but the rest of the game is beautifully polished. The jokes are top notch and they only get funnier if you've played the first two games. The vehicle creation is great fun, especially when you've got a ton of parts to work with. I'm looking forward to seeing some awesome photos and replays when the community site goes up.
At $40, fans of the Banjo-Kazooie series can't go wrong. It may not be exactly what we wanted for Banjo-Threeie, but it's not a letdown by any means. The humor and atmosphere alone is worth the price of admission. As for non-fans, I recommend you check out the original Banjo-Kazooie when it hits the Xbox Live Arcade on the 26th and become a fan of this great series.