How many 64 fans went out and got themselves a 360? Whatever the figure, the reception of Banjo Kazooe: Nuts & Bolts could be dependent on it. Rare was the one company that developed with near unshakeable quality for the Nintendo 64, and their buy-out by Microsoft left some fans slightly bitter. That said, I don’t think any of those that defected from the Big N to Microsoft during the following generation will be able to leave this one on the shelves. It’s Banjo. It’s Kazooie. It’s been too long and it’s too exciting.
In the eight years since he vanquished Gruntilda at the climax of Banjo Tooie, Banjo has sat around as king of Spiral Mountain, playing his Xbox 360 and hoarding kilograms of fat as though they were precious jewels. Without an enemy, what is he? Just a pudgy bear of non-descript genus crammed in to his yellow stubbies. Luckily, a strange entity called the Lord of Games (L.O.G) comes to the rescue of the bear and his feathery friend, by resurrecting Grunty (who has spent all this time as an animate skull who poses no other threat than the ability to speak in rhyme) and taking her and the duo to Showdown Town.
In Showdown Town L.O.G explains that he has devised a new set of game worlds for Banjo to explore, each full of musical notes (currency) to collect, and Jiggys, that will open new worlds as he progresses. Along the way, of course, there will be plenty more delights to uncover. Oh – and the witch just wouldn’t be witchy if she didn’t try to bust up his mojo along the way.
Back to those defected fanboys for a moment – they might have been happy enough with this combo alone. A new platform to play on, new worlds, another crack at besting Grunty, a fresh hub world to explore and all with better graphics. But could Rare have safely made such a game? And would Microsoft allow it? Probably not. There had to be some way of separating the original games out from Nuts & Bolts – and their answer, it seems, was vehicles.
Most of the time you spend playing this game will be at the helm of one of your custom built vehicles, for which you can collect over 1600 parts to fit. Engines, weapons, wheels, seats… every part of your ride is customisable to the full. Later, you’ll pick up the bits and bobs you need to patch together aeroplanes and tanks. At first, Mumbo Jumbo – returning from the previous games – will show you how to put together a basic four-wheeler that you can use to cart things about in.
In the game worlds, the way you earn your Jiggys is by competing in Jiggy Games with the characters that populate the landscapes. Many of them, like Mumbo or Bottles, are back from Kazooie and Tooie, but there’s a few new faces around too. Each of them will challenge you to a race or a race against time, in which you’ll have a chance to earn a note, a Jiggy and a trophy. The trophies are only secured if your finishing time is acceptable. This is the same with Jiggy’s, also, but the requirements are rather less stringent. When you have your Jiggy safely in your possession, you can bank it in Showdown Town, where it totals up with any others you’ve collected to open up new places to explore.
All there is to say about the graphics is that the worlds are gorgeously rendered masterpieces. This game is beautiful. Like most of Banjo’s historical explorations, the interaction with the landscape in Nuts & Bolts is completely non-linear. You’re free to charge around in your vehicle (although, at first you’re gonna putter rather than charge) collecting items and having at enemies. Gruntilda’s nasty Guntbots are out in force to try and upset your progress during the Jiggy Games, but you can use Mumbo’s Magic Wrench, wielded by Kazooie, to lay the smack down. You can also use your wrench to call your vehicle to you if you have to dismount and make any great distance on foot. You can’t use this feature during a timed Jiggy Game, though. How easy to you want the game to be?
Returning from the N64 titles is the lack of real speech. Each character makes his or her own grunting or sighing sound as they talk, which some find slightly irritating. It's okay by me – my one gripe is actually to do with the size of the text in the boxes. It’s tiny. I tried getting close to the TV and I also tried backing off a bit. Unfortunately, between the font, colour and size, it’s just not easy on the eye. It’s not so bad when you’re in control of the action, pushing A though the screens, but if it’s a cut scene or sharp banter between the notoriously fork-tongued Kazooie and L.O.G, say, it’s very difficult to follow. I should imagine this corrects itself somewhat in hi-def, but if you check out a couple of forums, the dodgy text is something that’s got a few gamers worried after playing the demo. As for music, it’s cheery, and some of it’s classic. A lot of the look and feel of this game will remind those familiar with older versions what a joy this franchise has always been to play.
With so many vehicle parts, places to go and people to see, Nuts & Bolts is going to be a game you keep going back to. Just getting to the end will require hours of commitment, but, it’s not like you need an excuse, right? Apart from a confusing premise (the story is a little bit weak) and the small text, this game is a massive success. As a fan of the old 64, I have to humbly admit a full 180 on my view of the 360.