Review by Suprak the Stud

"Feels Like There are a Couple of Screws Loose"

I would say that Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a unique concept, but I really don't think that does it justice. The concept behind the game feels like it was created using Mad Libs and then someone went back and replaced a couple of the words because it didn't sound weird enough the first time through. A bird and bear racing vehicles against a witch to win magic jigsaw pieces from a computer screen in a cape sounds weird, but it is made weirder by the fact that this bird and bear team has previous platforming experience. Taking a popular platforming franchise that has been dormant for ten years but still has some hardcore fans and designing a new game for it seems straightforward enough. Release a new platformer with improved graphics and one or two gameplay innovations and your target audience will spend the entire game squealing in delight (while they aren't busy kissing your feet and constructing an altar). Which is why it makes complete sense that Rare removed any aspect of platforming whatsoever and instead made Nuts & Bolts completely vehicle based. Wait, not made sense…that other thing…uh, oh yeah – demonstrates a complete lack of anything resembling a coherent thought process. While I like that Rare is trying to bring some innovation to their games, this has about as much in common with the previous titles as it does with Diddy Kong Racing. And while the game offers an elaborate and creative create a vehicle mode, the game suffers from a variety of problems that are going to make Banjo and Kazooie wish they stuck to stealing ideas from Super Mario 64.

It has been ten years since the last adventure for Banjo and Kazooie, and it looks as if they've spent al of that time doing nothing but eating, lounging, and doing other things that would make their cardiologist cry.. Mario puts out three or four games per year, but not all video game characters have that same work ethic and as the game starts both Banjo and Kazooie are out of shape and desperately in need of some cardio and sugar busters. Apparently, Gruntilda has had the common courtesy to stay defeated and thus there really isn't much of a need for heroes around Banjo's stomping grounds. Luckily for Banjo and Kazooie's cholesterol levels, an entity known as the Lord of Games shows up, and he revives both the witch Gruntilda and the pair's vestigial careers. Also, apparently the Lord of Games must have some sort of pull over at whatever loan company Banjo was using, because he offers up Banjo's property to whomever comes out on top in the series of competitions he's set up.

The game doesn't ever take itself too seriously, and pretty much all of the missions are lighthearted and have characters making some sort of joke that preceeds the mission itself. However, this doesn't mean the game is funny, and most of what the characters say is more likely to elicit an eye roll than a chuckle. I found most of the dialogue annoying and while there are a couple of parts that are mildly humorous, it is sort of like looking for gold in a garbage pile; yeah, it might be exciting once you actually find the gold, but it really isn't worth it after you've found the tenth used diaper. The game likes to parody certain aspects of gaming in an attempt at humor, but does so in the mind numbingly dumb way that all games attempting parody seem to. First, they point out how stupid something is. “Hur hur arbitrary time limits are dumb.” Then, immediately after, they force you to do the thing that they just admitted was stupid. “Hur hur so here is an arbitrary time limit.” It just makes me thing that game developers and comedians must not have very much overlap. If a comedian tells a joke about how bad airline food is, he doesn't immediately after make everyone in the audience eat some airline food to prove he was right. We get that this isn't any good, and you're basically sacrificing gameplay for the sake of what I tepidly label as humor. The game is also somewhat self referential and self deprecating which some people find amusing but I just find a little sad. The game likes to poke fun at the failure of Grabbed By the Ghoolies and while I've talked to some people that think this is hilarious, I actually played that game and would have been more amused if they had just made a decent game in the first place. There really just isn't enough wit to the writing here, and while it is obvious the game is trying hard to be funny at places, it almost feels as if the game is trying too hard, like a clown who has finally attracted a bit of an audience and is afraid of losing them.

Fans of the series that only liked the idea of controlling a bear in pants and a sassy bird but didn't like the platforming, level design, or fun, will be glad to know that almost all of the formula from the first two games was scrapped entirely in favor of focusing the game around vehicle based gameplay. Now, some of you might be wondering how this words, and I could just respond “not very well at all” and leave it at that, but some of the more curious of you might actually want specifics, so I'll try to keep this as brief as possible to prevent myself from having an apoplexy. In order to unlock new levels and new worlds, you must collect Jiggys by completing various missions offered to you by characters from earlier Banjo & Kazooie games. There are well over a hundred total Jiggys to collect in this game, but nearly every mission boils down to one of two things. You must either drive through a series of loops to get someplace, or take something to someplace else on the map (possibly through a series of loops). And if you're wondering where controlling something through a series of brightly colored loops sounds familiar from, it is the very same premise that Superman 64 utilized and that was received so well that the developers of this game apparently thought it would be a good idea to bring it back and integrate it as a core component of the gameplay. The hoops are so small that even minor mistakes can essentially cause you to veer off course and fail the mission, which is great because nothing makes racing games more enjoyable than small and easily missable checkpoints. To fully complete the mixture of bad game ideas, all of these races have a time limit that you must complete it under in order to win the full amount of prizes, ensuring that hitting all of these small checkpoints your first time through is essentially necessary. However, there are some pretty innovative missions every once in a while, like a game of sheep golf where you must ram sheep into a target area with as few strokes as possible, but far too many of the missions sort of break down to driving through a series of hoops like some sort of trained bear you might find in the circus. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with revolving the gameplay around vehicles, and if the missions were diverse enough and the controls solid, this sort of innovation might actually be nice, as at least the developers are trying to do something new with the series.

Which brings us to the anvil that ultimately sinks this ship and prevents it from reaching Port Awesome: the controls. Originally, when I tried to write this portion of the review, I typed out the word controls, blacked out, and awoke to find the screen full of profanity and what I can only assume was my blood and tears. It is hard to describe how poorly the vehicles in this game control, but if you can imagine someone sticking a steering wheel on to the back of a greased up refrigerator and then asking you to drive it around through a series of hoops, then you'd have a fairly good idea of what it's like to drive around in something in this game, but I expect the refrigerator would at least be able to handle moderate turns. Anything other than a gradual turn the early models of cars in this game seem to have an allergy to, and will refuse to complete unless you slowly nudge them through it, like a fat kid trying to run a marathon. Hit a bump at a slightly weird angle, and your car will go careening off track like a drunken walrus and almost certainly flip over and leave you wishing for the portable refrigerator. Sure, things like this might make it a bit more realistic, but I thought we might have abandoned that when our driver was designed as a talking bear that carries around a sassy bird. This is Banjo-Kazooie, not Nascar 2010, so I think we can abandon realistic crash physics and just focus on the fun. You eventually unlock better controls by unlocking better parts to your vehicle, like improved wheels and engines, but this is an incredibly awful idea as your cars are essentially garbage until you get them. Decent controls are not something that should have to be unlocked, as most people are most likely just going to quit if the controls aren't good to start with.

Control issues aren't simply limited to the driving, as a whole bunch of bad ideas make this game far more frustrating than it should have been. Whoever thought it was a good idea to make the button that grabs stuff in your car and the button that grabs the car itself the same exact button clearly didn't really have the whole concept of “fun” or “functionality” or “logic” worked out. Because I can't recall how many times I wanted to grab something out of my basket during a time challenge, and Banjo couldn't figure out if I wanted to grab the car or the random small item half the screen away that I couldn't possibly have even seen, but he was almost positive that I didn't want to remove whatever item was in the storage part of my car because he wouldn't select it until I manually scrolled threw every item within eyesight. In the category of things that should be incredibly helpful but are instead pillow punchingly frustrating, there is a button that automatically flips your car back to its tires in case it flips over (which it will…a lot). “Wow, what a great idea,” you might say, “Good idea putting this idea, programmers.” And then they'd respond, “No problem! Now which side is the bottom again?” While it is supposed to be a automatically reposition your car button, it operates more like a “cause your car to flip around like a fish out of water” button, and the programmers never seemed to understand the concept that the side of the vehicle underneath the driver's seat with the wheels is probably the bottom. Even more frustrating is when your car flips to one of its sides, or somehow gets stuck up on two wheels and held up by some sort of voodoo magic that prevents it from falling back down, which upsets both me and gravity. For some reason, the game recognizes these as perfectly legitimate positions and the “flip your car over automatically” button becomes the “what do you mean cars don't drive on their sides?” button and you'll have to get out of the car and reposition it yourself. All of these control issues end up making the missions far more frustrating than fun, and even minor mistakes are best remedied by starting the mission over again or snapping your disc in half.

The level design also strikes me as a bit lazy. While the concepts themselves are somewhat creative, including a museum level dedicated to Banjo's past exploits and a level meant to mimic the interior workings of the game console you're playing on, they never are really as well actualized as they should be. Playing through them, it sort of feels like the designers thought the concepts themselves were so strong they really didn't have to worry about anything else. There are a total of six fairly small levels, and while each level has multiple chapters to it, all that typically changes is where the characters start off at that offer you missions. Not only does the gameplay quickly become repetitive, but the areas themselves grow boring quickly as well. Even if there were more levels, it really wouldn't help as none of them are designed that well to begin with. It is sort of like a level editor just threw up all over the place, and the designers didn't really feel like cleaning up the mess.

However, despite all the complaining about the game I've done so far, there are actually some really impressive aspects about it. There is an extensive create a vehicle mode that allows you to create your own vehicle for most of the challenges. In a game that goes out of its way to sabotage itself at every step, implementing gameplay ideas in the same way that a dog might implement the theory of relativity into some physics problems, it is astonishing how well this works. Vehicle creation is both easy to learn and offers a surprising amount of depth. It is a lot of fun tweaking your vehicles, and the variety offered for vehicle creation is really impressive. From building your own body, you can also customize with a variety of gadgets and weapons to make your car effective for a variety of challenges. It really is a shame that the game surrounding this concept wasn't a little better, and it seems like they spent so much time perfecting this create a vehicle feature that they forgot to design a decent game to go around it.

And while the game spends most of its time being awful and ruining your afternoon, there are gleams of genuine fun for portions of the game near the middle. After you start unlocking better parts for your vehicle, but before you unlock the stuff that allows you to breeze through just about any mission, there are some portions where the difficulty is stern but appropriate and it is rewarding to see the fruit of your labor cruise to victory. Some of the missions are somewhat fun and do involve more than just driving through a series of hoops, and it is kind of a shame there wasn't a bit more creativity in terms of level and mission design. However, even when the game is going well, the Rare couldn't help but shoot itself in the foot by forcing you to play through missions that are designated L.O.G.'s choice where they force you to got through some sort of race using some sort of intentionally awfully designed vehicle. I'm not sure if there was some sort of minimal awfulness quota each of the levels had to meet, but if the selling point behind your game is the ability to create and race your own vehicles, it makes no sense to force me to drive around in something that is awkwardly designed and intentionally bad to control. It is like instead of thinking of actual challenges or finding some legitimate way to increase the difficulty, Rare decided the better alternative was to just to force you to drive around in a vehicle that looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and drives like it was put together by a high school electronics class. Luckily, there is a pretty extensive online mode that allows you to take all of your creations online. It is actually a lot of fun improving your creations and then sending them off and competing against other people's creations. It almost makes up for the subpar single player mode, but again there is a lot of emphasis on driving through hoops and if there was a bit more freedom in the track it would have led to a significantly improved experience.

After completing the game and getting to portions that were genuinely a lot of fun, Banjo- Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts ended up being one of the games I was most disappointed by in quite a while. While the create a vehicle feature is well thought out and allows for some great customization, it almost doesn't matter in the slightest because Nuts and Bolts is at times absolutely no fun to play, making the vehicle creation pointless. It would be like giving you access to an entire ice cream sunday bar and giving you access to every flavor and topping you could possibly want, but then being told you could only eat the ice cream with your feet while inside of a working washing mashing. Playing through the game made me feel like I was in an abusive relationship, and every time I was about to just quit and play something else, Banjo-Kazooie: Nut & Bolts came crawling back, promising me it had changed and would treat me better. And for a while, things would get better and I'd remember why I really liked the game at times. However, inevitably Banjo-Kazooie would start drinking again and invite its friends Terrible Controls and Repetitive Mission Design over and I'd have to spend the night bruised and sobbing in the corner. This is one game that I really wanted to like more than I ended up liking it, and my overall score is probably a littler higher than it should be. Despite all of its flaws, it might be worth playing through for the create a vehicle mode because if you have the patience, there are some things to like in Nuts & Bolts if you can stick with it long enough. Otherwise, you're better off just strapping a saddle to your dog and trying to steer it through a series of hula hoops. The experience is pretty much the same and at least this way you can impress the neighbors.

Nuts and Bolts (THE GOOD):
+Great vehicle creation mode
+Enjoyable to take your creation and race it against the A.I. or friends
+Lots of customization; easy to learn how to design vehicles
+Some well thought out and enjoyable missions

Nuts It's Broke (THE BAD):
-Bad controls hamper some of the game
-Missions are repetitive and dull
-Attempts at humor are way off target
-Characters are obnoxious and annoying
-Some missions force you to play with shoddily designed vehicles as a replacement for actual difficulty
-Levels are incredibly basic and lack creativity

Putz and Dolts (THE UGLY): In a game full of bad ideas, it typically is hard to pick out one that exemplifies everything that is wrong with the game, but Banjo & Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is nice enough to not only have such a moment, but to repeat it several times as if it was for some reason proud of it. There is a minigame where a character has created an old school side scrolling game where you are only allowed to jump and you must transverse five different levels of increasing difficulty. While it sounds fairly simple, it is actually somewhat enjoyable to play through. However, the game has an intentional bug where it freezes and the owner has to restart it. And this is supposed to be a joke. And I'm not sure if it is supposed to be funny for anyone else other than the developers who are laughing that we have to play through an entire level again, but I didn't find it funny the first couple of times it happened. It feels like you're playing through the game normally, and then someone at Rare stops the level and sticks there face in, giggling, “Remember when games used to freeze? Hur hur.” And then after rolling your eyes and restarting the level, the same guy shows up again every five minutes to make the same joke. If someone has just burnt themself on a pan, you don't immediately show up to make fun of their hand, especially if you're the one that turned the stove on and hid the over mitts. While I appreciate the attempt at humor, Rare, if you could in the future make sure the jokes don't force me to lose a level and are actually funny, I'd appreciate it.

THE VERDICT: 5.00/10.00

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 04/12/10

Game Release: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (US, 11/12/08)

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