Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the third proper console entry in the Rare-developed series, founded on the Nintendo 64, one that steers the former action-adventure platformer into new territory. Gone are the Super Mario 64-like romps traipsing through green mountain sides and caves dripping with molten magma, replaced by driving and flying challenges through green mountain sides and caves dripping with molten magma. Nuts & Bolts eschews traditional running and jumping mechanics almost completely, instead focusing on mission-based vehicle challenges that don't veer too far from the series' core, but veer far enough to give fans pause.
With a driving, flying and boating replacing hopping and bouncing, with almost everything else that made the series seemingly in tact, does Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts sink or swim?
Deep But Simple Vehicle Customisation: Given that Nuts & Bolts' relies so heavily on a wide range of customised vehicles, the construction in Mumbo's workshop had better damn well work. It does, thankfully, with bespoke vehicles Duplo block-simple to throw together in 3D. Vehicles provided stock by the Lord of Games or via blueprint generally work well enough to get by, but you can always do a little bit better. Whether it's as simple as trimming some excess weight and slapping on a beefier engine, or something more creative, like tossing on some balloons and springy wheels for better hang-time, there's plenty to fiddle with here.
Superior Visuals: Rare knows how to deliver fuzzy caricature, but it's also expert at making the inhabitants of its games feel alive. Showdown Town is visually awesome to behold, rife with careful detail and dripping with cool visual tricks. The visual integrity of the various game worlds may be inconsistent, as can the frame rate — it can seriously chug — but it's a pretty little package.
Value: Like Rare's other 2008 release, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, Nuts & Bolts comes budget priced. (Banjo Kazooie is definitely the better value of the two.) The game is packed with things to do and collect, worlds, challenges and vehicle parts to unlock, ensuring that even after you've burned through the 12- to 15-hour single-player portion, you'll have plenty left to do. Multiplayer is a nice addition, but generally feels like a series recycled single-player experiences, not something that will likely replace your current online gaming obsession.
Sense of Humour: Rare offers a massive dose of self-referential humor, poking fun at its commercial failures, its reputation for widget and doodad collecting marathons, and past Banjo Kazooie games. Stabs at the Xbox 360 console, the Frag Dolls and even Mario are peppered throughout, offering some genuine laugh out loud moments.
Horrible Vehicle Handling: While the challenges offered to Banjo and Kazooie in exchange for collectible Jiggies are typically straightforward and simplistic, actually completing those challenges can be maddeningly difficult due to the game's awkward vehicle physics. You'll spin out while racing, get hitched up on corners while cruising around Showdown Town and slip off platform edges more often than might keep you sane. Nothing's hard, necessarily, just too much repeated effort to get the job done.
Escort Services: Nowhere is the game's unforgiving physics model more frustrating than in protection and escorting missions. Trying to protect multiple battlefronts while manipulating tanks or choppers seems wildly out of whack difficulty-wise with the rest of the game's challenges. Since on-foot travel is so slow, you'll have to stay in your vehicle for almost all missions. When those missions involve firing upon or ramming into multiple foes with a slippery ride, you may dread completing your Jiggie count. Also, having to deposit Jiggies in the bank after winning them, as well as carting vehicle parts back to the centre of town to unlock them adds an extra layer of escorting anti-fun.
It's A Collect-a-thon Too: Inasmuch as Rare comically turns the lens upon itself over its obsessive item collecting gameplay mechanics, it doesn't appear that criticism has been taken to heart in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. You're still hoarding a ton of stuff: parts, notes, Jiggies, trophies, Jinjo challenges. Perfect for the maniacal completist, but tired for those of us who had enough "thing" warehousing last decade.
Highly Polished Dullness: Many of the game's challenges simply aren't any fun — driving around in a circle for two minutes, for example. For as much stuff as there is packed into Nuts & Bolts, there isn't a ton of substance. The core gameplay feels distinctly hollow, with the real appeal seemingly for those who prefer to beat the clock, optimise their creations and see 100% of each widget and doodad in their inventories.
Banjo Kazooie enthusiasts may bemoan the lack of platforming, whatever that really means anymore, in Nuts & Bolts, but the game is actually quite enjoyable as a unique take on the action-adventure genre. It almost feels like Rare — and the Banjo Kazooie fan, for that matter — would have been better served offering a compromise of gameplay styles — things that can be completed with and without the use of the game's near infinite customised vehicle choices. In the end, Nuts & Bolts feels more like a googly-eyed version of a Grand Theft Auto game, one filled with simplistic driving missions piecing together a micron thin storyline.
Even if you despise the new direction that Rare has taken with the series, given the financial investment required, we'd advise cautious fans giving Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts a spin. The urge to see and do everything may peter out, once you've had your fill of scratching your collection itch or suffered through some of the game's deplorable vehicle handling, but there are still moments of fun buried within.
Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was developed by Rare, published by Microsoft Game Studios and released in Australia on Nov. 20 for Xbox 360. Retails for $69.95. Completed single-player campaign, tested online multiplayer.
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