Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
It’s been ten years since the original Banjo-Kazooie saw its first daylight and in that time the game has made it to that small list of titles where many people put on their all time favorites. It was one of the first 3D platformers and in many ways it helped creating the basis for what we are accustomed to today. But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Three dimensional platform games are so common these days you get them for free with a bottle of milk. Rare has been bought by Microsoft which made them lose their mojo according to some. Platformers have become toddler turf and movie marketing tools. And last but not least I’ve done a lot of growing up and I can’t help but notice that some fond memories could have done without a 21st century revival. However, a loaded history or not, we all like a good platform game right?
Wrong! All of you looking a B-K 3, go, run away as far as you can and never come back. Those who are willing to try a new angle and a (semi) fresh concept should read on. Also, if you are a fan of the general nuttiness and humor that are so common in the Rare games, you won’t be disappointed. Instead of just reviving the evil witch Gruntilda and making you hop along dozens of crazy disturbed levels, Rare decided to go about it in a slightly different manner. They decided to resurrect Grunty and make you duke it out with her over many crazy levels.
Nothing fresh there you say? Well instead of just fighting the witch, you are both captured by the Lord of Games or L.o.G. along with most of the cast from the original games. Everyone is taken to a completely new world filled with a range of awesome game levels featuring different settings and eighties music themes. In comes the big twist: In those worlds you need to complete many tasks and races using vehicles you get to build yourself. He who comes victorious out of Showdown Town will become the owner of Spiral Mountain, the well known home of Banjo.
To build these vehicles you need to collect many boxes hidden around Showdown Town. Some are easy to find, others are well hidden and few are unreachable, at first. In your main world you only get to use your basic vehicle which is nothing more than four wheels and a tray to put stuff in. As you progress through the game, some new worlds get opened up and every now and then your town cart gets an update after racing Gruntilda or her sidekick kitten. An updated cart means getting into a previously unreachable world.
Progress in the game is made by completing the main events in the worlds within the time limit. Rewards for completion consist out of jigsaw puzzle blocks or “jiggys”. Return them to the jiggy-collector when you find the time and voila, adding enough pieces opens up a new world to explore or new events in an already opened one. Too easy for you semi-pro gamers? You can try to complete the races at record pace to get a T.T. trophy (Trophy Thomas Trophy, haha clever) and look impressive over at the online leaderboards. Next to the main events there are also Jinjo creatures hidden around the maps providing smaller chores that are rewarded with tokens you can use at the local bingo game to win silly prizes.
Collecting boxes for parts isn’t the only way to get your hands on some sweet tune-ups for your rig. You can also go to the local shop and buy parts and blueprints. That’s right, if you are not in the mood to play mechanic you can buy ready to go schematics for most of the vehicles you will need. Don’t count on them to win you many T.T. trophies though. To buy stuff, you need currency which comes in the form of music notes hidden all around the game.
So the setup seems simple enough to work, but can it entertain? Well… not really. Right from the beginning of the game it feels like there was something missing. The worlds are beautiful enough. In fact the whole game has about the most stunning graphics I’ve seen on the Xbox360 to this date. Racing feels solid enough whether it is on land, through water or in the air. You can compare it to Diddy King Racing and I enjoyed that other famous Rare title more than enough on my friend’s Nintendo 64 back in the days. The controls are also quite fine and rarely provide opportunities for frustration while the same can be said for the camera positions which are often a critical point in these types of games.
The racing itself is quite well done. The whole physics engine is pretty much perfect for any collision you have or object you have to lift. Fill up your booth and you slow down, get shot at and parts start falling off, it’s all present. Detached parts can be mended back on, even in mid flight. The further you get in the game the more challenging the races and opponents become and Rare really makes an optimal use of the same arena for about 20 or so races. Bored with racing? Go do something else in the crazy Banjo universe.
Nope, everything seemed fine when figuring out what was bothering me. Maybe it was the lack of real voices and having the main protagonists grunt and mumble all the time. Then again, the same could be said for the original and I loved that. Heck even if it is all in grunts and subtitles, it still remained funny as hell. Half the time I was smiling during the witty conversations.
Maybe I wasn’t too much into games that involve an overdose of collecting items until you go blind of exhaustion after the millionth trip back to the main square. Mind you that the collecting isn’t really mandatory. One can get around fine by just doing the main events, getting the reward notes and buying parts to go along with those from the boxes that are planted near the road to the game worlds. So that wasn’t really the issue for me. I like collecting all kinds of stuff, certainly if it unlocks achievements for which I crave so much. Hell, I even got mad at Sonic when he lost most of the rings I collected after running into some sharp object when I was a kid so collecting is in my blood. You even have a handy tool called “Mumbo’s magic wrench” which allows you to pick up anything, create and repair vehicles and even swing at an enemy.
So during the time I was looking for the missing link I started forgetting what I was looking for from time to time and when I arrived at jiggy 25 or so it struck me. There was nothing wrong with the game per se; it just starts out way too easy. I get it that you need some “slow” levels to get the more, err, “sucky” players up to speed but come on, you are not supposed to keep everyone on a slow pace for a fifth of the game. Luckily enough for Rare, the first few hours you are too busy discovering, collecting and creating stuff so one might not notice it at first, or at all, but it does uncover a major flaw in the game. How long can someone stay interested in arcade racing and collecting?
Well, I can tell you I just barely made it to the good stuff. And even then the game isn’t really making me fall in love with it. The concept is good, the mix of genres is daring and it works well enough for me but the game is lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. The racing is pretty smooth and even when it seems to become a chore-like series of tasks it still remains addicting as hell.
So, there you have it. Rare made a stunningly beautiful arcade build, race, collect and explore game that excells in every department. It is addicting as hell and I have troubles putting it away. There are plenty of online features like sharing blueprints, racing each other and making a photo album. But the very core of the game, the concept of mixed genres, poses a threat to the experience itself. You have to get through some plain levels to experience the absolute gems. If you can’t sit through the first part of mediocre races, and no one can blame you for it because they are not challenging at all, you might miss out on a very pleasant game. I blame the core of the game itself because you need to go through every aspect of the racing before you can mix it up all together. Once the multi-terrain vehicles get into play, this game starts a second refreshing part. The best way to go about the game is to try and get T.T. trophies right from the start by creating the best possible vehicle at that time and keep the challenge alive. Because if you decide to cruise trough the game, you won’t be entertained like you could have been