Comebacks aren't easy. Just as with any form of media you're only popular when you're in people's faces, and Banjo and Kazooie have been out of the limelight for a long time. The last proper game to star the bear and bird duo hit the Nintendo 64 in 2001. Since then Nintendo has released the GameCube and Wii, Microsoft has entered the video game market and Rare is now part of Microsoft Game Studios. With so much change in the world of video games it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Nuts & Bolts is a very different animal.
Things kick off with a very out of shape Banjo and Kazooie playing video games. They've been sat on their arses for so long that they're no longer the heroes they once were - with evil rhyming witch Gruntilda gone the pair had more or less taken early retirement. Of course, being a video game, two plump heroes isn't ideal, and it isn't long before Grunty (well, her head at least) hops into town. A storyline from this didn't seem all that forthcoming, but thankfully the Lord of Games (LOG) arrives to end the fight between our heroes and Grunty once and for all.
Being the creator of all video games he's able to transform Banjo and Kazooie back into peak condition and gives Grunty a body. Many typically Rare jokes later (we laughed out loud on more than one occasion as the self deprecating comments came thick and fast - poor Grabbed by the Ghoulies), LOG had fashioned a game world where vehicles are key to success and traditional platforming gameplay plays second fiddle. What we've got here is a hybrid racer/platformer/puzzler/flight sim/Meccano kit rolled into a colourful world only Rare could create.
Your hub in Nuts & Bolts is Showdown Town, a lively place where animals go about their business, rhinos repeatedly get in the way, Pigs (yes, the police force) harass you and things look very pretty indeed. LOG stands high up next to a colossal tower, overseeing everything. He also dispenses balls that activate new zones, which is your first port of call once you enter the town. In Showdown Town you're restricted to driving a fairly basic oversized shopping trolley (although this is upgraded over time), so you trundle up a massive winding slope in order to reach LOG, grab the ball (using the magic wrench that can pick up large objects and move them around), place it in your trolley and head back down into the town square.
Once the ball has been placed on the correct dome, a strange computer terminal structure rises from the ground and a series of doors are opened, giving you access to the first game world. Each game world has numerous acts, with each act containing a number of Jiggy Games. Complete a game within a certain time and you'll earn a Jiggy (a jigsaw piece), which you then need to claim from Jiggy dispensers back in Showdown Town, before throwing them on your trolley and driving over to the central Jiggy bank to safely add them to your total.
Jiggy Games always require you to use a vehicle, and the vehicles inside each game are very different to the trolley you use in Showdown Town. To begin with you'll be in a basic car that's got fairly slick tyres, racing to get to a certain location on the map within a certain time limit. Soon enough, though, you'll have access to planes, helicopters, boats and more, either as pre-made vehicles that LOG requires you to use or as user created vehicles that aren't likely to ever hit the production line. Challenges run the gambit from simple races from A to B, spraying hot items with cooling liquid and rounding up nuts, to delivering pizzas, turning on search lights and picking up NPCs in your multi-carriage taxi. Nuts & Bolts is an incredibly diverse gaming experience.
In order to build the cars required you'll need to the correct parts. These can be bought using the musical notes you've collected on your adventures (they are everywhere) or found in the many crates scattered about Showdown Town. It's this collection element that most resembles the Banjo games of old, with the bear jumping from rooftop to rooftop, climbing poles, walking tight ropes and operating machinery in order to get to the many awkwardly placed crates. It's well worth it though, with complex vehicle building being the most rewarding aspect of the game.
Let's take a domino toppling Jiggy Game as an example of good vehicle creation. The dominoes are in a ring formation, with each row leading outwards able to be toppled if the centre domino of each row is knocked over. Sounds simple enough, but as soon as you topple one domino, your vehicle stops and the rest is down to physics. After numerous attempts trying to ram a portion of the outer ring as violently as possible without success, we entered the vehicle selection screen and chose a pre-made plane. Taking to the skies we homed in on the centre ring, hoping to knock down a handful, causing a chain reaction - it didn't really work.
Seeing that our plane just wasn't wide enough we entered the vehicle creation mode and proceeded to modify a pre-made cargo carrying four-wheeled goliath. Four wings, a propeller, some extra horsepower and a bigger fuel load later, we were back in the game and bearing down on a massive row of dominoes. This time we managed to knock down more then enough to earn a Jiggy, but sadly not enough to earn a time trial trophy - something that we've seen accomplished by Rare boffins who created a spinning, air-blowing contraption that was able to hover into the centre and blow them all down. There's a seemingly endless amount of depth in Nuts & Bolts if you want it.
As more and more zones are opened and new doors become accessible, the game becomes increasingly challenging, with the best Jiggy Games really offering some of the most ingenious next-gen gameplay we've seen. Sadly the quality of these challenges varies quite wildly, with too many being quite laborious races. We're also not fans of the LogBox 720 area. Set inside the next games console, this vertically structured area is best navigated using helicopters, but even then we found it somewhat of a hassle due to the number of overhead structures stretching in all directions. It's a shame as the humour on offer here is top notch (perhaps even the best in the game), but we simply preferred the more open areas seen elsewhere.
Nuts & Bolts is a big game. With approximately 130 Jiggies to collect, tonnes of musical notes and a garage full of vehicle parts it seems that the end is always a long way off. Throw in numerous other things to find, Jingo challenges to complete, a time trial trophy for every Jiggy Game to earn, a bingo mini-game and an 8-bit-style wickedly difficult side-scrolling platformer, and you're almost spoilt for choice. You can even take snap shots of your time in the game and save replays - something we really wish more games would allow.
It's a good job too, as Rare's latest 360 game is an absolute joy to look at. Showdown Town is massive and incredibly detailed, full of brilliantly designed characters and jaw dropping vistas. The game worlds vary a lot in style, but they too look stunning. Playing in an area in a car is one thing, but then you can take to the skies and see things from a completely different perspective. Had it not been for the unfortunately erratic frame rate we'd be looking at the best looking game on the console, hands down. You just can't help but stop and stare at your surroundings, whipping out the camera to capture Banjo and Kazooie at the best looking angle. Rare has always produced games with impressive visuals and Nuts & Bolts continues that fine tradition.
No doubt inspired by the wonderful visuals, the audio work here is top of the class too. A fully orchestral soundtrack fits perfectly, the characters speak in classic mumbles that take you back to the good old days, and there are plenty of familiar sound effects that N64 gamers will have fond memories of. The only real negative we've got is Banjo's voice. He doesn't speak exactly, but when he shouts out various nonsensical mutterings he sounds, well, a little odd. Still, it's a small blot on an otherwise exemplary production.
Something we haven't been able to spend too much time with is the multiplayer offering, both on a single console (two players) and over Xbox LIVE (eight players), but what we've played is very good indeed. Various multiplayer events are on offer in race, combat or athletic disciplines, either allowing the use of pre-made vehicles or user created monstrosities. Playing with others using what the game shipped with didn't really do much for us to be honest, especially in the race events, but as soon as you start using your own vehicles against others that are doing the same, the competition goes up a notch and great fun ensues. It's like the video game version of Robot Wars we always wanted. With support for parties (and a second player on the same console to go online), and the ability to just mess about in the test area, a lot of people are going to really enjoy the multiplayer shenanigans Nuts & Bolts has to offer.
To paraphrase (and more or less completely change) one of the game's many loading screen tips, if you don't like the sound of vehicle-based gameplay, you'll be better off downloading the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of the original Banjo-Kazooie. For us, though, Nuts & Bolts offers true next-gen gameplay, with user created content being core to the experience. Simply making vehicles is good fun, and with the ability to instantly test them out you can sink hours into one creation alone. It certainly won't be for everyone, but with spectacular presentation, highly entertaining Robot Wars style multiplayer and a lot of good hearted humour, the bear and bird are back. Comeback accomplished.