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Shark-mobile: Can it work?

So, before Sonic 4 sidetracked me, what newly bought game was I going to talk about two weeks ago? Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, that’s what! I finished Banjo-Tooie again recently (well, okay, I got all the Jiggies in Grunty Industries, and personally that’s enough of a trial for me to say I’ve beaten the game) so I’ve been hungering for more of the same. I picked this up about three weeks ago in CeX for a mere £6, and I could hardly turn it down. I’d been meaning to get the game via the Games On Demand service under the belief that it would directly support Rare… but seriously, £6! Screw attempts at generosity, I can hardly argue with a price like that.

I say I was hoping for more of the same, but I’m aware the Nuts & Bolts is basically a whole new direction for the series. It’s still an adventure game about collecting trinkets to open up new areas and unlock abilities of some kind, but now the emphasis is on vehicular building. However, it’s more accurate to say the game is an entirely different specimen with a light coating of Banjo slathered over it, as really, it’s a whole different game.

As usual, you’ve got large worlds to explore and perform chores in exchange for Jiggies, but rather strangely, instead of having everything take place in one world, there are multiple versions of each world (called Acts) that have different missions in each of them. Since you need Jiggies to unlock more Acts, this effectively prevents you from exploring the world fully right from the start, and since each Act only has about two to four missions in them, this discourages me from bothering to properly explore each world. Once the radar shows there are no more missions available, I don’t see the reason in hanging around, though I admit that’s probably not easy to fix – you could remove the mission indicators from the map and force you to find them yourself, but given how humongously vast the areas are (and how cumbersome your trolley is to begin with) that wouldn’t be a comfortably feasible task. There are also Jinjo missions where you win notes and Jinjo tokens (for some Jinjo Bingo game I haven’t bothered playing), though I haven’t had much incentive to seek them out.

Despite the awkwardness of the map system, I won’t deny that the missions are a lot of fun, and building all kinds of ridiculous vehicles for specific challenges is a hoot, especially when you’ve built them in such a manner that they’re completely broken – how did I manage to make a car that moves backwards when I accelerate? It takes a while before building can get truly engaging due to the need to gather parts first (once you’ve got a jumping spring on your trolley you can get access to tons of them in the hub area), but once the ball gets rolling the variety of accessories you’ve got to play around with is tremendously fun. It helps that everything you add is actually purposeful – those guns and giant boxing gloves aren’t just for show, they’re weapons of destruction! This would be a dumb point to make if I weren’t going to say that building a car was the sole appeal of LEGO Racers back in the day, but it suffered because what you built was purely cosmetic. Nuts & Bolts has a great physics system where the shape of your car means a lot, and obviously you can use your cars for more than just racing, meaning you’ve got a larger reign to be inventive.

However, with the constant fumbling around on the hub and the amount of opportunities you get to just fling random crap around aimlessly, it makes Nuts & Bolts feel more like a big toy than a video game. There’s a lot of needless crap that seems to exist just to pad out the playtime (why do I have to get my Jiggies from a vending machine, which is different for each world, and then take it back to the town centre so they can be “banked”? Besides topping Star Fox Adventures in the time-spent-fucking-around competition, that is) and there’s a disappointing lack of missions in each Act. It feels like a game that doesn’t have enough game in it. You’ve got the confusing hub and an unhelpful interface to work with, but once you eventually find a mission to take care of, the game truly becomes enjoyable. It doesn’t feel at all like a Banjo game outside of the snarky dialogue, and I personally wonder why they didn’t just make it a new franchise, but I guess given Rare’s track record lately, brand awareness is all they’ve got to rely on these days.

On more minor points, the graphics and audio are, per Rare standard, pretty freakin’ awesome. Grant Kirkhope and Robin Beanland return, now armed with an orchestral approach to the game’s soundtrack, and the new symphonic medleys of the old tunes are truly incredible. The graphics are similarly superb, and the character designs are actually quite refreshing. There’s no point denying that I thought they looked like absolute ass beforehand, especially in the promotional artwork, but in motion they look very sharp and charismatically animated (it’s almost strange to see them so lively after the endlessly-looping idle animations of the N64 games!). It is a little strange seeing everyone with so beady-eyed (I don’t think Kazooie underwent the change well), especially when the N64 games were swarmed in giant, bulbous eyeballs, but given how the vibe of the series has swung from cute-and-whimsical to sarcastic-and-self-aware you could argue the redesigns fit the rather cynical perspective of the characters. The amount of bloom and glow seems a bit overblown at times (there are some crates that you can’t open because they’ve got a lock on top, but the glow is so blinding you can barely even tell there is a crate underneath the light!), but personally I’m just glad that I’ve got a colourful game on the Xbox 360 that isn’t Sonic 2006.

It’s an oddball. I am truly enjoying myself with the game and there’s a certain charm about all its quirks, but at the same time it’s like they could’ve done more with it. Of course, I can’t imagine I’m even close to halfway through the game yet, so I’ll reserve my proper judgment until I’m done!

Also, hey, another plug of Ian Linn’s blog! He probed me for topics to ramble about, and instead of writing up a sophisticated essay on it like I was expecting, he just copied and pasted our chatlog. Not quite as grandiose as I was expecting, but at least I remembered to use capital letters.

I hate the sight of this doodle. It’s been on my desktop for god knows how many months now and I just don’t like it. So what better way to get rid of it than throw it on my blog? Perfect!

3 Comments

  1. MightyKombat wrote:

    Hey, Bomberman, you’re meant to let go of hte bomb before you kick it. And now you’re dead.

    do you think Suicide Bomberman would work?

    Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Ian Linn wrote:

    HEY BUDDY. Yeah, for those wondering, I would have done a proper write up (and still might), but at the time I was on a computer at my college campus and had way too many distractions to do a proper article at the time.

    …Which is no excuse for not doing one when I got home. LAZINESS DEFEATS ME ONCE AGAIN.

    By the way, cool Bomberman doodle!

    Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink
  3. Ragey wrote:

    Don’t fret about it, mang! I mean, it would’ve been a kinda large undertaking to expand on every point we covered, so your laziness is perfectly justified.
    … that’s not much of a compliment, is it?

    Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink