Zoo Review: Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts

Zoo Review is a monthly feature at Murderblog 3D in which our esteemed review panel pores over the hottest new game and breaks it down into a score that you can understand.

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Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is the fifth game in the Banjo-Kazooie series (sixth if you count Diddy Kong Racing). The initial release in 1998 was heralded as an evolution of Super Mario 64, which is total bullshit if you’ve experienced both games. Whereas Mario 64 was about spectacular environmental design, Banjo-Kazooie focused more on throwing a bunch of meaningless crap in a level and making the player find it all. They both had similar control elements and progression methods, but that’s about it. The newest Banjo-Kazooie title is  a subpar platformer as expected with a bit of genius tacked on.

Nuts & Bolts is still a collect-a-thon like the previous Banjo-Kazooie releases, although there are a few additional layers. There are now various methods of transportation that can be fully tweaked and customized. There’s some sort of magic wrench that exists only to remove the player from the action by another step.  There is also a narrative that I was not quite clear on, mostly because the dialogue is written out with exaggerated accents (phonetic spellings of mispronounced words and hyphens everywhere).  If this bothers you, you can do what I did and imagine that every character is a stroke victim. It gives the cut-scenes a somewhat tragic vibe.

The structure of the game centers around various missions that reward the player with “jiggies.”  The progression goes something like this:  Finish an activity and get a jiggy. Walk back to the level entrance. In the overworld, locate the jiggy dispenser. Interact with the jiggy dispenser until the jiggy you were just awarded pops out. Carry that jiggy to the jiggy assimilator, then put it down to have your jiggy total updated.  I’m still not terribly certain as to what a jiggy actually is. This seems a bit convoluted, no?  Please consider the following embedded video.

See that number in the upper left hand corner?  Notice how it increases when stuff happens?  Very novel for 1979.  I imagine a version of Space Invaders developed by Rare would involve the player shooting a ship, taking the points that are awarded and  spending eight minutes carrying those points over to the score board.

This is not the worst of it, though.  The platforming becomes an unbearable experience due to the inclusion of additional game play components. Each level is massive and barren, with points of interest as far apart as possible. It takes a very long time to walk your avatar from point A to point B. This is because the developer wants to enforce a reliance on vehicles. The player is supposed to think “hey, I need to hop in my golf cart thing if I want to get to that destination before the Xbox overheats.” It makes me wonder why there is any platforming element at all; if ninety percent of the game involves vehicular tasks, why not ditch the ten percent that doesn’t and refine the focus?  There is nothing wrong with trimming out what doesn’t work and making a simple and polished experience.

It may seem like I’m being a bit hard on this game.  I am, mostly because it’s not very good.  There is however, one redeeming factor, and the reason why I’m bothering to write about it at all:  vehicular creation.

I am normally not a fan of games that hinge on the creative abilities of the player, but Nuts & Bolts has a nice balance to it. The game world is already set in stone and the expressive element comes from designing ways to traverse that world.  I greatly enjoyed piecing together vehicles in the workshop and seeing how the physics engine would react. Making a long vehicle with two springs on the back and trying to do somersaults was wonderful. This element made me wonder: why does the game need all that other stuff? Why can’t it just be an open world Pimp My Ride?

You don’t need jiggies or notes or any of that other stuff; the sole collectible element should be more vehicle components. Scatter them around levels and have them only be accessible by using certain vehicle configurations. Lose the avatar and put the player directly in control of an automobile that can be adjusted on the fly.  This could be Burnout Paradise with the option of modifying your transport when you want to explore.  This could be beautiful!

Let’s look at some supplemental materials.  This is a Venn diagram illustrating the relationship between various game play elements that are really awesome.

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Notice how there’s no circle for “BABY TALK” or “UNNECESSARY COLLECTIBLES” or even “ANTHROPOMORPHIC BEARS THAT YOU WANT TO PUNCH IN THE FACE?”  That’s because they’re not required to have a really awesome game.  You can do this, developers.  Make this game and I promise you will get sixty dollars from me.

Summing it up:  playing Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts has now sparked the fantasy of a Lego Burnout title, so I guess it can’t be all bad.

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