One Hit Wonders- Banjo Kazooie : Nuts and Bolts

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

Rare has lately had some hard times. In the 90s they were the studio behind the Donkey Kong Country series and Golden Eye on the N64. After being bought by Microsoft in 2002, the company has not had too many commercial successes. This is a shame as following their bought out, Rare released two of their best games in my opinion.

Viva Piñata, which I think surprised everyone including Rare with its success and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Since Viva Piñata had a sequel, today’s post is going to talk about the latter.

BK in some ways was a pseudo sequel to the action adventure games on the N64, but it featured a completely different design. The story was that Banjo and Kazooie have gotten lazy and fat after saving the day twice and have been lying around doing nothing. When their archenemy: the witch Grunty returned, no one was in any shape to have an epic battle. So the Lord of Games (or LOG) shows up to make things more exciting and takes them to his realm.

As in previous games, the player had to collect jiggies by completing challenges to unlock new levels and the final battle. But the hook is how the challenges are set up. Instead of running around the different worlds, players design vehicles from a variety of parts to use in each challenge.

The vehicle editor was really quite amazing, allowing the player to build land, sea, air or even combination vehicles. Players could buy new parts or unlock them by completing worlds, with better or stronger parts available the further the player gets. The editor by-itself would have been a great mini-game, but when it is combined with the challenges, is when the game really comes alive.

Each challenge in the game had three possible awards: bronze, silver and gold. Beating any challenge at the bronze level didn’t require that much effort. But silver and gold required the player to get creative with their vehicle creations. There are several challenges that the player could break with a well enough designed vehicle which was part of the fun.

For instance, the first boss challenge required the player to knock an item out of Grunty’s vehicle. Now you could build an over the top tank to ram and topple her vehicle over. Or you could attach an egg gun and just knock the part that is holding the item off and finish the challenge in less than 5 seconds. It’s also very easy to win races when you knock the wheels off of your opposing racers’ vehicles.

This gave the game a feel similar to The Incredible Machine series: where the player had to solve puzzles using a variety of parts. Like TIM, there wasn’t a right answer for the player to deduce; instead it was all based on the player’s imagination. The final battle was very interesting, tasking the player to effectively build a “super vehicle” designed for land, sea and air battles with Grunty’s vehicle.

Sadly while BK was even more ambitious than the Viva Piñata series, it didn’t become a major hit. There are several reasons that really hurt the game getting momentum in the market. First was that right off the bat, the game rubbed BK fans the wrong way by being completely removed from the style of the previous games in the series.

For someone who wanted a next gen action adventure title set in the BK universe, they were in for disappointment with this new vehicle based game. All of BK’s movement based abilities were removed at the start, leaving the player with only basic running and jumping while on foot. Which really is a shame as the later levels really showcase Rare’s love of the brand, including one that takes place in a Banjo Kazooie museum: highlighting all their past exploits.

The developers also made a mistake with how they handled the demo for the game. Instead of easing the player into building vehicles, they pushed the player into a later level without any useful tutorials on how the whole editor worked. Compounding matters further was a text bug that made all in game text on non HDTVs, nearly impossible to read. While Dead Rising had the same bug, the importance of being able to read text was far more important in BK due to having to understand how the vehicles and parts work.

The game was also slow to get going due to the parts unlocking mechanic. There are limits to how many of each individual part you can put on a vehicle, which increases based on how many of that part you have in stock. For people who want to build a 12 wheel behemoth, it’s going to take a few hours of play before you have the necessary parts.

It’s really a shame that BK had so many accessibility issues from launch, as the” build your own vehicle” gameplay lent itself well to multiplayer. However, the multiplayer scene did not take off (no pun intended) making us all wonder what could have been.

Eventually Rare released a patch that updated the text, but by then the damage was done. They tried to revive the game several times with cross promotions of the first two BK games released in HD quality. Then a DLC pack that added more challenges and multiplayer modes.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is one of those games that had a lot of great ideas going for it, but a few issues prevented it from becoming the success it deserved. The vehicle editor alone deserves major kudos and even gave Spore a run for its money in terms of creativity. For those of you reading this that own a 360 and did not play this game, I strongly urge you to try one of the most unique games on the 360 to date. And while I’m suggesting games, Viva Piñata deserves a try as well.

  • You know, the text thing drove me away from Nuts and Bolts and then I never went back, as I recall.

    There were some things about the vehicle builder UI I recall not liking. And the seemingly glacial pace of part unlocks. I really loved the concept of the game, though.