It's been a little over a decade since Rare introduced many a bright-eyed young gamer to an easy-going bear, a sharp-tongued bird and a rhyme-obsessed witch in Banjo-Kazooie. Sporting a healthy dose of irreverent charm, slick, inventive platforming and an absurd amount of shiny objects to collect, Banjo-Kazooie and its follow up, Banjo-Tooie, have a special place in more than a few gamers' hearts - including mine. Like many other fans of the series, I found the news that the newest Banjo installment would be a vehicle-based game instead of a traditional platformer was a disappointing bait and switch. Would Rare be able to capture the spirit of what we loved about the series, even with this new focus?
If the phrase "Stop N' Swop" means something to you, then the answer is a resounding "yes." Sure, it's not a traditional platformer and the gameplay is almost entirely based around the vehicles. But Nuts & Bolts isn't trying to be Banjo-Threeie. It might not have the same gameplay, but it certainly has the same charm and wit as its predecessors, and fans of the series should enjoy it for that simple fact alone. For everyone else who might not get the in-jokes or smile at some of the references, it's a clever and quirky title that should appeal to kids and kids-at-heart both.
Saying Banjo-Kazooie doesn't exactly take itself seriously is like saying that Yogi Bear is partial to pic-a-nic baskets. It's not just that the game likes to break the fourth wall - it never has one in the first place. Banjo, Kazooie and the rest of the cast are aware that they're characters in a videogame from the outset, and the developers at Rare are more than willing to poke fun at themselves. The game's first "mission" halts abruptly when the characters acknowledge that gamers these days don't want "pointless collect-a-thons," so they decide to take the feud between the good guys and Gruntilda the Witch to a different sort of battlefront.
Vehicle-based gameplay notwithstanding, the trappings of Nuts & Bolts should be familiar to people who have played the N64 titles (or most platformers, really). You have a hub area - in this case, the aptly named Showdown Town - where you open up gateways to other lands. Journey into these worlds, go on adventures, collect shiny things (in this case, the golden jigsaw puzzle pieces of the previous games), defeat the bad guys, save the world: all in a day's work.
While traveling around Showdown Town, Banjo and Kazooie are limited to the most basic vehicle - essentially a glorified shopping cart with an engine. As you defeat Gruntilda in further challenges, you earn upgrades for the cart to access previously unreachable parts of the town (wheels with better grip to go up steep hills, flotation devices to traverse water, etc.) but for the most part it isn't customizable. Once you're inside the different worlds, however, there's quite a bit more freedom in your choice of ride.
The vehicles are the core of Nuts & Bolts, and every task involves them in some way or another. Some missions put the bear and bird inside a predetermined contraption, but for the most part it's left up to you to decide. You can discover and purchase blueprints for pre-made vehicles that you can simply select and use right away (assuming you have the proper parts), from helicopters and race-cars to motorcycles and tanks. For people who are feeling a bit more creative, though, that's where the Workshop comes in.