Previews

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts 'N Bolts

Hands-On: A new direction and plenty of nostalgia

You can tell the boys at Rare were a little nervous when we arrived at the office, giggling like little girls and clutching a boxed copy of Banjo-Tooie, which even the developer admits is in "better condition than the one we've got in the office".

We're unashamed Banjo-Kazooie fanboys, which is why we were both rabid with excitement - plus a little cautious-minded - when we got to approach the controversial Xbox 360 instalment Nuts 'N Bolts, which mixes the traditional platforming up with vehicle-based puzzles and building.

When first picking up the control pad, we did wonder for a moment what all the 'driving game' controversy was about. Tip-toeing across dangling tight ropes in the colourful hub town Showdown Town, collecting musical notes and hopping across rooftops is typical Banjo.

And it's a truly beautiful world; you can tell straight away that this is the sort of environment the original Banjo team dreamed of churning out. The art-style is colourful, distinct and angular (apparently a nod to the low-polygon N64 games) while the draw distance on the gorgeous environment seems to go on forever.

Like most of Rare's latest efforts, there's even a subtle depth of field effect making everything look that bit more crisp and cinematic.

And it wouldn't be Banjo without a host of collectables to inhabit every nook and cranny. Jinjos and musical notes are back, plus this time there's the added hunting appeal of hidden vehicle part in crates.

The problem with moving to these new, massive environments though - as we found when playing the game for ourselves - is that fat old Banjo doesn't move across them as quick as he used to.

This is Rare's excuse for introducing vehicles to the series, and we can see what they mean; outside of one of the Bear and Bird's ATV creations you feel far more sluggish compared to the comparatively small playgrounds of the N64 game.

To get into the real meat of the gameplay, our Rare guides booted up one of Nuts 'N Bolts early worlds, Banjo Land. Basically it's a shrunken (a bit like Men in Black's 'universe in a marble'), nostalgia-filled playground full of nods to previous Banjo games. Every corner is littered with scenery, characters and even the giant snowman from instalments gone by.

On one corner there's sand and palm trees from the original game's Gobi's Desert world, while on another side we found rusty, mechanical trash and scenery reminiscent of Clanker's Cavern. In the centre is the same giant snowman from Freezeezy Peak - and you can still climb right to the top on his winding scarf.

The traditional Banjo humour hasn't been lost either. Dialogue (which still consists of a series of random beeps and noises) is full of cheeky quips and puns, while the environment itself is full of references to the series' past.

Kazooie's old N64 is even sitting in the corner of the house (before you ask, Rare told us it's the same asset from the old games - so it's allowed to use it).

One our favourite gags is the giant trash can full of copies of Grabbed by the Ghoulies - the Banjo team's last Xbox game that didn't sell too well. Rare certainly isn't afraid of taking the mickey out of itself.

Traditional on-foot Banjo gameplay, as we mentioned before, feels far more sluggish in the giant current-gen worlds capable on the 360. But don't get us wrong; a slow walking animation would be a pretty rubbish reason to stick vehicles at the centre of Nuts 'n Bolts gameplay.

Once trying out the new Jiggy Challenges for ourselves, it's instantly obvious that the building mechanic adds a terrific amount of variety and freshness to the tired Mario 64-lead formula.

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