During the N64 era, while many gamers were obsessing over the likes of Mario 64 and Star Fox 64, I found myself playing Goldeneye or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I certainly played a large handful of the “must play” and first-party titles from Nintendo; but I undoubtedly missed out on numerous classics that remain a mystery to me. Rare released Banjo-Kazooie and its successor Banjo-Tooie to the world: I played Gex: Enter the Gecko and the sequel Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko instead. None of this was intentional at my age, as a child you can only play what is handed to you really. Years later when Banjo-Kazooie was ported to the Xbox Live Arcade, I jumped on that immediately, preparing myself for some of the best 3D platforming of yesteryear.
Disappointment is the only word that fits my reaction. And I am somewhat ashamed and confused by that fact. I wanted to enjoy Banjo-Kazooie, every single time I return to that game I expect to finally “get it.” While the Gex series had many faults, I could return to that game and enjoy it for nostalgia reasons alone. Yet Banjo-Kazooie, a game of the same genre, bores me heavily. Had I played the game at a younger age, I might be in a different scenario.
During the Super Nintendo generation of gaming, I was hooked on the likes of Donkey Kong Country. Each game in that wonderful series struck me as near perfect, and I replayed each title numerous times. I never did play Donkey Kong 64, and that might be for the better. I’m blatantly perplexed at my ability to love Conker’s Bad Fur Day, while simultaneously casting out Banjo-Kazooie as a worthless game.
In 2009 I took a risk and purchased Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. My first reactions to the title were generally positive: the writing seemed clever and well beyond tongue-in-cheek, and the graphics engine was often times awe-inspiring despite the cartoonish design. This month I finally revisited Nuts and Bolts, and I’m a bit more negative having played beyond the first level. While there were definitely some saving graces, I firmly refuse to believe that Nuts and Bolts is a good game overall.
The first issue is the obvious controversial theme of cars and vehicles where they do no belong. I was fast to accept that introduction, as I have no fond memories to tarnish. Even the “collectathon” nature of the game which Rare continuously references and pokes fun at did not bother me. Unlocking new parts for my custom vehicles was moderately rewarding, and I enjoyed opening up new areas of both the overworld and the levels themselves. Nuts and Bolts’ core gameplay is what bothered me. Whether it was driving, flying or floating: the game relies heavily on an extremely moody physics engine that will constantly cause the vehicle to act undesirably.
With an understanding that the company “Rare” is a pale shell of what it used to be, Nuts and Bolts’ lousy gameplay coupled with inside-jokes and self-touting references is embarrassing. During the game, there somehow manages to be notions made to gloat about Rare’s success, while at other times delivering backhanded comments at their own expense. Being able to joke about oneself is commendable, just not when it is done by the remaining members of a broken company: most of which I gather had nothing to do with the original Banjo-Kazooie. As Rare’s swansong, Nuts and Bolts serves more as commentary on the dissolving of the company than any kind of playable video-game.