Rare haven't had the easiest of times. Microsoft bought up the company back in 2002 so they had a developer capable of delivering hits. Its original games for the 360 (Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero) were well received but not exactly blockbuster titles. Viva Piñata, whilst a critical success, failed to have the impact that had been hoped for.
Rare have tried to revive their great reputation with their latest title Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Using an existing IP may seem like an easy option, something low risk to generate sales of product to existing fans. A mere incremental sequel would always guarantee an element of success (some companies only exist because of this).
Appearances can be deceiving, whilst BK:NB is a sequel, it should be considered as more of a 'spiritual sequel'. Granted the same characters are in the game and there are some very loose threads pulling the stories together but in terms of game play, the title is nothing like the earlier games in the series. In fact Rare seem to have invented their own genre.
The game has a elements of platforming, racing, adventure and ...erm... Scrapheap Challenge. Game progression works essentially as a platformer. The game starts you in a 'hub town' where you have access to a number of levels as you complete tasks within these levels you unlock game items called Jiggies (which are essentially golden jigsaw pieces). Collect enough of these pieces and you unlock further levels and further gameworlds. You will also be given access to more of the hub town. As the game progresses you will collect in game currency, more items and also get to improve your abilities. This is all fairly standard for a platformer, especially if you think back to games like Super Mario 64. The key difference is what you actually do inside each level of the game.
Each game world will have a number of iterations (levels) each with its own challenges. Each level is shown as a door in the gameworld with a number above it. That number is the number of Jiggies you need to collect for the door to open. The first door will normally offer some quite straightforward challenges and as you progress through the doors the complexity can quickly increase.
So far I've skirted around telling you what the challenges consist of, and that is with good reason. These challenges are what makes the game stand out from its peers. The challenges in the game are all vehicle based, and take place on land, water and in the air. What makes the game different is that gamers get to design their own vehicles.
The challenges are not merely races, they are extremely varied and the player is free to choose how they approach the problem. Some challenges are as simples as driving over a number of switches, others are checkpoint races, one challenge has you playing a football match against the equivalent of giant Subuteo players. The initial choices seem obvious, Should it be a heavy vehicle or a light one? What size engine should I use? It soon becomes apparent that the choices are far wider than this. One challenge I did was to soak a sponge. Initially I did this by creating a fast vehicle with water squirters on. I would quickly soak the sponge until the squirter was empty, then speed past enemies to a pool to refill then return and repeat. I found this effective but not very quick. I then created a different vehicle which was slower but had a tray to carry items and a couple of egg guns. I immediately took the sponge and dropped it onto the tray then drove to the pool blasting enemies as I drove. This was a quicker and more effective method. This shows one of the more simple challenges in the game and with many challenges you will find yourself fine tuning your vehicle or even starting from scratch to meet the demands of the challenge.
Fortunately help is at hand. You are given some basic blueprints and you can also buy blueprints from one of the games shops. This does defeat the point of the game slightly as the real thrill is the design and experimentation process. Thankfully you can tinker with the blueprints, and occasionally I did create a standard vehicle from a blueprint and then change a few of the parts on it to get the desired result.
I mentioned in the example of the sponge challenge that I wanted to complete the challenge more quickly, this wasn't just to improve my best time but to unlock more Jiggies. Each challenge has three rewards, game currency, a Jiggy and a T.T Trophy. A challenge will have a set criteria (generally a time limit) for each of these, for example, complete a challenge in 2 minutes and you get currency, 1 minute 30 seconds and you will also get a Jiggy, 1 minute and you also get the trophy. Trophies are important because collecting trophies will unlock more Jiggies. Unable to get a trophy? Well come back later once you have unlocked more vehicle parts and create a superior vehicle making the challenge easier.
Some of the games challenges will force you to use a specific vehicle. These are generally challenges where you are introduced into a new game mechanic such as flying. The rest of these challenges are generally the more frustrating ones in the game. I found myself constantly retrying these challenges due to the slightest of mistakes. These challenges actually test the skill of the player rather than their inventiveness, whilst there is nothing wrong with this it will alter the pace of play, rather than adapting a vehicle to a situation you have to learn the track.
Constructing vehicles is very easy, each vehicle must have propulsion, fuel and a seat. Land vehicles will generally have wheels, aircraft have balloons, wings or propellers and water craft have flotation devices, you can also create amphibious vehicles if you wish. Additional parts can be purchased from a shop, unlocked as the game progresses or found around the games hub town. The position of parts will affect the vehicles handling and balance and quite a lot of time can be spent getting the vehicle to respond in the exact way that you want. There is a great sense of pleasure in spending extra time crafting a vehicle that is perfectly suited to a task and nailing one of the trophies. It is also hilarious when your creations go drastically wrong.
The game has a very cutesy look to it, very reminiscent of older platform games. That doesn't mean that the visuals are dated, in fact graphically the game easily competes with any of the other recent releases. Each game world has its own individual style. One gameworld is the inside of a games console, this is a particularly tough level for flying craft because it is based on several levels and has all manner of ramps connecting them. Other gameworlds include, a museum world, a sports world and a space world.
As it's an Xbox 360 game its worth mentioning achievement points as I know many gamers out there find them important. I'm pleased to say that the games achievements are well thought out. Progressing through the games worlds will unlock a fair portion of the points on offer, the rest of the points are available for fairly standard challenges such as playing in multiplayer, travelling over a set speed or making a huge vehicle and getting it up to a set speed.
The overall look of the game may prevent it from being embraced by the gaming public. The visuals do give the appearance that this is a game suited to a young audience. Younger gamers may struggle with the complexities of vehicle design (power to weight ratios, balance etc) and so might not enjoy it, whereas as more mature gamers may dismiss the game as 'something for the kids'. I urge you to look past the visuals and give the game a try. Casual gamers may also find the vehicle creation a little too much, as will gamers who don't wish to be so completely involved in construction, exploration, trail and error.
Overall the game is worth purchasing and I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I've spent playing it. It will certainly keep me entertained throughout the Christmas period as I try to find every last Jiggy and unlock every trophy in the game.