Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts Preview

By Aaron Linde, May 13, 2008 9:19pm PDT After the floodgates broke on coverage of Rare's new Banjo-Kazooie game, you might've found yourself wondering whether this was the Banjo you remember. And depending on your slant, it can be interpreted as good news or bad news—it's familiar territory, certainly, but populated with a whole new breed of animal.

As you may well have heard by now, the new focus in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is, of course, vehicles. And from what I had seen at Microsoft's Spring Showcase demonstration, developer Rare is not at all shy in making use of this new gameplay cornerstone.

The project's QA lead, Chris Chamberlain, estimates that vehicle use takes up some 70% of total gameplay time, while traditional Banjo-style platforming assumes the remaining 30%. With such a significant portion of gameplay chalked up to the vehicles, a great deal of attention has been paid to crafting the system in a renewable and consistently fun sort of way.

The traditional collection element featured in previous Rare platformers—and most other platformers, for that matter—still takes center stage, and manifests in a way within the vehicle building mechanic. By collecting more than 100 unique parts for vehicle builds throughout the game, the possibilities for different vehicle builds are manifold.

"It may sound cliche," said Chamberlain. "But really, the only limit is your imagination."

The single-player demonstration level showcased the versatility of the game's build engine, kicking off with a pre-built four-wheeler with which Banjo could tool around within one of the game's first levels. Though vehicles can be completely overhauled in workshops, the game also allows players to make slight tweaks as new parts are discovered—like, for example, a blazin' new engine that you simply can't wait to hitch onto your ride.

In my time with the single-player campaign, I saw what resembled a heavy-duty off-road vehicle evolve into a propeller-powered airship, which later gained balloons for waterborne buoyancy and built-in springs to gain immediate altitude. With on-the-fly changes available, you can expect that what you're driving now will end up something radically different in ten to twenty minutes.

Each part contains unique attributes and adds some degree of difference in handling, power or fuel consumption, and other stats to your ad-hoc ride, as detailed by information displayed in the workshop's on-screen display. Chamberlain explained that it's entirely possible to craft a completely bunk machine; while the game will certainly offer a guiding hand, it's by no means impossible to create a vehicle with imbalanced propulsion, causing Banjo and his golden chariot to spin in impotent circles instead of a straight and narrow path.

In addition to parts that give your vehicle lift or better motion in water, special parts such as crane magnets and vehicles-within-vehicles—such as a detachable glider for use in sticky situations—give builds that special something. In addition to several default blueprints, the game allows you to save eight to ten custom vehicle builds—though that number is expected to increase before the game's release.

Rare added that though there will be some degree of limitation on how much stuff you can attach to your homebrew vehicles, the company has left a lot of room for creative exploration.

We have the very basic limits in right now and there's still a ton of stuff available," Chamberlain said. "You can use a huge amount of pieces. There will be a limit—if you try to build something like an oil freighter or something, obviously it won't work. But there's lots of parts you can use."

A single multiplayer mode was included in the game's demonstration, called Sumo—essentially, a king of the hill mode based purely on the occupation of space. Utilizing vehicles, players must knock each other out of the ring while maintaining dominance of the area to score points, and can plot assaults via ground or air-based vehicles. While it's presumable that the finalized Banjo will feature many more multiplayer modes, just this one was available at the Microsoft Spring Showcase.

Technically, the game looks as a Rare platformer ought to—colorful, vibrant, and quite pleasing to the eye. The level demonstrated looks almost like something out of an early Super Mario title, with big clouds and patchwork greenery stretched across a seabound landscape. Like so many other efforts on the Xbox 360, Nuts & Bolts makes use of the Havok engine to manage its physics, which gets a rigorous run-through with the numerous vehicles and attachments at play.

The frame rate took some substantial drops in the game's hub world, but never quite reached the realm of pure unplayability. It's almost not worth mentioning now, however, given the early build we were no doubt experiencing, and the great deal of optimization still to do in Nuts & Bolts.

Downloadable content seems a sure deal for Banjo, given the modular level designs as well as the expansive part-collection and vehicle creation systems. Chamberlain noted that though nothing official has been announced yet, it's "obviously something [Rare is] interested in," adding that "we'll look into it after we've built the whole game."

The shift towards vehicle-centric gameplay might turn off those gamers who found their most memorable platforming experiences in games like the original Banjo Kazooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, but it appears that the changing focus may just help better the genre. Rare's penchant for collection has certainly remained, but the means by which gamers get to that goal has been radically changed with the new workshop and vehicle builds, granting players a variety of new ways to tackle tasks.

Should the finalized product be as multifaceted as Rare suggests, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts may just prove to be the best platforming this side of Super Mario Galaxy when it drops this coming November.

Be sure to hit up our Microsoft Spring Showcase Roundup for all the news and media from the event.

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