As video game developer Rare sat upon its treasure trove of successful franchises, we all patiently waited for a new Banjo-Kazooie game to fill the adventure/platformer void on Xbox 360. Rather than tackle Mario head-on, however, Rare stuck to a bold and unpopular philosophy for Banjo's return to gaming: give gamers something they've never seen before.
Therein lies the genius of "Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts." Irrespective of its ties to the previous Nintendo 64 games, "Nuts & Bolts" stands on its own through gameplay that encourages players to think outside the box. Although you still control the bear and backpack-dwelling bird, if you find yourself controlling Banjo on foot, you're probably doing something wrong. Progressing through the adventure requires players to construct vehicles out of various bits and bobs in order to pass specific challenges. "Vehicles," however, is too specific of a term. You can just build a giant metal cube with no wheels at all should you choose, and it'll spawn into the world, remaining motionless. But hey, you can do it.
There's a profound novelty in gluing six engines and three fuel tanks into a cube, slapping wheels and a seat on it, and calling it a "vehicle," but sure enough, that thing will move when you hit the gas. Throw on some floater balls and a pair of wings, and you've got a driving, swimming, flying engine blob. Springs? Gyroscopes? Grenade launchers? All fair game.
The challenges themselves present purposely vague descriptions of goals for players to achieve. Every player will interpret "transport object X to area Y in Z amount of time" in totally different ways. If you need to protect something from attack planes, do you shoot the planes down with a tank armed to the teeth, absorb the punishment with a massive shield, or put the object into a pick-up truck and run away? Just because the race takes place on a racetrack doesn't mean you can't totally "cheat" by flying, or even incapacitating the other racers.
That's what makes "Nuts & Bolts" so satisfying: feeling like the cleverest person on the planet because you've "duped the system." Trial-and-error gameplay typically frustrates players to no end, but you'll shortly realize that any challenge that appears remarkably tough can be overcome through a more efficient vehicle design. Once you've amassed some upper-tier vehicle parts, you can show them off in the game's shockingly robust multiplayer mode (featuring matchmaking, a party system and even online leagues). Races, athletics and combat events round out the game types, and it's fascinating to witness in real time how seven other players would tackle the same challenge in completely different ways. Your tiny speedboat may be light and nimble, but another player's pirate ship could win through sheer force.
The wildly inventive gameplay makes Banjo shine, but the surrounding presentation cannot be ignored, if only because it's one of the few "parody" games in existence. If you're familiar with the Banjo series, Rare or just video games in general, fan or otherwise, you'll appreciate the game's self-referential (and self-depreciating) humor. Games that poke fun at themselves are few and far between, and Rare loves toying with "Killer Instinct" and "Battletoads" fans over the prospect of new games.
I haven't even mentioned the superb graphics and music yet. Such aspects seem superfluous when considering the actual game designed around them. Game enthusiasts may perceive "Nuts & Bolts" as a series spin-off, but the game is no less gratifying for its lack of traditional platforming gameplay. No other game in recent memory rewards players so much for their creativity.