During a special reception last night -- held at the same venue as the Gears of War 2 reception -- Microsoft allowed the press to get their grubby mitts on Rare's upcoming Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. The game has already been the center of some criticism from gamers, especially fans of the Banjo Kazooie series. Most of the coverage of the game thus far has dealt with the game's unique vehicle creation system, which allows players to build vehicles from dozens of mix and match parts, LEGO style. For those hoping this article contains a revelation regarding the platforming in Nuts & Bolts, we regret to inform you that the game's hub world -- where most of the platforming takes place -- was not available for play at the event. Here's the good news though, the vehicle creation is really, really fun.
I was given the opportunity to create a vehicle using the game's entire list of parts, which is very sizable. There are tons of different parts: engines, wheels, wings, springs, gyros and, of course, weapons. Vehicles are built on a 3D grid and assembled very much like LEGOs. So long as each piece is adjacent, they can be assembled in any manner you see fit. Pieces can also be rotated along every axis. It's all very easy to use, and there's an onscreen button guide if you ever need a reminder of which buttons do what. There really is no limit on what you can create, though I was told that there will be a budget involved when creating vehicles, mostly for the sake of memory concerns.
The vehicle present in the demo was a fairly simple car with a spring for jumping and a gyro which allows for aerial rotation (think barrel rolls and flips). Within a few seconds, I slapped on some Leonardo da Vinci-esque retractable wings and two massive jet engines. I took my new creation to the test track, resulting in some of the purest sandbox joy I've had since Crackdown. My vehicle transitioned from driving to flying with the greatest of ease. I was flying, gliding, and doing stunts in no time. The test track, by the way, also serves as the lobby in Xbox Live games. I get the feeling many players will spend hours just messing around with their friends on the test track before they even attempt the actual multiplayer. Oh, and if your buddies really like your vehicle design, you can trade blueprints so that you can add it to your collection. These blueprints will even highlight the pieces you haven't unlocked in single player yet so you'll know what you need to collect.
I understand that the vehicle creation is there so that Banjo can take on different challenges in the game -- using a vehicle to transport an object from point A to point B for example -- but I was perfectly happy just futzing with the vehicle creator for the fun of it. Then again, I had the whole list of parts available. The retail version will require players to track down parts in the single player mode before they can be used in the vehicle creator. Given how each part allows for different abilities, the impetus to collect them all is pretty strong.
Honestly, when I first saw Banjo Kazooie: Nut & Bolts when it was first announced, I wasn''t intrigued by the vehicle creation at all. After playing with it for a few minutes, I can safely say that it has set its hooks in me. Quite simply, building vehicles is fun. Whether or not the platforming will hold up, I don't know. If it's even half as much fun as the vehicle creation, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts could be something special.