Whilst sitting in on an official demo of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts at E3, one narrated and directed by Microsoft Games Studios' Ken Lobb and Rare's Mark Bettridge, I found it impossible not to be impressed by the platformer. The sheer number of parts, contraptions, and options, combined with what appeared to be a straightforward interface — a challenge when building something in 3D — made it clear that there's lots to do in the third proper Banjo Kazooie game.
The thing that appealed to me most was the game's Leaderboards implementation. It essentially lets players download replays of the game's challenges, letting other players improve upon, for example, the ideal way of moving a giant ice cube man up a slippery slope. That feature reminded me of my obsessive Diddy Kong Racing days, in which I was racing against ghost data and fighting the Nintendo 64 analog controller to shave seconds off my time.
That kind of community driven perfection, letting others watch your best time at scoring goals on an oversized soccer pitch, with the most creative vehicle implementation possible, may be Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolt's most appealing feature.
Lobb and Bettridge recounted some of the more creative vehicle builds, including creations that mimicked aircraft carriers and space shuttles, the kind of things that lead to ingenious overcoming of obstacles. That someone built a Godzilla clone out of parts at Mumbo's workshop should excite user generated content fanatics.
In one challenge to score some Jiggies, the in-game currency, Banjo was tasked with getting some soccer balls into a goal. One vehicle used a V-shaped scoop with a spring loaded boot to carry the ball then kick it in. A simpler vehicle was essentially a giant basket, capable of transporting four balls at a time. There are many more options, like sticky balls, air hoses, and vacuums that can get the job done, making for some insane replayability.
The new Banjo Kazooie looks sharp too. It's as bright and busy as Rare's Kameo: Elements of Power and Viva Pinata, but far easier on the eyes. It's dripping with impressive reflections and water effects, giving Banjo and Kazooie a hell of a visual upgrade since their last appearance.
Finally getting my hands on the game, however, is where the shine started to wear off. While Banjo controls well, and Kazooie's magic wrench is easy to come to grips with, vehicle control was amazingly challenging. Watching the vets at Rare play, the game looked more fun than a box full of puppies. Actually trying to complete the game's challenges, whether it was with a pre-built beginner vehicle or an expert level one, was just short of maddening.
My rides wound up in the drink far more than I had expected after overturning and losing control. This sort of thing can probably be prevented when one comes to grip with the Xbox 360 control scheme and gets a better handle on the intricacies of the tractor beam-like magic wrench, but for the first 20 minutes or so, I was cursing the game's physics.
We look forward to more time with Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and its rich vehicle editor. We didn't get to tackle any of the more traditional on-foot platforming sections of the game at E3, so we don't feel like we've had a complete experience yet.
We're hoping that the floaty nature of the vehicles is due to little time spent hands-on — and that the camera becomes more usable closer to release — but have become optimistically cautious, instead of cautiously optimistic, about tackling the final release.