Back in April Microsoft invited a handful of press to spend a day inside the barns of Rare's HQ for the world's first look and play of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. They made us sit through Viva Pinata 2 first, but it was still worth it. Because when Willy Wonka opens the doors to his factory, you drop everything and make travel arrangements. This was the moment we'd been waiting for since the game was announced in September 2006.
The original Banjo-Kazooie platformer was, in our eyes, nothing short of a masterpiece and right up there with Super Mario 64. The follow-up, Banjo-Tooie, was every bit as huge, challenging and fun as the first, but it failed to set the world alight as it appeared a little too late in the N64's lifecycle. And apart from a GBA game, Banjo's been in hiding ever since.
Since the Nuts & Bolts teaser trailer almost nothing has been said about the content of the new game. There's been plenty of PR guff surrounding the 360-exclusive, but actual hard facts have been as hard to find as a real talking bear with a bird for a best mate.
So when we were told that we'd not only get a look at Banjo's new quest, we'd get to play it too, we almost pooed our pants right there on the spot. Thankfully, we held on 'til lunch. So after being herded into a small demo room, we got our first look at Banjo up and running on Xbox 360. (Oh, and check out the exclusive interview we scored with Rare design head Gregg Mayles.)
Showdown At Noon
The presentation was led by lead programmer Salvatore Fileccia, who introduced us to Showdown Town, the hub area of the new game. There he was, new-look Banjo, standing with his backpack to us on a giant plasma screens in front of us. Instantly we notice how Rare has paid homage to the blocky presentation of the N64 games. While the bear and bird combo has been rezzed up beautifully, you can still see the blocky arms, chunky hands and thick legs - a great little touch the hardcore will love.
Rare notes that Showdown Town is the largest environment the studio's ever created and this is where a lot of the action will take place in the game. You'll keep coming back to the town and unlocking new worlds to enter by collecting Jiggys.
This part of the game is very much as you'd expect. Every level has a different intro too, with 'Nutty Acres' starting with a great piss-take of the opening credits of TV classic, Dallas. But what's different about Nuts & Bolts is that you'll have to figure out how to reach these Jiggys using vehicles you've created yourself. It's all about user-generated content - this is the twist Rare's been hinting at for months.
Traditionally, platform games have given you new abilities that allow you to traverse previously unreachable areas of the world. The Wing Cap from Super Mario 64 would be a prime example. But here you're given a vehicle editor where you create cars, boats, jets and choppers to accomplish specific tasks that'll bag you a Jiggy.
Allow us to explain. The level we were shown required Banjo to collect a certain amount of coconuts from a garden within the time limit given. Pick up enough and Banjo gets a Jiggy for his trouble. Fileccia loaded up a game save with a "here's one we made earlier" vehicle, a four-wheeled truck. Banjo then drove over to the garden, grabbed a load of coconuts (a few stones too), before driving back (slowly, due to the extra weight) to the coconut counting contraption. He just about passed the challenge but the ranking (that will be tagged to Leaderboards) wasn't great.
Fileccia loaded up another save, which had a ready-made helicopter with a huge magnet ready for lift-off. After taking to the air, the magnet picked up the coconut counting contraption, took it over to the garden and swallowed up all its contents in minutes. So rather than the designers giving you a new ability, you're given a set of tools, in the form of a vehicle editor, and you have to use your head.
Another example we were shown was based on a huge ski jump and the possibility of winning a Jiggy if Banjo could reach a certain distance. A pre-made car with wings and a jet engine was loaded up and Banjo shot down the ramp, afterburners blazing. But after taking to the air the bear and bird were soon brought back down to Earth due to the weight of the vehicle (that jet engine probably didn't help). It didn't roll very far either - fail.
Another vehicle was then loaded in which looked like an ordinary car. But after tearing down the ramp and taking off, Banjo ejected himself from the car and bounced along the floor in a Zorb-like rollcage - win.