Nuts & Bolts truly is the return of Rare. Enough with the papery menagerie, let’s get back to N64 basics: the wordplay, the self-deprecating humor (pops are taken at their own distastr-o-game Grabbed by the Ghoulies), the design philosophy that states ‘object + googly eyes = endearing thing’. And in a winter of bleak, dreary games, the lightness of touch is very, very welcome indeed.
Unfortunately, they’ve only gone and resurrected their bad habits, too. After a brilliantly knowing poke at the excesses of the ‘collect-a-thon’ genre, Rare ends up presenting their grandest collect-a-thon yet. “I’ll have to think of something original,” says the man in charge, the Lord of Games. So explain why we’re collecting jiggies, notes, jinjos, minjos, crates, blueprints, trophies, bingo tokens and giant world-unlocking orbs? Bah.
It takes us back to the golden OCD days of the N64 to see pages of empty statistics screens waiting to be filled out, but the elements are clumsily shoved together. Example: jiggies unlock new worlds. Fine. But not before you’ve won them, transported them between two banks, picked up the deposited orb and placed it on a plinth. We understand the whole contraption vibe, but in aiming for complex quirkiness the devs have landed at irritating over-complication.
The structure may be lumbering, but the game at the core is brilliantly realized, if not entirely a Banjo-Kazooie game as we know it. The nostalgia-tinted dialogue, reoccurring cameos and nods to past games are welcome (a Banjo museum level is a triumph – merging levels of Banjo-Kazooies yore into one massive bear-’n’-bird love-in), but mainly as there’s not even a hint of said games in Nuts & Bolts. So small is the onscreen double act, it’s sometimes hard to even recognize them.
So what is it? Characters give you challenges; you build vehicles to tackle them. Things seem arbitrary to begin with. Go-kart not winning a race? Slap another engine on. It goes faster. Sorted. Need to transport an antenna from low point A to high point B? Attach a carrying tray to a helicopter and airlift it. And so the jiggies roll in, you barrel along at a nice pace, all while admiring the ace physics that make tasks nightmarish in other games a snap.
Then you realize you’ve been playing it wrong. That domino rally task? Diving a heavy plane into it did the trick, but what if instead you build an almighty sky-wedge, lift it above with a helicopter tow bar and drop it in the centre to cause a tumbling chain reaction? And why build a tank to defend a statue when you can craft an enormous hollow box, shove propellers on the corners and land it over the thing to offer a protective shell. Suddenly you are Wacky Races’ Professor Pat Pending, building machines that split or transform at the press of a button.
You realize that winning the jiggy is only the start. Rare have actually supplied you with a massive physics laboratory: science-led user generated content, but with a precise objective to anchor it. Nuts & Bolts is the game equivalent of one of those human-powered flight competitions – you build a contraption and see if it works. Hell, that very task – fly off a ramp without an engine – is even included. Think inside the box and deal with momentum, gravity and aerodynamics. Or by all means, think outside the box and propel yourself with an extendable boxing glove. Film your attempts. Swap blue-prints. Compete online for high scores. Stomach the game padding to unlock new parts and get back to the drawing board. Rare are back, and they haven’t grown up one little bit. Thank the Lord of Games.
Nov 11, 2008