Cars, as a rule, don’t hop up and down. It’s not very good for them or the people inside them. Given the option though, we obviously would put springs on the bottom of ours, so when we stumbled into Banjo-Kazooie’s Jiggoseum for the umpteenth time and were asked to join a three-lap checkpoint race of the arena, we were pleased to discover there would be hurdles. Made of bricks. But, alas, our satisfaction was only fleeting, as we turned out to be rubbish at car hurdles, because we only had two springs available at Mumbo Jumbo’s garage, and it’s rather difficult to balance the up-thrust of a pair of ACME Tigger-tails against the delicate immediacy of jet propulsion. Still, we weren’t stumped for long. New solution: snow plough. Bye bye bricks.
This isn’t a platform game, then. You can eke out hidden extras on-foot in the hub world, Showdown Town, but this is a driving, flying and boating game, with almost no player death or hairy jumps to worry about. You are collecting 131 jigsaw pieces (jiggies) – in much the same framework as Mario gathering stars – but every task begins by asking you to select or build a vehicle to fit the brief. You’re never let loose on foot and then given the choice, and if you were, you wouldn’t enjoy it, because the vast, ornately detailed openworld level environments would take several minutes to cross, and their thick bridges, riverbeds, hills, pathways, iceflows and buildings are impractical for platforming. They’re either there to absorb your rubber, or look sexy as you deliver coconuts to a supply ship, barge Mr. Patch into a cactus with a biplane, or launch yourself off a ski-jump in a homemade toboggan.
Amidst all this detail, which the game happily displays without trickery or obfuscation – even directing a nod to Crackdown’s Agency tower at one point – the frame-rate will dip below the stock 30 from time to time, and some of the load-times are appalling, but the overall effect is decent recompense. The first world, for example, is a charmingly fake and beautiful island of patchwork hills and fields with a tumbledown farm in the middle (it only takes a nudge), Playmobil flora and square cows in the meadows, a smouldering volcano to one side, and massive whirring mechanical gizmos off-shore operating a system of rotating metal rods in the sky, from which stitch-covered clouds are suspended by string. The whole level is surrounded by flickering, scan-line-covered panels of deep blue pretend. It’s a very pretty place.
Obviously, it’s all marionettes and Nanna’s quilts for a reason. In Nuts & Bolts, a plump, latter-day Banjo is plucked out of retirement to take on a rejuvenated Gruntilda by the Lord of Games, who claims to have created all videogames, and who has built each of the game’s levels to test your reflexes and showcase antics. So we get Banjo Land, which references every platform trope imaginable in a deliberately congested museum of deserts, snowdrifts and football pitches, with winding walkways and knowingly arbitrary and half-hearted traps like rotating saw-blades in a meaningless tunnel. The old Rusty Bucket tanker is icelocked to one side, and each of the game’s visual recollections comes with a description of its place in Banjo history. Prior to Banjo Land, you visit the Logbox 720, the inside of the Lord of Games’ own console, where every ramp is an interface cable, every obstacle is a circuit, chip or capacitor, the indigenous enemy is a knee-high, green Darwinia reject (a bug, see), and half the missions involve fixing the console’s broken cooling system. (Oh no they diiiiidn’t).
Whatever you think of the developer’s decision to reject platforming, it’s harder to argue with the humour and fan service, with some good game-related jokes (Humba’s manufactured girl game clan, for instance – the “Hag Trolls”), pre-level video riffs on TV-show title sequences, and gratuitous self-deprecation, as Kazooie bemoans Klungo’s ineptitude by noting that there’s almost no point doing this level because he’ll just break something in the next. Actually, special mention has to go to Grunty’s erstwhile henchman, who seems to be doing very well in Showdown Town, running the pier and even hosting his own 2D platformer, Klungo Savesss Teh World, in which players time jumps to avoid getting caught by the forced scrolling.