As an adult, when I look back on my own childhood and teenage years, I wonder what essential truth I would, if possible, impart on my younger self. Through it all, I come to one conclusion: I would tell a little Goggle Bob to, “always be yourself, and don’t spend your life worrying about what anybody else thinks.”
Except… that’s kind of bullshit.
No one is “themselves”. Yes, I completely believe people should be themselves, and no one else’s idiotic beliefs should define someone’s sexuality, gender, or breakfast options. But when you look past the “always be yourself” idiom, you encounter every other expression that tells you to work against your own nature. “The early bird catches the worm”? Screw you, I’m hitting the snooze button again. “A penny saved is a penny earned”? But I want a churro now! “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? What if I want a whole bushful of birds!? Take a look at famous Ben Franklin sayings sometime, and you’ll note that about half of what he said was just an effort to get the fledgling country to come to the dinner table wearing a damn shirt every once in a while. “Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.” Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.
When you examine children’s television programming (the number one way any American learns anything), you’ll notice that “be yourself” is the most common moral, even though “being yourself” is something that can only come from privilege. Being yourself is only possible when you have the power to bend the rest of the world to your will, with a completely yielding public that will tolerate whatever it is that is pure you. Want to be successful? Wealthy? Start a family? Great! Here is your recommended hair color, skin color, sexuality, weight, gender, age, ocular impediments, clothing, accessories, and publicly allowable tattoos. Have a video game hobby? That’s cool, I mean, if you’re in the tech field. I wouldn’t bring it up at City Hall, though, or else you’ll be that weird kid in the mailroom that plays Doom (“Do people still play Doom?” “Doesn’t matter.”) until you’re sixty.
And don’t even get me started on how many dates have ended for me with, “But I meant that as a compliment!”
You can be yourself, but only if whatever yourself happens to be is something the rest of the world wants. Mario can be himself. Mega Man has mutated seven or eight times to try to be exactly what everyone wants (You guys want a portable action RPG this week? MegaMan.exe it is!). Sonic has gone from mute and pudgy to a lean quipper because Sega imagined that is what people want. Kojima had a vision for Metal Gear Solid, and he was exiled on a life raft the very moment that vision didn’t coincide with Konami’s pachinko plans.
Be yourself, just so long as it’s profitable.
But forget profitable, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a game that doesn’t even remember how to be itself.
I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on Banjo-Kazooie: Origins, the duology that, along with Donkey Kong 64, defined the collectathon at the genre’s apogee. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie both required the poor honey bear and bird to find and collect roughly twelve billion little trinkets across its many levels, and God help you if your OCD wasn’t raging at all times, because you need every last bauble to progress. It’s the point of the game in a much greater sense than the “score” of games gone by ever mattered to anything. Sure, you get 10,000 points for defeating Dr. Wily, but who cares, the important thing is you saved the world. Not so in the collectathon, where the game practically begs you to find everything, lest you leave the pitiable game to rot, unloved and uncompleted. Yes, there are people that can go through Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts once and be content like they completed the game, but those people never found every last jinjo and jiggy, the monsters.
So, nearly a decade after the final Banjo-Kazooie N64 adventure, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts makes the scene. BKN&B is a game that absolutely goes out of its own way to mock the Banjo-Kazooie games of the past. The hero has become dull and fat, the villain is an ineffectual disembodied head, and a new character, L.O.G., appears to openly mock everyone involved, from a personal (“Very well then, failures, listen carefully.”) and meta perspective (“Failures? We’ve been in several games already!” “But nowhere near as many as that Italian gentleman, correct?”). In an effort to make Banjo and Kazooie more palatable for modern audiences, L.O.G. transfers our heroes to a new world and genre that is completely unique and modern.
And, incidentally, a collectathon.
Before we go any further, I do want to note that I like this game. It is fun to play, it is fun to create new and interesting vehicles, and the challenges are, by and large, fun. It’s not my favorite “genre”, but racing, vehicle combat, and the occasional excuse for flight is a delightful way to spend the afternoon. The challenges are challenging, but not too difficult, so it usually only takes one or two tries to get the gold. And there’s one of my favorite features that should be mandatory for all games: instant, no penalty “reset challenge” options for when you know you’ve doomed yourself inside the first five seconds. Why fight an entire challenge uphill because of the handicap of your own sweaty thumbs?
But you know what I just described? A game where, through various challenges, you collect things. Literally moments after L.O.G. disparages the collectathon genre (and you earn an achievement named “Pointless Collector”) you’re told to collect musical notes that work as bank notes. Fun fact: notes do not in any way respawn, so you have to collect every last note if you want to buy everything (and even then, don’t blow it all on bribes). Notes can be exchanged for the ability to collect additional parts and blueprints. And then you’re instructed to collect jiggys to unlock new worlds.
Rare, you just finished insulting the entire genre, claiming that “no one wants a collectathon” is the reason Banjo didn’t come out of retirement sooner, and now the rest of the game is a collectathon.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts has more identity problems than it does jiggys. It’s a collectathon that claims collectathons are stupid. It’s a video game, featuring a character that declares himself to be the Lord of Games who is creating video game worlds exclusively for Banjo… and each world is introduced with a faux-80’s sitcom television opening. Most of all, this is a game that, right from the start, expects you to be familiar with and even fond of the source material (aside from the millions of references that would just be confusing to someone coming into the franchise for the first time, there’s even a very tangible benefit to knowing the previous games with a franchise-wide trivia quiz in the last area), but implies that Banjo and Kazooie have become fat, ineffectual lumps in the intervening years because all they did was play video games. We love our dedicated fans; we just think they’re tubby, hopeless blob creatures!
Coincidentally enough, yesterday was the seven year anniversary of Nuts & Bolts’ 2008 release, meaning that, as I write this, we only have a year to go before we hit the same time span that separated Banjo-Tooie and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. I’m not one for sales research, as, depending on the publisher, a million copies sold may either be the greatest thing that ever happened or an abysmal failure, but I’m going to guess that BKN&B did not perform as well as its handlers expected, since, ya know, where’s that sequel, Grunty?
So what did we learn? Don’t be yourself, because unless you’re a success right from the start, you’re not going to get anywhere. But don’t change, call your old self stupid, and then try to do the exact same thing again, because that’s not going to fly, and it’s not just because your bird got fat.
FGC #62 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
- System: Xbox 360, but also (technically) on the Rare Replay collection for Xbox One, which is what you’re seeing here in the article. Are the graphics improved on the nextest gen system? Who the blazes knows.
- Number of Players: 2… Oh! I never got to try what I presume to be a head-to-head mode in this game. Do you get to race your custom carts against each other? That sounds like it might be neat.
- Another kind of Nostalgia: Transforming a collectathon 3-D platformer into a game with a harder edge and an emphasis on vehicles sounds an awful lot like the exact trajectory the Jak and Daxter series took a generation earlier. Guys, if you’re going to emulate failed franchise platformers anyway, Chameleon Twist is right there.
- Number of Grabbed by Ghoulies laments: Far too many.
- Favorite World: The worlds are gorgeous and generally delightful, but they’re also fairly well-trodden tropes. The significant exception is the Logbox 720, an entire world meant to emulate the innards of a video game system (or computer [redundant]). This isn’t some Tron abstract nonsense, either, it all appears like the actual, physical insides of modern electronics, just molded into a video game level. If anyone is going to heist anything from this game, let it be that concept.
- Did you know? Tooty, Banjo’s little sister whose rescue was the whole point of the original Banjo-Kazooie, has not been seen since the debut game. There’s a pair of easter eggs referencing the damsel in Banjo-Tooie, and in Nuts & Bolts, she’s merely referenced by name, with nary an image of her produced. Humba Wumba makes her return in BKN&B, though. Ugh.
- Would I play again: Yes. No. Maybe? Like, I always intend to go back to the game and whip up the most insane cart ever seen, complete all the challenges, and blah blah blah, but, really, despite being generally fun, I don’t find anything particularly compelling about the game, and why make Banjo carts when you can make Mario worlds?
What’s Next? ChristopherDeMichiei has chosen… Hybrid Heaven for the N64! Fight, Magic, Item, SUPLEX! Please look forward to it!