ByRob Harris, writer at
Sometimes I play video games.
Rob Harris

Some games are simply too progressive for their own good, branded as overambitious missteps rather than radical reinventions, never fully appreciated in their day. Rare's startlingly original adventure game, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, is one of them.

Selling just 140,000 copies in 3 months, the game was considered a financial failure. Browse some old forum threads on the community site NeoGAF and you'll soon find vitriolic damnations like "[Nuts and Bolts] is a crime against the entire gaming community." Clearly they never played Big Rigs.

Nevertheless, this game remains one of the most criminally overlooked titles of the last console generation, way ahead of its own time and in desperate need of retroactive reappraisal.

Finding new life inside the recently released Rare Replay collection, there's never been a better time to revisit this unsung masterpiece, looking at its influential impact on the industry and examining why gamers were so immune to its charms back in 2008. If you missed out the first time round, I urge you to give Nuts and Bolts a second chance - here's why.

Don't Label Me

Banjo surveys his surroundings in Nuts & Bolts
Banjo surveys his surroundings in Nuts & Bolts

Part of my fascination with Nuts and Bolts stems from its refusal to be catergorized into any single genre. In fact, it pretty much invented its own: the adventure-puzzle-platformer-driving-builder. APPDB doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but the mouthful is testament to the sheer variety of mechanics the game throws at you. So, what exactly do you do in the game?

In essence, Nuts and Bolts is about completing a series of challenges using your imagination and engineering ingenuity. The game will present you with a task, and you must build a vehicle - car, rocketship, water-propelled zeppelin, whatever - to complete it.

For example: 'Take this egg to the top of the volcano and drop it in.' Simple enough. The first time I played this mission I threw together a ramshackle dump truck, loaded the egg in the back, drove up the mountain and tossed it into the fiery depths below, netting me a shamefully low score for running the clock over two minutes.

However, on my next attempt - and this is where the game truly starts to shine - I tried something radically different, building a fully-functioning catapult that sent the egg flying across the level and neatly into the lava pit. The same mission now took just 15 seconds to complete. This is the beauty of Nuts and Bolts: it demands creativity and rewards unconventional problem-solving, encouraging the player to manipulate its rules using their own outlandish inventions.

Facilitating all this experimental mayhem is the game's building tool, which is surprisingly comprehensive, giving birth to all manner of barmy creations designed to traverse land, air, sea, or all three. Take a look at just a few examples of what's possible:


Badass Hotrod

The Starship Enterprise

It's a tired cliche, but the possibilities are, in the literal sense of the word, endless.

Few games reward you for subverting their rules rather than following them, but Nuts and Bolts thrives on the player's next crazy idea, never stifling your imagination or limiting the scope of your ambition. Remind you of another video game?

Laying Minecraft's Foundations

Minecraft (2009)
Minecraft (2009)

Years before the Swedish programmer - and now multi-billionaire - Markus "Notch" Persson unleashed his revolutionary block-builder Minecraft upon the world, the developers at Rare were concocting their own Lego-like creation tools in Nuts and Bolts.

Minecraft's lineage can certainly be traced back to this block-building ancestor; a forerunner to what would become a cultural phenomenon. Okay, so the building tools in Nuts and Bolts don't allow for the construction of entire worlds, but the concept of dropping players into a sandbox populated by player-created designs was there.

Where Nuts and Bolts' influence is most recognizable, however, is in Spiderling Studios' physics based building game Besiege, released earlier this year.

Besiege (top) and Nuts and Bolts (bottom)
Besiege (top) and Nuts and Bolts (bottom)

Besiege's concept is rather deja-vu-inducing, asking you to build block-based contraptions in order to destroy your enemy's fortress. The game was a huge success, with players bombarding the internet with videos of their impressive creations. It even caught the eye of streaming sensation PewDiePie, whose video helped get 5.8 million pairs of eyes on the game.

So what separated Banjo-Kazooie and Besiege, other than the 7 years between their releases? Why did one flop and the other flourish?

Screw This: Why Nuts and Bolts Failed

Deviation From Expectations

Surprising your fan-base with a new and fresh experience doesn't exactly sound like a fault, but it most certainly contributed to Nuts and Bolts' icy reception. The first two games in the series, released on the Nintendo 64, were staples of many childhoods, beloved to this day by an exceptionally ardent fan base. The games were also traditional platformers, focusing on combat and exploration, rather than building and driving.

The original Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
The original Banjo-Kazooie (1998)

After 7 years waiting for a follow-up, players expected a nostalgic, HD-ified trip through memory lane, but what they got was a total reinvention of the franchise (and the genre), leaving many feeling duped. As GerfyGerber's Metacritic review put it: "The 2 games on the N64 defined my childhood, this completely ruined it and took a **** all over it."

Born in the Wrong Era

But Nuts and Bolts' biggest fault was its untimeliness. With the advent of online streaming services and video capture capabilities built into modern consoles, Nuts and Bolts' would've thrived today, with 'Let's Play' videos - like PewDiePie's one above - generating heaps of viral buzz for titles with similarly emergent gameplay.

The Twitch generation would've surely latched on to the game's limitless sandbox of creation - just think how many 'Did You Just See That?!' moments were forever lost before the proliferation of streaming services.

Nuts and Bolts is designed for showing off your crazy contraptions to the world, but the Xbox 360's online service simply wasn't set up to accommodate that kind of community.

But it's not too late for a revival. If you missed out on this unsung gem when it first came out, I urge you to give it a go in the Rare Replay collection.

Nuts and Bolts might have been way ahead of its own time, but it's well worth yours.

[Sources: Wikipedia, NeoGAF, Metacritic]


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