My So-Called Second Life: 2009, Week 01 (When the Saints Go Marching In)

January 9, 2009 at 23:00 (Uncategorized)

It seems characteristically counter-intuitive for me to begin this chronicle of the year in video-games with an ending; thus.

Specifically, I’m talking about the last few hours of Nuts and Bolts, the belated third entry in what seems, against all the odds, to have become Rare’s most enduring franchise.  Even ten years ago the original Banjo and Kazooie felt to me like a Mario 64 clone, albeit a very charming one, but more of a good thing was enough, then.  And let’s start as straight as we mean to go on: perhaps it still is – I don’t know about an arm and a leg, but I’d gladly give £40 for another round of platforming action a la Super Mario Galaxy, another city for Burnout Paradise or a few new scenarios to claw my way through in Left 4 Dead.

In any event, if you’d asked me all that time ago if I could see myself playing Banjo and Kazooie at the grand old age of 24, a barely double-digit me would have sent you packing, so going in, despite my tiny past self, I didn’t expect anything more interesting than a nostalgic retread through some up-rezzed stomping grounds of yore.  What I got, ultimately, was a reinvention of the wheel; a vehicle-based platformer that somehow found a workable balance between its disparate parts.

The old bear and bird routine got metatextual.  The story turned out to be equal parts self-reference and self-deprecation; take Grunty the wicked witch: benched for pretty much the duration in favour of a Pong-faced riff on ridiculous retro called the Lord of Games.  The five themed playgrounds proved deliciously familiar but scaled up and out to massive proportions, each a humble sandbox in itself, potent with seemingly endless possibility.

Now there’s only so much you can really do in a platformer: you can run, jump, spin, smash, and that’s usually about the size of it – no disrespect intended.  Nuts and Bolts feels so very fresh because it knocked my expectations for six.  In the run-up to release, when late-in-the-day previews starting rabbiting on about the vehicle-building mechanics, I was disappointed.  I was looking, in many ways, for more of the same.

The possibilities, it turned out, weren’t endless at all; those that were exploited were exploited far too often.  Repetition is what killed Nuts and Bolts for me; the sheer scale of it.  Not always obvious

[photo of Banjo at the top of VG guy’s tower at night, epicly beautiful]

wasn’t something I was enough of a game snob to turn my nose up

more and I skipped I couldn’t posibly have imagine

Saints Row 2.  Character creation.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 for the first time this Winter and unexpectedly defeated a few rivals from Friends leaderboard.

Have to finish off Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.  Fatigue.

Tomb Raider: Underworld finally on the pile.

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