Sadly, we are unable to settle the debate. We may have been invited to Rare to play Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts last week, but we cannot definitively confirm what percentage is platforming and what percentage is racing. Apart from being impossible to quantify, this is because - after several hours of egg-and-spoon races in shopping trolleys and playing darts with soapbox racers and a ski-jump - we don't care. You too will get over it, we suspect, once you've spent a few minutes in the vehicle editor.
Editing tools - particularly vehicle editors - have become more popular with the advent of hard disk-based consoles, but complexity often relegates them to an afterthought for the average gamer. Many of us loved Forza Motorsport 2, but how many spent hours designing a perfect car, and how many got bored and just browsed a few on the internet and played the game instead? It's important that Banjo doesn't overwhelm the player, or no one will use the editor, and it doesn't. Even in an ageing build of the now nearly-finished game, complete with incorrect button prompts and lying menus, we quickly learn how to arrange blocks, wedges, engines, guns and gadgets in 3D space to create cars, boats and planes.
But it's equally important it doesn't go too far the other way and stifle, and Banjo doesn't do this either. The main limitation is a block-based 3D grid, but a multitude of parts, wedges, corners and other ornaments offset the constriction. With the nucleus of an idea, it's possible for us to arrange a flat plane of blocks looping artistically into an "EG", with jet engines above and below, upside-down Union Jacks, and a serrated edge along the bottom (sadly we couldn't write "2287 Comments" on it). It's simple to select and move individual parts, or delete them, and a series of expandable menus provide access to whatever you've unlocked. There's plenty of room to create and elaborate.
The decision to enforce clear visual divisions between blocks and items, and rule out complex colour schemes and decals, will likely prove more controversial, but - as with LEGO bricks and other similar toys - being able to play with your creations is not only adequate recompense, but defines new creative goals. One of the missions Banjo and Kazooie undertake, for example, is to hurl a vehicle off a ramp and land in craters positioned around a stadium to amass points, but no amount of propulsion seems to reach to the end, until you realise you can create detachable nosecones and loose them at the peak of the jump. Figuring out a good barrel shape and then watching it tumble across the terrain is certainly more interesting than designing a car and then using bumper-cam anyway.
It's in this way, of course, that Rare hopes Nuts & Bolts will achieve the developers' professed goal of greater replayability; by allowing you to better your previous attempts by tweaking the original vehicle design, or by creating something entirely new. But it's not just the promise of a better time and maybe a medal that will encourage players to explore these activities; the requisite Xbox Live leaderboards post new times, and replays, but most interestingly, as long as the player hasn't deselected the option, they post blueprints for the leading vehicle and allow others to download them. Unlike PGR4, where an average player might view a top time and realise he or she can never perform at that level, an average Banjo player will be able to act as mechanic instead and top the charts not by weight of skill, but by weight of imagination. Even if the blueprint is withheld, a quick scan of the replay video should give away the secrets.
It's a compelling concept, but as a single-player game Nuts & Bolts must also satisfy the Banjo faithful, returning to relive glories not so much former as faded. So, like Super Mario, Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter before it, progress is made by collecting special items (in this case jigsaw pieces) obtained at the completion of a wide variety of tasks, many of which involve vehicles, accessed from a 3D world.
Crucially, there is a fair amount of straight platforming along the way - peaks to scale and obstacles courses to traverse - but even when there's not, there's a Metroid- or Zelda-inspired cross-stitching of item locations and locational unlocks. This time many of the backwater peaks you scale and obstacle courses you traverse to find all the game's secrets will be down to obtaining a specific part, or making a leap of logic in the vehicle editor, rather than simply accumulating the right number of jiggies, but the feeling of exploration and the sense of revelation will be familiar and hopefully compelling.
As well as being allowed to toy with the game and explore some of the sections we covered in last month's hands-on, Rare also lets us play from the start of the game proper, where a montage of black-and-white scenes from N64 Banjos Kazooie and Tooie bring us to an out-of-shape duo scoffing snacks in the sun, suddenly faced by a disembodied Gruntilda - bobbling along on pure acrimony in the absence of anything to support her from the neck down. At this point the Lord of Games - a Pong-faced TV screen head on top of a floating caped body - appears and challenges them to find out who's still got it.
We won't spoil the rest of the intro, but suffice to say it's infused with Rare's trademark humour and self-deprecation (at one point the Lord of Games explains that he is the creator of all videogames and Kazooie questions, "Even ones that didn't sell very well, like Grabbed by the Ghoulies?" - and that's the thin end), and eventually deposits you in the Showdown Town hub-world, armed with a rather feeble engine-powered wagon and tasked with going off into adjoining realms to take part in games and accumulate jiggies. Musical notes are also dotted around, as are crates, and - though we're hamstrung by placeholder instructions - it becomes obvious what to do: earn jiggies, build vehicles in the garage, and span out into the world as your building and platforming options assemble.
The main new area we're shown is the Jiggoseum - formerly known as World of Sports, it's a massive, tiered coliseum characterised by statues and other Rare-related details, another testament to the engine's superb scope, and just in time for the Olympics (upon which note, how interesting that nowadays game worlds can display an entire vast sporting scene without restriction, and it's the real-world venues shrouded in a concealing blanket of middle-distance fog). The Jiggoseum is host to 17 challenges including various of Banjo's sporting events, and this brings us to the real reason we've been invited to Rare: to play Nuts & Bolts with other people.
Like vehicle editors, online multiplayer is a generational advance for consoles that's infusing more and more genres, and like Banjo's vehicle editor, Rare has apparently observed where it should and shouldn't delve, and to what degree. The lobby system, for instance, allows the host to set up individual games or fashion leagues out of multiple successive tasks, but while all this is being set up the other players can close the menu and enter a test track - a circuit around a mass of ramps and platforms with a lake off to one side, and dig into their garage for vehicle designs to show off, or just play around. An in-game camera allows you to snap shots and upload them (and these will be visible on the internet, too), with the dual purpose of absorbing blueprints for any particularly special vehicles.
We've no need to do this, because all the blueprints are already shared across the various test machines we're playing on, but we still almost stall the main multiplayer endeavour by losing ourselves to play. Eurogamer collaborator Kieron Gillen is in the room on a magazine assignment (traitor), trying to manoeuvre a man-on-skis vehicle design around half-pipes, so we grab a plane (you can withdraw things from the garage or jump in and out of vehicles by hitting the Y button) and start pelting him with an egg-gun to knock him over.
Meanwhile, Eurogamer TV's Johnny Minkley is doing something in a boat, so we take the plane for a swim (it still works underwater, albeit in slow-motion), admiring the water, which varies in opacity depending on the viewing angle.
Fortunately for you, eventually this is curtailed and we get to play in a series of racing and sporting events. Nuts & Bolts has 14 different race types and 13 sports to choose between, and a number of variants within each section (football, for example, has one ball when it's team-based and Budweiser-style multiball when it's individuals; and there are air football and water polo variations depending on the terrain). The sumo level is an instant hit: players are equipped with wedge-shaped cars with a scooping gadget, and the idea is to expel the others from the ring, gaining points when you do and for time spent in the ring rather than scrambling around outside trying to find a ramp to rejoin the fray.
Elsewhere "pool prix", a boat race, separates the men from the people with no sense of inertia, but it's the egg-and-spoon race we end up liking the most: using Banjo's right-trigger gravity gun-style lasso ability to deposit an egg in the belly of a wagon and then lurching precariously around the Jiggoseum trying to avoid sharp jolts. As with every single- and multi-player task in Nuts & Bolts, you can modify the vehicle or try something else. You can even use a flying vehicle in a boat race if you like.
There are other modes we don't have time to see too, like Banjo Brawl (your standard deathmatch, judging by the description), and Queen of the Knoll - a distortion of popular first-person shooter game-type King of the Hill, where players score points by staying in a particular area despite violent protests from the opposition, except in this case with a scoring zone that roams around the level on a predefined path, changing speed and halting to try and upset your efforts. All very promising.
But not, as you will have observed, very platform - and despite protests from the team that there's a lot in there, we don't see much of it, apart from a bit of running and jumping around Showdown Town.
What we do see is a lot of interesting vehicle-based tasks that clearly grew from - and benefit from - the game's new vehicle creation and modification hook. We see beautiful graphics, bop our heads to the catchy music, and smile at the jokes, many of which are interactive: last time we mentioned the crates full of unsold Ghoulies, and this time we get to play Klungo's 2D platform game (Klungo Saves Teh World), a throwaway 2D platform game with constant scrolling where you have to try and time your jumps, complete with its own leaderboard.
Given the choice between yet another 3D platform game where you collect stars or jigsaw pieces or bolts, performing the same tired old rituals in high definition and hoping against hope for a bit of innovation, and Rare's alternative, we'll take this for now. We can always play Banjo-Kazooie again on Xbox Live Arcade, after all. And while Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts may not be what Rare's ardent fan-base thinks it wants, it's different, the sections we've played are compelling, and it appears to be very well thought out. Speaking to the developers about the game's origins, we discover that designer Gregg Mayles' original pitch didn't even mention Banjo, and may not even have had the studio's famous honey-bear in mind. It was just an idea they had. It's a good one. We hope it works.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is due out exclusively for Xbox 360 in November.