Downloadable content can't do much about a bad game, but in the case of a good game that didn't quite live up to its potential, it gives developers the chance to zero in on the things everybody admired, and then build something new to play to their strengths. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts should be a perfect example: the original game's mission design was weak, but there's nothing to stop Rare taking better advantage of the glorious vehicle-builder and Banjo's charmingly silly patchwork game-world in hindsight.
LOG's Lost Challenges, released this week, is an opportunity to do that. What's more, it's cheap - just 400 Microsoft Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80) when everything these days is twice that - and sounds pretty substantial on paper: 12 new challenges, seven new multiplayer modes, and assorted unlockables (including new levels for Klungo's arcade game) and new Achievements worth 250 gamerpoints.
It's deceptive though. For a start, it's not set in a new world, but on the Test-O-Track - the ramps, loops and swimming pool play area accessible through Mumbo's garage, previously used for test-driving new vehicle creations. Accessed through a new door round the back in Showdown Town, it's ostensibly the same place you've driven, flown and floated around already, except it's occupied by the usual assortment of quest-givers highlighted by holograms above their heads and icons on the mini-map. Depending on the challenge you step up to, Rare fills it out temporarily with familiar enemies, checkpoints and obstacles too.
Familiar, sadly, is likely to give way to over-familiar. Although we're promised 12 challenges, there are actually six, except your first attempt takes place in a LOG's-choice vehicle based on a new blueprint until you earn the jiggy, after which you can re-attempt the task for another using a player's-choice vehicle. The jiggies you earn don't go into the main single-player pot, but instead fill in a puzzle on the wall, first in black-and-white and then in colour, before forking over a welcome unlockable upon completion. Using each task twice means that players who haven't unlocked key parts in the main game, like beefier engines, can still take part, and then return to win the second round of jiggies later, but it also feels a bit cheap.
The challenges themselves hit at least one peak. Humba Wumba's gymkhana with its man-on-a-horse vehicle sends you bouncing over fences and trying to avoid cardboard-cutout spectators. But the others remind you how tiring things became in the single-player game. There's another circuit race in what are nominally monster trucks, a three-stage sumo battle with Pikelet that quickly becomes a war of attrition, and two separate fetch-and-carry missions. The better one involves lifting Mr. Fit's basketball through hoops in a helicopter lifter, while the poorer has you transporting three heavy paint-pots as the blower enemies try and push your truck off-course.
One of the most creative tasks calls on slick navigation skills on the ground and in the air, as you're asked to stay in a translucent crown icon as it roams around the left following a parade route. This also pops up as two of the new multiplayer modes (King of the Knoll and Downward Spiral), where you fight others to stay in the spotlight around Nutty Acres and Spiral Mountain courses. The other two new sports are Don't Flee Nest (avoid being bumped out of Terry's nest in Banjoland to score points) and Hot Cargo! (transport crates to the Nutty Acres volcano). There are also three new races - basic circuits in Terrarium of Terror, on Banjoland's iced-over lake, and around Nutty Acres again, this time with a coconut in the back.
Even the best, though, merely emphasise the lingering shortcomings: Rare still struggles to set challenges that make the most of the vehicle editor. How much more efficient can our shopping trolleys really get? The standout tasks in the main game, like trying to take down as many dominoes as possible, or the hurdles, or the long-jump (all tellingly from the Jiggoseum episode), invited lateral thinking, whereas much of the rest of the game preferred brute force, speed or increasingly manoeuvrable baskets. Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that the DLC does the same, but it's still disappointing.
At 400 MSP, it's an acceptable amount of content, with a few crowd-pleasing extras (guess whose picture you're assembling with the jiggies) and extended Stop 'n Swop support to take advantage of Banjo-Tooie's April release on Xbox Live Arcade. But this was an opportunity to take a step back and find a stronger focus, and it's an opportunity missed. If there is to be a next time - and the use of the full 250 gamerpoints for the DLC Achievements suggests there may not be - some new vehicle parts and a few more exotic challenges would seem like a better alternative, rather than more of the same again.
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