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Leicestershire-based Rare announced a new entry in the Kinect Sports franchise Monday. Kinect Sports: Rivals, revealed at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles, is expected to launch later this year as a launch title exclusively for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One console.

During an interview on US TV channel Spike a Rare developer let slip that the game would be available in November, implying that Microsoft’s next home console would launch then.

Kinect Sports Rivals will feature a variety of sports including bowling, football and tennis.

The first Kinect Sports launched back in 2010 for the Xbox 360.

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Rebooting a franchise can be a risky business, especially when your fan base is one of the most keenly dedicated in gaming circles. Even ten years after its release on the Nintendo 64 Banjo Kazooie still has a massive cult following, with every line of code having been painstakingly analysed by the community in the hope of finding every tiny secret Rare had left in the cartridge. The rich worlds, memorable characters and challenging gameplay made it an instant hit and it still holds up as one of Rare’s (and the format’s) best titles. So surely taking a series that helped define 3D platforming and stripping out every gameplay feature that made it so memorable would be a pretty silly idea? Well that’s just what Rare have done – gone are the intricately designed levels and abilities; in their place are expansive worlds and customisable vehicles. So how does it fare against previous games and should the fan base ready their pitchforks?

From the time you first switch on the game and see the beautifully rendered Spiral Mountain it’s clear that this hasn’t just been a quick, cynical cash-in. Rare certainly haven’t lost their renowned sense of humour either (or their technical prowess for that matter) as evidenced by the hilarious story and the witty, self-deprecating dialogue that sees the bear & bird back in action against old-nemesis Gruntilda after 8 years of pizza and playing video games have taken their toll. The entire game is littered with clever references to Rare’s classic back catalogue and pokes fun at many of the traditional gaming clichés that Rare themselves have been guilty of in the past. The art style and sound design are also wonderfully evocative of the previous games, with some of the most impressive graphics on the 360 and a great musical score that updates many of the originals’ tunes with full orchestral composition.

In terms of game structure it isn’t really a huge departure from previous games, and in fact shares a lot of similarities with 3D platform king, Mario 64. Each of the six worlds are divided into several ‘acts’, slightly different variations containing a couple of challenges and a bunch of musical notes to collect. Jiggies won from these acts are dispensed near the world entrances in the hub-world of Showdown Town and these can be taken to the Jiggy bank in the centre of the town. The more Jiggies you have, the more acts become available. Within each world is a special battle against Gruntilda and if you can beat her you’ll earn a new part for your main vehicle, which you can use to explore more of Showdown Town. The set of challenges also feel very similar to previous games, with typical fetch quests, enemy battles and races making up the majority of the 100+ Jiggy quests. Each world also has a number of Jingo challenges, which are a bit more like mini games, and can see you doing anything from trying to knock down a set of dominoes, to sumo wrestling. They give some much-needed variety, as the main challenges can get repetitive after a while and the game isn’t the most difficult available admittedly.

What will provide most of the longevity and variety is the game’s big selling point, the customisable vehicles. Pretty much any form of transport can be constructed using the easy to use editor which you can find in Mumbo’s garage (accessed at any time by hitting pause) and can be used in nearly every challenge in the game (some give you a set vehicle but most let you use whatever you like). Vehicle parts can be found across Showdown Town or can be bought from Humba Wumba in exchange for musical notes, with rarer and more complex parts made available as you progress. These can be snapped together like Lego bricks to create anything you can imagine. Rare have gone to great efforts to make this an essential part of the Nuts & Bolts experience and you are actively encouraged to experiment with your designs till you come up with something capable of beating particular challenges. The robust internal physics mean you need to put a bit of thought into each creation as factors such as the number of blocks used or the engine size can greatly affect how your vehicle controls in the game. If you don’t feel too creative you can use any one of Humba’s blueprints, which are ready made vehicles you can use anytime, as long as you have the right parts. These are a necessity early on until you get used to making your own.

And not only can you use your creations to complete challenges but they can also be used in the excellent multiplayer. Rare have certainly tried to make a multiplayer experience that taps into the community spirit shown by its existing fan base and again, the vehicle creation is at the heart of it all. If you happen to spot a vehicle that catches your eye you can take a photo of it after a multiplayer match and the game will give you a blueprint so you can reconstruct or edit it as you please. Given the wacky variety of the multiplayer challenges you can expect to see some suitably strange constructions when you go online. There is an impressive number of multiplayer modes available, with races around the main worlds and sports-style challenges like football and darts, alongside more traditional arena combat games.

B&K: Nuts and bolts has very few pitfalls (the pointless and frankly annoying enemies being one of the only major gripes) and while it may not please those fans wishing for a true HD platform game, any that are willing to give it a go will find a deeply enthralling adventure that encapsulates the spirit of the originals perfectly.

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This week we got the ‘rare’ opportunity to chat to some of the team working on Banjo~Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Check out the interview below and look out for our impressions on Rare’s big holiday title coming soon.

GameBrit: Thanks for talking to us today, can you tell our readers a little bit about your roles on Banjo-Kazooie?

Neil Harrison: Hi I’m Neil Harrison I’m the lead technical artist on Banjo~Kazooie Nuts & Bolts.

Elissa Miller: And I’m Elissa Miller and I’m a senior animator.

GB: How does the Nuts & Bolts story pick up from the other games?

NH: Well we make a little joke about the length of time between the games so as you start off the game, Banjo and Kazooie are really overweight. They’ve spent the last few years sitting around, eating pizza and playing other games. As the game begins they hear a noise outside Banjo’s house and find Gruntillda’s body-less head buried under some rubble. A character called L.O.G, who refers to himself as the Lord of Games, appears before they can start fighting and challenges them to be better video-game characters. He slims down Banjo and Kazooie and gives them their first vehicle, which we call the shopping trolley. And so begins their new adventure.

GB: How big is Nuts & Bolts? Will it take as long to complete as the first games?

NH: It’s kind of hard to say really, you can basically just race through to finish it or you can spend a lot of time trying to get good times and collecting everything. I think it would probably take a hardcore gamer about 15 hours to get through it.

EM: There’s plenty of other things for players to do, there’s almost an infinite amount of gameplay really. Being able to construct your own vehicle means you have great replayability so you can keep going back to challenges with different vehicles.

GB: And I noticed you can see videos of other people trying out challenges to pick up tips on how to get good times and things.

NH: The key thing with that is I could watch a video of a player completing the best lap time of any other racing game but I may not be able to learn enough from it to reach that level, or I might not be good enough. Whereas in the game the skill is in how you build the vehicle so if I can see how someone else has put together theirs, I can spend a bit of time coming up with something similar. It puts players on a much more level playing field really.

GB: Have you aimed for that community focus from the out-set?

NH: Yeah definitely and we can’t wait to release it and see what people actually do with it.

EM: We have a lot of multiplayer modes as well, there’s about 28 different games and you can play these in ranked or solo modes. It’s a really important part of the game it isn’t just an add-on like in some games.

NH: And the fact you can build your own vehicles to compete in the games makes it much more enjoyable but also makes you want to keep going back and playing it.

GB: How big is the development team?

NH: Well it’s grown quite organically throughout the development process but we do have a core team coming up with all the ideas. I think it peaked at around 70 maybe 80 people and obviously now we’re coming to the final stages it starts to calm down again.

GB: Do you have an art team working around you?

NH: We have a core group assigned to the project and then we have other departments around Rare, we have what we call the art asset group which are almost like an outsourced art department within the company then we have a shared technology group as well that provide the engine for the game.

GB: Have you got any of the original team from the first Banjo~Kazooie working on this title?

EM: Yeah we have Greg Mayles who was the lead designer on the original two games and is now the design director but also our team leader and lead designer for the team as well. We still have quite a core group, there’s Steve Mayles, another lead artist.

NH: There’s about four or five still around.

GB: Has it been important having the old members around?

NH: I think it’s important to have them there to keep the consistency from the old games. All of us have played the old ones but it’s not quite the same as working on them.

GB: How long has the game been in development for?

NH: Well, its been about four years but we did actually start with a few other ideas, basically we did start off with a traditional platformer, essentially the same thing in high-definition. We did that for a while but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do both as designers and as gamers ourselves. It just felt a little stale in today’s market so we came up with a couple of other ideas and they eventually formed into we’ve got at the moment.

GB: What made you choose a vehicle based game?

NH: Well we wanted to do something a little different, we started doing the HD platformer and we thought yeah we could do this but we could do something so much more interesting and using the 360 we had so much more power available to us.

EM: I think as well platformers peaked in the 90s and we felt we should do something a little more innovative as a team and push a few more boundaries and putting the gameplay in the players hand and making it their own experience was the logical way forward. Basically giving the player the chance to make their own abilities within the game.

GB: Do you still have much in the way of traditional platforming or is it mainly vehicle based?

EM: There are bits of platforming sections still in there, like in [the hub-world] Showdown Town you have ladders, collecting and so on so there is still an element in there of it. It’s more of an evolution of previous games so we haven’t forgotten it but we have kind of moved on a bit.

NH: The way we see it is at it’s heart it is still a platformer but instead of us telling you what your moves are at certain points in the game you get the chance to essentially create your own abilities via the vehicles.

GB: Have you got any references to old games tucked away?

NH: Quite a few yeah, there’s lots of little jokes at other games, like right at the beginning of the game where L.O.G mentions he’s made every game known to man. I think there’s even a little mention for [Grabbed by the ] Ghoulies in there from Kazooie who mentions how it didn’t sell very well and you know we have to laugh at ourselves as well as everybody else.

GB: I think that’s what people expect from Rare

NH: Yeah exactly.

EM: And Banjo has always been known for it’s sense of humour and we really wanted to carry that on.

GB: I did notice an N64 tucked away in Banjo’s house

NH: Yeah there’s a few like that knocking around

EM: There’s lots there for people to pick up on and I think that’s one of the things that makes playing these games so interesting, you’ll notice little nods here and there that we’ve put in for people to find as they play through.

GB: Are you doing anything to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the original?

NH: Well we’ve got the XBLA version of the original coming out and that was done to mark the anniversary.

EM: And we’re launching the Xbox 360 game as well!

GB: How is the infamous ‘Stop& Swap’ feature going to work?

NH: That’s a little in-joke for the fans, basically Banjo~Kazooie Nuts & Bolts can actually detect if you’ve played the Live Arcade version of the original and at certain points the game will let you unlock certain bits.

GB: The ice key perhaps?

NH: Maybe.

GB: Even years after the original was released people are still finding little hidden things snuck away, has this dedication from the hardcore fans surprised you?

EM: Yeah it’s been so many years since the last one and there are still so many fans out there, which is great, we’re just hoping they choose to adopt this one as well.

GB: When it was first announced there was a bit of negative feedback from some quarters of the community, did that surprise you?

EM: I don’t think it necessarily surprised us, whatever you do when you introduce some change you’re always going to come up against some resistance. But it’s always a difficult decision so if we’d have stuck with traditional platforming people would have said ‘you’re not being innovative’ so whatever you do your not going to be on to a winner. So we just wanted to trust our own instincts when creating this type of game and we always build games that we enjoy and we’re gamers, so hopefully that means it’ll appeal to those sorts of gamers that regularly enjoy those types of games.

 GB: I was a huge fan of the first game myself, and I have to say I was a little worried when the whole vehicle side was revealed but having played it I can see that same Banjo charm in there.

NH: That’s it; we know once people get a chance to play it they’ll enjoy it. That’s why we enjoy these hands-on events so that people who might be a little apprehensive like yourself can play and appreciate what we’re trying to do. It’s still a Banjo game and it’s still got all those common elements that you enjoy but just in a new package.

EM: I think when we first announced it people thought ‘vehicles? What are they doing?’ and they think it’s just a racing game. There are a few race challenges in there but it’s not what it’s about at all. It’s all about creating your own experience as a gamer.

 GB: Then there’s the multiplayer modes as well?

NH: Yeah, once you get your hands on the game with mates and you start to open it up like creating your own vehicles and things you’ll really see how fun it can be. We could be competing in the same race but you could be in a plane, someone else could be in a tank trying to blow us up and I could be in a speedboat, I think that side of the game is pretty cool.

GB: It was a lot of fun actually, the multiplayer kind of reminded me of Diddy Kong Racing, but with Banjo characters. Did you look at that as an influence?

NH: That’s an interesting question actually! I don’t think we’re in a position to answer that; you’d have to speak to Greg [Mayles] about that one!

GB: Did you have any other influences?

NH: Not really. Greg kind of works in a different way; he won’t say let’s do what they’re doing, he looks at other games and says ‘how can we make this different’. I think looking at other games can be restricting from a design point of view; you almost need to look outside the games industry.

EM: I think as a company we’ve always been innovative, and always wanted to try something new and I think that’s what people will find with this game.

GB: What sort of gamers are you aiming Nuts & Bolts at?

NH: Well, we’re trying to aim it at anyone with a creative streak who is looking for something a little different to everything else out there. It does appeal to a broad audience but on different levels. A young child could pick it up and play around with pre-built vehicles or using a part-built chassis from L.O.G; but then you have the hardcore gamers that can really go to town building stuff from scratch.

EM: We just hope once we put it out there that people will be attracted to it and really just have fun with it.

NH: It’s important for people to give it a chance because I could look at any screenshots of a first-person shooter and know how it plays but our game is a bit different. You really need to pick it up and play it to understand how much fun it is.

GB: Will there be a demo out soon?

NH: There will be yeah, we don’t when that will be yet though. It’s still in the final stages; we still have a few weeks of final bug testing and things.

GB: Is everyone doing 24 hour stints right now then?

EM: Yeah

NH: Except us!

GB: Will Banjo and Kazooie be making any guest appearances in other games? Maybe Killer Instinct 3?

EM: I’d be a rich person if I got a pound for every time I was asked about that, but who knows!

GB: Do you think they would have kicked ass and taken names in Smash Bros?

NH: I think so; they would have done pretty well in that.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Neil and Elissa for taking the time to chat to us! Make sure you keep it on GameBrit for more on Banjo-Kazooie.

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Viva Piñata is the kind of game that’s very hard to create a worthy sequel for. Partially this is simply down to the sheer quality of the first instalment of the series, but also due to the formulaic and self limiting nature of the gameplay mechanics. Of course, the same can be said of any number of strategy games in the same vein: The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon or Sim City. After all, beneath the cute, childlike exterior; Viva Piñata has always been a surprisingly tight, tactical affair that challenges spatial design and micromanagement like the best of the genre.

This always leant a surreal, paradoxical edge to the original game: Despite it’s family friendly marketing, adorable, child enrapturing visuals and simple presentation, the actual game was, at times, savagely difficult stuff that often stumped older, experienced players-never mind the supposed youth market Microsoft hoped to rope in to it’s web of tv series’, lunchboxes and soft toy ranges. In a strange way it was as if Rare had made the wrong game, and a much better one for it.
Onwards to the inevitable sequel, then. Moving on from the oddly placed original, Rare have made pains to preserve their almost mistakenly acquired fanbase of hardcore horticultural designers while making a huge effort to really expand the accessibility of the game to include a younger audience that may have found the original simply too hard. The main game remains generally unchanged: players must advance through RPG lite levelling up to acquire increasingly extravagant means of developing their garden space to accommodate an ever expanding roster of loveable, papery animals. Fans of the original will know what to expect here, although a sizeable jump in Piñata numbers pushes the number of animals past the one hundred mark- incentive for all but the most stoney hearted cad to investigate such is the quality of character design and animation on display.

The biggest new additions exist outside of this mode, however. Foremost on the list is the addition of Just For Fun Mode. Designed, according to Rare, to allow for younger or inexperienced players to sample and enjoy a simpler game of Viva Piñata, Just For Fun plays like ‘God Mode’ is switched on. Infinite resources and a vastly simplified set of requirements for Piñata to settle and a fully unlocked feature set turns Viva Piñata in to what the original only became very late in to the game- a vast, ridiculous toybox that just begs to be enjoyed with reckless abandon as, expense be damned, players can warp and craft a garden limited only by their imagination rather than the sometimes claustrophobic regimen required to maintain a play space in the main game. It lacks the substance of the main game but it does offer a kind of brilliant freedom that’s hugely enjoyable.

Multiplayer, too, has received something of a shot in the arm- 4 player Live co-op features and plays exactly as you suspect- a host invites 3 friends in to one of their gardens and can select a variety of permission grades to limit any possible vandalism threats from rakes and knaves they may associate themselves with. On a single machine, the dynamic is changed considerably, however. Here, player 2 is, rather than a second player in full, a kind of magic helper whose abilities are powered by doing good deeds in their host’s garden. It’s a clever design choice that was implemented, like just for fun mode, to encourage interaction from younger players, particularly if they want to play with a parent or older sibling.

There are, of course, niggles. One major gripe is that the new environments of sand and ice seem a bit half baked in to the process of the main game. The two dedicated zones outside of your main garden don’t function as new play areas; they’re just empty squares that you can go to in order to capture wild piñatas and take them back. Sadly, once they’re there the means of keeping them happy (sand or snow instead of grass) feels luke warm. Unless the ability to add distinctive furniture sets arises, the game seems to have missed a huge opportunity for creating some of your own playable environments.

In the end, Rare have come up with a very well rounded sequel, despite some concerns. Faults in the original feel remedied for fans of the series, but don’t expect anything new. If you didn’t like the original, there’s no reason you’ll like this more as, fundamentally, this is just more of the same, only better. This is no problem for enthusiasts, and for them the game is hard not to recommend as highly as possible.