The latest portable issue from the folks at Rare doesn't soar very high at all. We have the full review here...
My, how far we've come since Banjo and Kazooie once frolicked in the polygonal hills of "The Fun Machine", the Nintendo 64. Why, it was only yesterday when the original Banjo-Kazooie game was merely rumored and went by the name "Project Dream". Gamers wondered what its magical title alluded to when the irreverent reality of what it turned out to be was far different than what many pictured. Since then, Banjo and co. have only had a few other gaming appearances, all the while keeping their faces familiar to us and their marketability viable.
Enter Banjo Pilot: A mascot-racing game like any other entry in the genre on the Game Boy Advance. The twist for our animal buddies however relies on a change in the vehicle department, as the characters of the Banjo-Kazooie universe make their way about in various sorts of aircraft that can maneuver not just side-to-side but also up and down as well. However, this new addition of a height dynamic on the courses makes for some tricky evaluation when trying to hit speed boosts or attempting to steer into the weapon receptacles. Speaking of which, the standard forms of kart-based weaponry accompany these vehicles, like homing attacks, rear-deployed mines, and an attack-all lightning strike, all of which take on appropriate avatars of the franchise.
Like many Rare games, Banjo Pilot incorporates a mixture of pixel and rendered sprite artwork but in this case it's at the cost of extremely varying results. The slick rotations of the characters look rather nice, as Rare has included a large amount of graphic frames for various angles and degrees of movement. The environments, too, consist of rendered landscape pieces in parallax layers of expected Banjo-esque terrain, often nicely colored and lit. Those familiar with the N64 games and even the GBA version of their adventures will feel right at home with the themes of the tracks. But some of the icons, trees, and miscellaneous sprites show a great deal of discolored edges, lack of color depth, or just zero care for the artistic touch-up that's required for games employing this rendered style.
But the big issue plaguing Banjo Pilot has mostly to do with the unwieldy collision and track boundaries. They're visually distinct (sort of) just unpredictably restrictive and it's hard to plan around when you may or may not suffer dire consequences for breaching them. It doesn't help that the control of your aircraft feels sloppy and relatively imprecise, as you will be over and under-steering quite frequently. I'm going to speculate for a moment and say that the development team understood this and that is why the game has such wide-open track design to compensate. The control of your craft almost feels okay just because of this perceived evidence.
Additionally, the artificial intelligence of the other racers is clearly random since their speeds and item usage appears to be manifested upon demand by the CPU. If the game weren't a touch on the easy side it would be a very frustrating adventure. However, if you have any kind of experience whatsoever with these types of games then you'll blaze through the courses and modes rather quickly. I found myself doing this methodically and without interest much of the time. The game just failed to captivate me in any real capacity, largely and expectedly because of the design's pre-packaged nature.
The only real challenge comes at the final stage of each Grand Prix circuit, when you're pitted against a boss in a racing dog-fight where your view flip-flops in alternating phases. Initially you're the chaser and at other times the chased. Yes, this can be disorienting, even downright obnoxious, but only further exacerbated by the nebulous nature of some of the attacks each particular rival will spit at you. It's a tedious exercise to be forced to dodge attacks that aren't based on any cultivated skills from the true racing sections.
Banjo Pilot's only effort to offer slight nuance comes in the form of sharp turns (R Button with direction) and rolls (L Button with direction), the latter of which is intended to avoid the opponents' projectile devilry. Occasionally this technique will work, possibly inadvertently when you smash into an opposing character and send them careening into oblivion. Most of the time, however, you'll just barrel roll right out of the track yourself. This is hardly fitting or pleasing.
It should be noted that there are a variety of modes and variations of the racing theme to keep gamers occupied and to brush up on the courses. Much of it is standard fare, like Time Trials, but there are also side-goals to achieve in order to unlock things like secret speed boosts on the tracks during GP races or even secret characters. I won't spoil how to see those through but just realize it provides a little deviation from the norm if you're having a tough time with one of the aforementioned boss tangles.
The world of Banjo-Kazooie may be one that Nintendo has divorced itself from but it's still fondly remembered by certain corners of the game-playing world. The reality of what Banjo Pilot has become is far less ambitious both in design and technology than what it started out as years ago (See: Diddy Kong Pilot) and a much more sanitary piece of software than most would have anticipated. All in all, it's still a decent racing romp for the palms of your hands but if you already own the older, yet far superior Konami Krazy Racers or Mario Kart: Super Circuit then Banjo Pilot is just reliably bland.
What's Hot: Nice representations of the characters and very faithful to the Banjo-Kazooie universe.
What's Not: Sloppy and unweildy collision and controls.