GBA REVIEW: BANJO PILOT

I originally previewed this game back in the summer of 2001 when it was called Diddy Kong Pilot. A lot has changed since then. Rare has left the right arm of Nintendo to assume the position over at Microsoft, Diddy Kong has been removed in favor of the Rare trademarked "Banjo the bear" and the GBA has been upgraded into the SP and a new handheld system has arrived on the scene. It's been a wild 3 and a half years.

But what of Banjo? How did his game fair? Relax Timmy, the answer is "Just fine". That is, if you like playing games that would have been acceptable three and a half years ago. Banjo Pilot smacks of contractual obligation as in "We Had No Choice But To Finish This Game and Release It...That's Why Perfect Dark Zero, Conker and Kameo Are Late....Sorry." That's not to say Banjo isn't mildly amusing; it certainly is, but the audience has left the building and the "me too" kart-style action with airplanes" in Banjo Pilot won't have players lining up to experience it.

Conceptualize Mario Kart with airplanes and that's exactly what you have here. Since even Mario Kart on the GBA was already looking long in the tooth, you can imagine that some of the luster has definitely worn off on this genre in 2005. It needs technology to give it a boost in the ass and the GBA isn't up to the challenge. Had this project been upgraded in every department - graphics, gameplay, control - and programmed for the DS I'm sure given Rare's usual track record of impressive playable titles, this review might have had a different outcome.

The game performs admirably on the small screen and Rare has no trouble moving a handful of characters on the screen at one time. The levels are colorful, bright and players won't have any trouble locating exactly where they need to go. Unlike Diddy Kong Racing on the N64, players are confined to the tracks and can't explore beyond them. The level designs aren't particularly impressive and if I can borrow a Hollywood saying for a moment, it seems that Rare phoned in the racing enviroments. There is little imagination in the tracks, although they do run the gamut of worlds culminated from Banjo's previous N64 adventures.

The control is tight and responsive although I have a few minor quibbles about configuration. The "gas" is assigned to the A button, while tight turns are mapped to the R shoulder button. Weapons and items are mapped to the B button which I found incredibly awkward and this setup cannot be altered. Because of utlizing the R button, your hands will be set up in the classic thumb on the button, index finger on the shoulder. This means you'll have to take your finger off the gas to use a weapon or an item. It would have been much better to map this function to the L shoulder button as your left index finger is there anyway and it has nothing to do. Another infraction is the inability to change the direction in which Banjo moves up or down - if you want to move up, you have to press down. If you want to move downwards, you have to press up. I understand this is the way flying machines tend to work but I hope no one will mistake Banjo Pilot for a flight simulator. An option would have been thoughtful.

You won't need a university degree in "Banjo" to understand the incredible depth of Banjo Pilot. Let's face it, the gameplay and the characters are about as generic as can be. The only people who are truly jumping for joy at this release are the true blue Banjo the Bear fans and Rare, who have finally delivered this one and can move on. I'm betting Rare is jumping just a little higher....

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System: GBA
Dev: Rare
Pub: Rare
Released: Jan 2005
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
2.5
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
3.5
MUSIC/FX
2.5
VALUE
2.0