Rare has been extremely busy on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, the highest selling platform across the world. This, consider how it is wholly owned by Microsoft now, is quite an amazing feat, especially as the quality has been so high on its previous three solo releases and the Donkey Kong Country ports. But with its latest game just released here in Europe, can the handheld team maintain such lofty standards? Find out by reading on…
If you have been following the development of this particular game, you will realise that it has had rather a tumultuous creation period, originally starting out as a Mode 7, Super Mario Kart-esque game, then changing over to a more 3D-style Voxel-based title, and finally settling down in Mode 7 once again, except with more detail poured into it. This latter form is very impressive and shows how Rare really has a wonderful grasp of the Nintendo handheld, with the final product being akin to a lower-end N64 game. Rich colours all over, wonderful little animations throughout, ACM modelled characters and a very solid frame-rate that manages to cope with the on-track scenery better than you would expect the GBA to be able to do. The only problem is that because of the flying nature of Banjo Pilot, some depth issues can arise, with perception problems when going near to puddles of lava and other track hazards. But you can easily adapt to that, so it proves to be only a minor issue in an otherwise technically marvellous GBA game.
Rare always receives heaps of praise when it comes to its musical work on any platform and Banjo Pilot follows this extremely pleasing trend. Right from the start-up screen you know that no expense has been spared on this, the latest Nintendo product from the Microsoft-owned company. Fans of previous Banjo outings will feel right at home here, with a nice amount of regurgitated tracks from both Banjo-Kazooie and its N64 sequel, Banjo Tooie, as well as some highly addictive new tunes (such as the Unirally / Plok-esque winning ceremony track, complete with excellent MIDI guitar work) and brilliant voice work. Well, ‘voice’ work, as it is the usual mumblings that have become tied with the series – except rather than in Grunty’s Revenge where they did not work as well, due to being cut short because of the small cartridge format, Pilot clearly has the benefit of some lovely compression techniques that bring your GBA back up to N64 standards. You know the drill, crack out those earphones…
Back in the days of the Nintendo 64, Rare created Diddy Kong Racing, part of which was an option to fly around certain courses. This was the inspiration for Diddy Kong Pilot on the GBA, but after the sale to Microsoft the game suddenly had to take a little turnaround, this Banjo Pilot was born. That also meant that the roster of characters had to be amended as well, leading to a line-up of Banjo, Kazooie, Mumbo Jumbo, Umba Wumba, Jinjo and various other B-K favourites. The courses also have taken on a completely different look to the original conception, with the locations from the Banjo Universe taking a front seat now.
The controls are nice and intuitive, making for a pretty simple ‘pick and play’ affair. Move left and right, up and down, you know the drill. But then there is the ability to barrel roll and loop-de-loop to avoid attacks, gaining special boosts when dodging any projectiles on your tail. The flight element also means that you must be more accurate than usual when it comes to the special items and weapons that are floating around the courses, as well as when you are trying to navigate into one of the speed cones that shoot you quickly up the rankings.
The range of courses is very interesting, if somewhat similar to the Mario Kart series, with the usual desert locations, icy conditions and lava hotspots to choose from, as well as many other styles of course that you will have come across time and time again, but still manage to have a fresh feeling thanks to Rare’s excellent work in making them as faithful to the Nintendo karting series as possible. In fact, the team pays homage to Mario Kart so much, that even when flying over water, lava or rough terrain, your vehicle slows down. A little strange since you are flying over them, but it does not prove bothersome at all as you will be more than used to that particular approach.
There is a final twist thrown in as well, and that is that even when you have come first across all of the races in a specific cup, you must have a dog-fight with a chosen character. Here you must fly after them and either use your standard weapon or the offensive projectiles (like homing missiles) to hit the character in front of you. Then you both switch positions and you must avoid the opponents onslaught, whilst protecting yourself with other pick-ups like white blocks that can be dropped behind you, or lightning bolts. This proves to be a fun addition, but can also tiresome after a while. But you cannot fault Rare for trying something new!
If people bemoaned the fact that Grunty’s Revenge was short, the Banjo team has come dashing out to show that they have not lost their touch in the slightest by throwing us a heavyweight game that will wear your GBA batteries down before you even realise. Yes, ‘addictive’ and ‘lengthy’ are keys words when describing Pilot and what more could you ask for? If the taxing cup mode does not keep you going, with its undulating and troublesome courses, then there is the Jiggy Challenge, where you must not only finish in a winning position, but also collect the correct amount of jigsaw pieces dotted around the track, a Time Trial, various cheats to unlock and a fun multi-player mode to give Banjo Pilot that extra boost.
Whilst very Mario Kart in essence, Rare has not cooked up any old racer. A fan of Diddy Kong Racing? Then you will definitely like this!
Excellent use of Mode 7, with some clever 3D trickier thrown in for good measure. The solid frame-rate proves to be the biggest selling point!
Rare's musical background is generally high, and Banjo Pilot's score is no slacker with some old favourites mixed in with extremely catchy new ones.
Winning the general cups will take long enough, but with the Jiggy challenge, Time Trial, various unlockables and multiplayer aspect Pilot is well worth the
Rare has an illustrious track record and has just added another gem to its crown in Banjo Pilot. The best racer of the GBA? Not quite, but it is a strong second behind Mario Kart: Super Circuit, which is definitely no mean feat...
"Rare game to come to a Nintendo is Banjo.."
Dude, spell check! I still think it will be overlooked. Banjo was a big deal on the N64 and had a strong following. But that was a fair few years ago and most people wouldve moved on.
It'll only be overlooked because of all the biased Nintendo reviewers still holding a grudge against Rare. Nice to see an unbiased review at last - keep up the good work, it is an excelent game.
^Framerate problems, its still looks great like this though, very impressive for GBA.
Standard mode 7.
I have seen smooth voxal engines running from homebrew developers THOSE are impressive.
"Payback" is impressive too, but that has a low framerate. (still its a suppriseing good game, shame so few stores sale it :( I feel sorry for the guy who made it)
Super Monkey Ball is 3D and suppriseing smooth though.
"Asterix" is totaly 3D and very smooth as well.
(allthough theres distortions when your up close to stuff)
The GBA can do much better then Mode7+Sprites.
So did they get rid of the motion sensor thingy they were going to pack into Diddy Kong pilot?
It worked fine when they were making it, but the level of detail was so high that as soon as there were more than 2 characters on-screen at once the frame-rate suffered. Either that or they had to not have so much detail, which wouldn't have been good either. So it was decided that it would be better to use mode 7, which would still look good and be more playable - and thats what they did - and take it from me, someone who's played it, its one of the best looking GBA games, its smooth, it has a great sence of speed and it plays really well.
And there was no way THQ would put a motion sensor in their carts, they only reluctantly put a save feature in all of Rare's games. But again, its still an excelent game, you won't be dissapointed.
hmmm, not my game, i havent thought much of rare lately :P
howzy man you dismiss a lot of games from the offset! What games do you like man? Was tempted to pick this up when I found it hidden in the GBA section in GAME, definitely one to replace my Super Circuit, which has gone runaway...
That's just the attitude I was hoping others would take - a nice follow-up to the age old handheld Mario Kart. But it seems that just like most of THQ's non-cartoon licensed games, it's died... :roll: