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Kazooie of Banjo-Kazooie always seems to draw the short straw. Banjo-Tooie, Banjo-Pilot, one would think he were the silent partner. Sidekick prejudic aside, Banjo-Pilot is one of the best racing titles on the Gameboy Advance. The system lends itself to cartoony, playful racers rather than the more realistic styled games; Banjo-Pilot is sitting with Mario Kart, firmly at the top of that pile. It's actually remarkable that the game has turned out as well as it has given its slightly troubled development but Rare have never been a studio to release games half finished.
Banjo-Pilot was developed originally as a sequel to Rare's Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64. At the time, Rare was partly owned by Nintendo and developing exclusively for their systems. Midway through development however, Nintendo released their ownership of Rare. A shock decision as the studio had developed some of the most successful titles on Nintendo systems for the last decade. Of course, Nintendo still owned the copyright for Donkey Kong and related characters and a hasty retooling of what was then known as Diddy Kong Pilot was initiated.
Essentially the game is a simple kart racer, colourful tracks and crazy weapons are the standard here. However, Banjo-Pilot sets itself apart by fitting the racers with planes instead of go-karts. While you're largely confined the the tracks, you can fly up and down while performing basic aerial tricks to collect various power-ups and trinkets. It's a nice approach to a now familiar genre and sets Banjo-Pilot apart from the crowd. We are treated to a nice selection of racers, familiar faces from the series including, of course, Banjo, Kazooie and Grunty. Each character handles differently, squeezed into their little planes and its to Rare's credit that they kept the game feeling like a liberated Mario Kart and not a complex flight sim.
Visually this is quite possibly the most stunning game I've ever seen on the Gameboy Advance. Back in 1994, Rare pioneered the concept of pre-rendered 3D models being converted into sprites for the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo. This development created the illusion of 3D without actually rendering any 3D environment. The Super Nintendo also featured what was known as "Mode 5," another 3D illusion that displayed large sprites, laid at an angle to give the illusion of a three-dimensional floor. Banjo-Pilot combines these two effects into a game that looks and plays as smoothly as a modern 3D title. This is still a 2D game on a 2D system, using clever tricks to achieve its goals, but it plays no differently to what you would expect on a Playstation or Nintendo 64. It's an incredible achievement, squeezing more out of the hardware than I would have thought possible. Because of this, Banjo-Pilot simply feels like no other game on the Gameboy Advance. While the DS and PSP have achieved much more since, at the time it was totally unique for a handheld system.
While mostly successful, the last minute shake up seems to have harmed the game in terms of story. While racers rarely bother with much of a plot, the Banjo-Kazooie games have usually offered a bit more plot and a lot more with. The style is still here in the character design, music and sound effects but there is no plot, no humour, no basic outline carrying all that. It doesn't spoil the fun much but it does seem conspicuous by its absence.
Banjo-Pilot is a highly effective game that offers so many reasons to buy it. For all round fans of handheld gaming, it is a flexible cart racer that offers visuals and style well beyond the norm for the console. For Banjo-Kazooie fans, it's a nice addition to the series and for Mario Kart fans, it offers similar gameplay but with an aeronautic twist.
This is a standard Gameboy Advance cartridge and as such will run in any Gameboy Advance system, DS or DS Lite. No DSi or DSi XL however. It can be found of Amazon, Play or eBay for a few pounds and is well worth picking.