Banjo Pilot, while taking a few notes from the popular Mario Kart series, manages to generate somewhat of a unique flare. Instead of racing around in small motorized karts, Banjo Pilot has players racing on small motorized planes. Originally, this game was going to be a sequel of sorts to Diddy Kong Racing (N64) but Rare’s split with Nintendo enabled THQ to pick up the rights. However, unlike the fantastic Diddy Kong Racing, players can only race in planes – hovercrafts and karts are not an option in Banjo Pilot. Like most things in the game world, racing strictly in planes has both its advantages and disadvantages.
Even though players will be flying through the air, the planes have many of the same features as if riding on a ground-based kart. For example, the plane maybe be able to fly up to 20 feet in the air, but it is still tactically tied to the track seeing as flying over rocky terrain will inevitably slow the vehicle. Luckily, the developers used the vertical flying to the game’s advantage by adding some bonus tricks. With the tap of a shoulder button, the player’s plane can perform tricks with the corresponding direction of the D-pad. Also, it is possible to avoid incoming missiles (and other offensive weaponry) by performing a back flip. If executed at the optimum time, the player is not only rewarded with the satisfaction of dodging onrushing trouble, but also with a boost of speed. It is nice to see the trick ability exist functionally as well as a form for showboating.
Unlike Mario Kart, a boss battle will take place at the end of each Cup. Negatively, each boss battle is basically the same ?cat chases mouse’ type game. However, this extra stage shows that the developers gave the game a little extra effort. Banjo Pilot also offers a few more modes of play besides the standard Cup mode. What would a racing game be without a Time Trial mode? Plus, another game mode will have the player collecting puzzle pieces scattered across the track, but all will be for nothing if you do not obtain first place. The game does support multiplayer mode, but each player must own a copy of the game to utilize the feature. Not having a single pak link function is one of Banjo Pilot’s biggest downfalls. Mario Kart Super Circuit was able to pull it off successfully, why not this game?especially seeing as both use the Mode 7 graphics engine?
The game’s programmers really deserve a pat on the back. The complex Mode 7 scaling technique really gives off the feeling of a 3D world. This graphics engine works remarkably well on the GBA’s hardware. However, though the game may move smoothly, there is one big flaw in the graphics. When on straight-aways, it is difficult to judge the next oncoming turn simply because the playable character is blocking your view. A transparency effect could have easily fixed this glaring gameplay flaw. The game music also retains the same goofy Banjo style theme. While it can be annoying at times, it definitely fits the wacky mood of the game.
The weaponry is basically the same as it is in other kart racers. Heat-seeking missiles and boosts of speed can be found at several points throughout each track. It would have been nice to see some new types of weapons beside the general missile, mine, and boost but the game still retains balance this way. The game also gives players more incentive to play because new characters and tracks can be unlocked. The more you play, the more you unlock.
Is Banjo Pilot the best racing game on GBA? No. Mario Kart Super Circuit still marks its territory for the number one slot, but Banjo Pilot is certainly worthy competition for the silver medal. If there was more variety in the boss battles, a solid transparency effect on the characters, and a single pak link mode, then Mario Kart could have faced a run for its money. Despite a few shortcomings, Banjo Pilot is still an enjoyable game. Plus, it retails at only $20USD, a price well worth the investment. Banjo Pilot is a thoroughly decent racing game, but it is not the Diddy Kong Racing sequel that everyone was waiting for.