Thursday, 17 March 2005
Come on. Just a straightforward introduction, no puns. Just grin and bear it. Oh, snap.
Handheld videogames consoles, eh? Once, only a few short years ago, we had but one option when it came to gaming on the move, but fast forward to the present day and we have a multitude of Game Boy alternatives being shoved into our faces. We're left with stylus scratches all over our cheeks and eyes blinded by the light reflected from our five inch screens. Not to mention that ridiculous phone one, and that one with the silly name. What’s it called again?
With all of this hubbub surrounding the 'new generation' of handheld gaming, it’s worth remembering that the grandparents aren’t dead yet. The good old comfortable GBA and the slightly more stylish SP are still alive and well, and even with the advent of all these new machines, we shouldn’t forget they're still alive and kicking.
Banjo Pilot, the latest game from the once-legendary developers Rareware (yes, that’s right; they still exist) isn’t going to bring the masses swarming back to the good old GBA if they’ve just imported a shiny new PSP or are happily reacquainting themselves with Super Mario 64 DS, but is nevertheless an entertaining (if somewhat familiar) race/battle game – with planes. You know, those winged things you can sit in and fly? It can’t be anything like Mario Kart: Super Circuit then!
I suppose that Banjo Pilot works under the assumption that, after years of constant play, you’re feeling a little fed up with everybody’s favourite Mushroom Kingdom racer. If that’s the case, then this new game might just be the answer to your prayers. You choose a character from the Banjo universe to participate in an airborne race to the finish line. All of those wonderful men in their flying machines are there – from Mumbo Jumbo to...erm...Mumba Wumba. Upon selecting the races you will be participating in (further Grand Prix stages can be unlocked as you progress) you begin your leisurely flight around the circuit, hesitating only briefly to marvel at the scenery before you take to the skies. With the bright, colourful graphics with 3D character models, Rareware prove that they are still capable of unlocking the full potential of the given hardware. These are some of the most sumptuous visuals the GBA has ever seen without a shadow of a doubt; sadly, however, the musical score does not quite live up to the same standard. While the familiar Banjo tunes are there, they are not only extremely limited in terms of quantity, but they quickly begin to grind after only an hour or so of gameplay - don’t even get me started on the character’s voices. You’ll quickly be sliding the volume down and switching to your favourite CD tunes – hell, even a ‘Best of Eurovision’ compilation wouldn't struggle to beat this game’s soundtrack in terms of sheer banality.
The races themselves are enjoyable and challenging enough – a pleasant diversion, nothing more. This game had the potential to be a serious rival to Mario Kart: Super Circuit, and at times it does indeed deliver on that potential – that extra dimension makes you feel slightly less constrained when it comes to racing. However, the game has a few niggles which cause it to swoop just underneath the high-flying Mario and chums. For one, the circuits, while pretty enough, are far too simplistic and far too uninteresting to even consider comparing to the delightful twists and turns of Super Circuit’s tracks. While the tracks in Mario’s madcap races are so memorable and truly enjoyable to race along, Banjo Pilot is by comparison forgettable and pedestrian in terms of track design. Also, the weaponry available to use within the game is far from the diversity and balance that Mario Kart is famed for. A very limited and dull selection of items are available to be picked up as you fly around the courses – and although the added maneuverability of the aircraft allows for some skilful dodging techniques, the weapons you can acquire are far too lacklustre and uninspiring to warrant any satisfactory use. To deliver the final shot to the head as far as items are concerned, they very rarely actually have any strategic value in a race. You’re perfectly capable of regaining your previous position in the race within a few seconds should you be hit with, say, a multicoloured spinning disc. Imaginative, huh?
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Banjo’s latest outing. All of these faults aside, Banjo Pilot is still an pleasure to play and is (for the most part) an accomplished racer – with a little more imagination on Rare’s part, this could have been an absolute stunner, and so it’s a little saddening to see an opportunity wasted here. On the other hand, if you are fed up with Super Circuit and are after a worthwhile replacement, you might wish to consider picking this up. Not quite up there with the cream of the GBA crop, but still an enjoyable, fun and challenging game that, if you aren’t as fussy as we are, is well worth a look.