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Banjo Pilot was originally announced around the time of the GBA’s conception, albeit as Diddy Kong Pilot – the game that was to use a tilt sensor to traverse the courses. Gone is Diddy Kong and all associated Nintendo characters; gone is the tilt sensor and any originality it could have brought to the genre; gone is any sense of fun that could have been attained from this deeply flawed game.
Banjo Pilot contains a vast array of tracks, 16 to be precise, and each of these can be raced in reverse as well. The problem is that the tracks are all so very similar and all so very boring, rarely straying from a NASCAR style oval. The few tracks that do incorporate multiple routes, a la Mario Kart, are so reminiscent of that game as to beg the question: why not just play Mario Kart in the first place?
The 16 tracks mentioned above are not limited to grand prix racing; the usual Time Trial fare is present, as is the obligatory Quick Race for those that want to dip in-and-out of the action. Banjo Pilot also introduces Jiggy Challenge, a mode that requires you to collect pieces of jigsaw whilst trying to come first in a one-on-one race. Grand-prix will easily garner the most attention; it isn’t that great, but it is the best of a bad bunch; cheating AI really hurts the majority of game modes. Jiggy Challenge is so infuriating that only fans of masochism will take any enjoyment from it. Collecting the Jiggys isn’t particularly difficult, but you can have a perfect race with zero mistakes and still easily lose; usually though, the game will wait until you’re almost finished before giving your enemy endless speed-ups. This is also a problem in the latter grand prix cups, but much more noticeable when you’re only racing one opponent. The cheating by the CPU planes is so obvious it puts even Double Dash on the GameCube to shame, and often results in all fun being drained from the game. Of course, the terrible track layout doesn’t help much either…
The only people that will have any attachment to the characters within this game are those with either a love of Rare or those that have played the N64 Banjo games. Unfortunately, that limits the appeal of the game and for everyone else the characters are an uninspiring bunch. Despite all having their own stats for handling, speed etc, they all play remarkably similarly, so most people will probably choose the character that they like best. Probably Banjo then, as it’s his game.
The other essential area of any kart racer is the weapons: If the tracks and characters are a bit rubbish then at least you can get an ounce of fun out of some comedy weapons. It’s a shame then that the weapons in Banjo Pilot are also rubbish. Red Eggs fire forward and Ice ‘Eggs’ lay a cube of ice behind you, and of course, each is available in single or triple pickup format. Flying saucers are Banjo Pilot’s spiny shells and Mumbo Skulls are just lightening bolts. Oh, and then there’s the golden feather replacing the Starman, and running shoes replacing speed-up mushrooms. These weapons might not sound like a bad bunch – they are after all just Mario Kart power-ups in disguise – , but when you consider that Banjo Pilot seems to randomly allocate power-ups to the degree wherein saucers and invincibility will be given to the player in second place, the weapons become nothing more than a vehicle of your own destruction, constantly punishing you for racing perfectly.
There are a few unlockables to be found by shooting trackside creatures and collecting musical notes. These allow you to buy extra racers and new multiplayer modes from Cheato, the flying book. Unfortunately, with only multi-cart link-up, no multiplayer was indulged during my time with the game; however, with an absence of cheating CPU players it must be better than the frankly awful single player racing experience.
Overall, Banjo Pilot is a game that should be avoided. Single players beware; there is little fun to be had here. Playing with a friend might provide you with a little more entertainment, but with Mario Kart already available on the GBA, you’d be in much better hands with Mario and Co.