Friday, 31 January 2014

Banjo Pilot review

Whoa wait what? I have a blog? And I do reviews on it? Well hot damn better get to doing that then! To celebrate this return I've decided to spend the entire month of February reviewing GameBoy Advance racing games, starting off with probably the most storied of the bunch.

Story-N/A: Much like Sonic and Allstars Racing Transformed (And most racing games in general), Banjo Pilot doesn't have a story. What it does have is a STORIED backstory (heh heh) relating to business deals and trade offs.

It all started back in the 90s, when the Super NES had launched. Nintendo was competing with Sega to show off the graphical abilities of their consoles. In order to do this, Nintendo took a big risk by buying out a little known company called Rareware. Rareware developed a game called Donkey Kong Country, which used new 3D rendering technology to make an amazing looking game. Rareware went on to become one of Nintendo's most popular 2nd party developers.

Over the course of the decade, Rareware made games like Donkey Kong Country 2, Conker's Bad Fur Day, but most importantly, both Diddy Kong Racing and Banjo Kazooie. Diddy Kong Racing turned out to be a huge hit, and both Banjo and Kazooie wound up being Rare's mascots for a bit. When the GameBoy Advance came out, Rare decided to make a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing, but something happened.

Nintendo struck a deal with Microsoft. Microsoft would give them a lot of money in exchange for a 2nd party developer. Nintendo decided to go with Rare, leaving all of their franchises, aside from Donkey Kong, in the terrible hands of the green menace.

Unfortunately, Diddy Kong Pilot had pretty much been finished when this all happened, and since they could no longer use the Donkey Kong license, they had decided to change the game from a Diddy Kong game, to a Banjo Kazooie game.

Diddy Kong pilot was actually leaked onto the internet, and it turned out it was exactly the same as Banjo Pilot, but with Donkey Kong related  characters and items. Basically this is a long way of saying that I'm basically reviewing two games.

Gameplay-8/10: The game isn't exactly your average kart racing game, because instead of karts, you drive planes, so you work on an x and y axis instead of just an x axis. This functions into the tracks very well, as most obstacles can be dodged by hovering above them or going around them. There is also rough terrain that somehow slows you down when you fly over it. It makes sense when it's something like lava, but when you slow down by going over water, isn't that a bit silly?

Every good racing game has a variety of modes, and this one isn't any different. Most of them are basic things, like Quick Race, which is exactly what it sounds like, Time Trial, where you race around the track as fast as you can, and the Grand Prix, where you race through 4 tracks to score points and get cups.

The only real new mode is the Jiggy Challenge mode, where you race around a track and collect 6 of the titular golden jigsaw pieces while racing against an opponent. This mode gets ridiculously hard by the 3rd track if you use the wrong character, and it's the only mode i didn't bother completing due to the difficulty.

The game consists of 16 tracks (16 is the magic number for racing games), but most of them feel the same. For the most part, all the obstacles are just things sticking out of the ground. The fact that you fly over the stages means that it really doesn't matter if the track is ice themed, or if you drive into some lava, it always acts the same as anything else. About the only thing that really counts for each track is the layout and the placement of Zippers, which give you a boost of speed.

Every kart racer also needs items to use, which you get by flying into Honeycombs. These consist of some vaguely Banjo Kazooie themed items, such as Fire Egss, which home in on the nearest opponent, Ice Eggs, which drop behind you, the Saucer of Peril, which homes in on first place, a Mingy Jongo skull, which stuns every opponent on the track, the Golden Feather, which makes you invincible, and the Turbo Trainers, which give you an automatic speed boost. These are basically all just Mario Kart items with different skins, though.

After every race you collect a number of book pages, which you can gather up to spend in Cheato the spell book's shop. Using the pages unlocks bonus things, like multiplayer maps, characters, extra modes, but most importantly you can unlock the Glowbos, which open up secret boosts when you shoot at them. Collecting the 4 music notes in each track will multiply the number of pages you get.

Now, lets go over the characters real quick. There are 9 playable characters, 4 of which you start out with. The characters consist of favorite Banjo characters like Mumbo Jumbo the shaman and the mad scientist monster Klungo. All of the characters have 3 stats, Top Speed, which represents how fast you can go, Acceleration, which shows how fast you plane can go before it hits top speed, and Handling, which shows how easy to control the character is.

Out of all the characters, my main man had to be Mumbo Jumbo, but the best character is Bottles the mole, who has nearly perfect stats, but you need to unlock him by beating every Jiggy Challenge level and collecting all 6 of the jiggies, which I did not do.

Finally, there's the Grand Prix, which consists of 4 cups, each separating 4 of the 16 tracks. You race against 7 other opponents, and the goal is to get the most points by the end of the 4 races, but the points you get depends on your placing. Your number of points at the end gives you either a gold, silver, or bronze trophy depending on your score. There's also a platinum trophy you can unlock if you get first on every track.

After the 4 tracks, however, lurks a boss fight with another racer, which mostly consists of shooting at the racer, avoiding the racer's giant projectiles, avoiding the racer's bullets, and then dropping you own giant projectiles. Do that multiple times until either the boss' health is drained, or your health is drained. Beating most cups will unlock new characters to buy.

After you beat the first 4 cups however, a new Grand Prix opens up, where you have to race through the tracks in reverse. It's basically the game's hard mode. And then after you do that, you open up the endurance Grand Prix, where you have to race through all the tracks one after another, and the Jinjo Grand Prix, which chooses 6 random tracks and has you race against other colored Jinjos (Weird lizard lookin' things.).

Graphics-5/10: The graphics use the same engine that Mario Kart: Super Circuit uses, laying out the track in a pseudo 3D way, but everything is actually a 2D sprite. This is pretty much how every racing game on the GBA worked though.

The 9 characters each have their own custom plane to race in, like a classic wooden biplane for Mumbo Jumbo, or a more high tech jet for Klungo. The characters themselves, however, are very stiff, and in the case of Klungo, completely off model. Some of the characters also look gigantic next to each other, which is really weird.

The tracks themselves open up with some variety, but slowly end up repeating themselves. Even when the theme of the track is nice, there might end up being a complete dissonance from the background and level name.

All the levels are named after worlds from Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, but since these tracks were repurposed from a Donkey Kong game, they wind up only loosely matching. For example, the theme park world, Witchyworld, is filled with sludge and nothing theme park related. Only a few levels actually do match their namesake, like Treasure Trove Cove and Jolly Rodger Lagoon, but there isn't any more than that. The most egregious example is turning the technology, final bad guy base level from Banjo Tooie, into an ice level.

The reversed tracks are no better, simply adding a sickly green effect onto the background and maybe changing the color of the lava.

Overall-8/10: Despite graphical and business issues, this game manages to be a unique racer with a surprising amount of content in it. The fact that Diddy Kong Pilot was going to come out in 2003, while this game came out in 2005, shows that they still spent a lot of time trying to change the franchises. If you can find it, buy it, and if you can't download it.

Racing month will continue with something... something weird.

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