Ever since Nintendo first performed the trick with Mario Kart, it has been a long standing tradition for game developers to put their characters into weapons-based racing games, Since Mario Kart we have seen characters from gaming series including the Donkey Kong and Crash Bandicoot games abandoning their traditional styles of play in support of a racing title release, the end result of all this character/genre swapping doesn’t always end up in a racing game however as we have seen with the game Puzzle Fighter in which Capcoms familiar Street Fighter line-up were placed into a puzzle game.
This idea of bringing established characters and gaming series into different genres could end up creating some very weird games, imagine playing Tekken-the-RPG or Gran-Turismo-the-lightgun-game. (Although thinking about it, having a racing sim in which you play the co-driver, whose primary objective is to lean out of the passenger side window of a speeding car wielding a shotgun with which to blast up the opposition could actually be pretty cool)
Anyway, I’m here today to talk about the latest game in the ‘platform-characters-in-a-racer’ line - Banjo Pilot.
Banjo Pilot is themed around the Banjo-Kazooie series, and the theme is carried across very nicely, the characters are in place in the forms of big bear Banjo, his feathered sidekick Kazooie, the mystic Mumbo-Jumbo and a cutesy-small Jinjo initially with a further five entrants to unlock as you play, the soundtrack is in the style of the previous Banjo games soundtracks too with the familiar style of upbeat and light-hearted ditties running from the moment you hit the title screen. The courses are themed around the levels of the BK games with tracks based on Spiral Mountain, Treasure Trove Cove and many many others making an appearance throughout the various Grand Prix sets of races included. The standard ‘Kart’ game modes are present in Banjo Pilot, you have Grand Prix races, Time Trials, Multiplayer etc. The first time you try each mode of play you will get given a brief explanation of how the mode works from Bottles – the tip-giving mole from the BK series.
Banjo Pilot follows quite closely the formula laid down in Mario Kart, the racing action takes place in the same sort of quasi-3D environment as found in Mario Kart with the main difference being that all the competitors are racing in airplanes, this means that rather than simply racing around a course on a flat plane you are able to move your racer up and down in order to avoid or overtake your opponents and to grab the various power-ups dotted around the courses, for the most part however you will likely play the game in the same way as any other kart-racer, only moving up and down to hit a weapon icon, speed boost or to avoid collision. Although you are able to fly this doesn’t mean that you can simply take your racer and fly of the sides of the track and go cruising all over the level, if you stray too far off the sides of the course you will be pushed back as if you have struck an invisible wall.
A nice touch in Banjo Pilot is how at the end of each Grand Prix stage you will fight a boss battle in which you begin by flying along behind your opponent and try to shoot them down, then you swap places and they try to shoot you down while you try to avoid their fire, both you and your opponent have a health bar for this stage and the first to lose all their health has lost the battle.
You are able to unlock the various secrets of Banjo Pilot by collecting pages of ‘Cheato’ the book of tricks whose pages have gotten lost, you will obtain pages of Cheato as you complete each race and there are pickups on the tracks that will gain you more pages for collecting them.
Banjo Pilot doesn’t really do much to stand out from the other kart racers for the majority of the game but you get the impression that it wasn’t meant to be a mould-breaking title but rather a fun to play quick racer which anyone should be able to get into, in this it succeeds rather admirably, it is good fun to play and is supported by the Banjo-Kazooie theme very nicely and while the game is obviously going to be compared to the other kart racers out there it remains a very good game in its own right. Despite the lack of originality in many places throughout the game (if you’ve played many other kart games, you’ve already seen most of whats in Banjo Pilot) it remains fun and there is a lot to see and more to unlock in the way of extra races and characters as you progress through the game.