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Banjo Pilot

by Jonathan Metts - January 15, 2005, 8:05 am PST


Fly the furry skies.

What a relief it is to finally see Banjo Pilot finished. It will probably go down in history as the GBA game with the longest development cycle. I first played it at E3 2001, when it was known as Diddy Kong Pilot and utilized Nintendo’s tilt sensor cartridge to control the planes. Now, in 2005, it is finally being released with Rare’s own Banjo crew replacing Nintendo’s Kongs, and the tilt feature long removed. And even after four-plus years in development, the game looks and plays as well as any other brand-new GBA title. It adds to a small pool of quality racing games on the system, yet sets itself apart (though not drastically so) with the flying concept.

The game looks like most other GBA racers, with colorful Mode-7 graphics and pre-rendered characters and vehicles. The flat racing surface is accented with various sprite obstacles, scattered power-ups, and a few boost rings, but the fact that you are flying over the terrain rarely comes into play. To keep you from skipping large sections of the course, the planes slow down dramatically when you fly over rough ground, and if you get really far from the beaten path, the plane will just veer back onto the course. Moreover, the vertical movement allowed is rather limited, being only about two plane heights tall. The tracks are completely flat, so there’s no need to fly over or under obstacles. Then what is the point of using planes instead of cars or go-karts? Some power-ups are located on the track at different altitudes, but otherwise, it makes little difference.

It might make a difference if the plane could perform moves that a car couldn’t. In Banjo Pilot, you actually can barrel roll and somersault, but both moves are practically worthless. Homing weapons hover behind your plane briefly before striking, so it would seem like you could do one of these aerial maneuvers to dodge the projectiles, (and the game says you can), but it never worked for me despite many attempts.

Banjo Pilot has the standard quick race and grand prix modes, with about a dozen tracks and their mirrored versions. There are also time trials and the Jiggy Challenge, in which you must win a face-off race while also collecting six Jiggy pieces hidden on the course. I use the word “hidden”, but the items in Banjo Pilot are always floating out in the open…you just can’t see them until the last second, because they pop in due to graphical limitations. The game also features multiplayer races and battles if you have multiple cartridges.

Grand Prix is the main mode, set up in chains of four races each. At stake is a gold, silver, or bronze trophy, depending on your position in the final point standings. You can also get a platinum trophy by getting first place in all four races. But to claim your trophy, you must defeat another character in a battle face-off. These boss battles take place above the clouds, in narrow flight corridors with one plane chasing the other. After a certain amount of time, the planes switch places, so each one gets a chance to shoot the other down. When you are being chased, the camera pans around so that you are flying into the screen, which lets you better see what the opponent is doing. These face-offs are an interesting break from the race-race-race-race pattern of the rest of Grand Prix, but there is little difference from one boss to another, and it doesn’t take long to figure out how to beat them all with the same pattern.

Banjo Pilot’s biggest problem is the simplicity of its design. It feels like you are flying the same tracks over and over (and often you are, though in reverse), and there is no feeling of connection to the physics because it doesn’t really matter what kind of level you’re racing on. The gameplay mechanics are only superficially different from other games of this type; even the weapons stick to basic shell/banana/mushroom rip-offs. Most of what was great about Diddy Kong Racing, and even going as far back as RC Pro-Am, is missing or understated in Banjo Pilot. It is a well made game and can be fun for a while, but it just doesn’t feel special.


Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 9 8 6 7 7.5

There’s only so much you can do with grainy Mode-7 terrain, but Banjo Pilot does a lot with its fantastic pre-rendered character sprites (including angles showing full rotation!) and numerous sprite obstacles to steer around. Full-screen characters greet you in the various menus, and they look quite amazing too.


It is rather remarkable that Banjo Pilot sounds so much like its N64 brethren. The music is still really weird and very likable, and you’ll recognize the style within seconds of turning on the game. Gibberish voices return for character speech, but sadly, speech can’t be accelerated as in some of the other games.


Without power-sliding or even braking, there’s not much depth to these controls, but they do what you want them to do. You can turn and pitch quickly, even more so by holding R. The somersault and barrel rolls, however useless, are easy enough to pull off with L.


Banjo Pilot is disappointingly pedestrian in how it adds flight to the typical Mode-7 kart racing formula. The racing is fine, with decently challenging AI opponents and a good sense of speed. The tracks, on the other hand, look nice but don’t offer anything exciting. Boss battles are mildly interesting but turn out to be simpler than they first seem.


Even though there aren’t a ton of tracks, they all have reversed versions, which will last you through numerous Grand Prix tournaments. Every race earns you pages, which can be given to Cheato to unlock battle mode courses, new Jiggy Challenge courses, new characters, and even hidden Globos that can give you a super boost during races. There’s also a multiplayer feature for multiple cartridges.


Whatever interesting features Banjo Pilot once had must have been dropped, one by one, during its long development cycle. The end result is a perfectly competent, unspectacular GBA racer that manages to hang with the competition, when it could have flown right over.


  • Good sense of speed
  • Great Mode-7 graphics
  • High-quality music and sound effects
  • Solid controls
  • Flying mechanic seems wasted
  • Tracks are few, short, and repetitive
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre Racing
Developer Rare
Players1 - 4

Worldwide Releases

na: Banjo Pilot
Release Jan 10, 2005
jpn: Banjo Pilot
Release Mar 2005
RatingAll Ages
eu: Banjo Pilot
Release Feb 18, 2005
aus: Banjo Pilot
Release Oct 01, 2004

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