Welcome to the eighth instalment of The Portable Project, a feature devoted to handheld gaming that gives critics a chance to comment on titles that aren't quite in-depth enough to merit a full-length review at the site.

This month, Brad takes a look at Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, while Erin examines The Ripping Friends and the Game Boy Advance version of The Hobbit.

Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge

Developer: Rare
Publisher: THQ
Plaftorm: Game Boy Advance
ERSB: Everyone

Portable Project Product Shot - Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge
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Rating: 6.5
by Brad Gallaway

I have to hand it to Rare. Bringing Banjo Kazooie to the Game Boy Advance (GBA) must have been a significant conceptual challenge given that the series (originating on the Nintendo 64) is known for its outstanding three-dimensional mechanics. I was skeptical that the gameplay on a portable could come anywhere near those two incredible platformers, and honestly, I wondered why they'd even try. With previous instalments rivalling even the legendary Super Mario 64 in terms of design sophistication and gameplay, a smaller portable effort seemed impossible—and it was.

Make no mistake, Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge is generally a good game by Advance standards, but practically all of the series' charm and sophistication is lost without complete use of the third dimension.

Many Banjo & Kazooie hallmarks are present besides the titular honeybear and his breegull buddy, complete with their two-characters-in-one dynamic. Staple tasks like collecting Notes, Jinjos, and Jiggies are here, along with resident witch doctor Mumbo Jumbo making a Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge welcome return. His ability to transform our heroes into different shapes for side missions is still enjoyable, and the few minigames offered up are nice little changes of pace. The graphics don't disappoint, and the music and sound effects are quite satisfactory too, some bits sounding like they were directly imported from the Nintendo 64.

However, the simple fact is that the heart of the series was built on using three-dimensional acrobatics to conquer huge, intricate levels. Flying, jumping and creative navigation are all part and parcel of the B&K experience. That core play is totally lost on the GBA, reducing it from a magnificent free-roaming title into a dull walkabout collectfest. Many items are simply lying out in the open to grab, and after snatching the required number of goodies, you move on to the next area and do it all over again. The bosses are all cakewalks, and the entire game is quite brief from start to finish, easily completed in one day of play.

Rare did a valiant job of trying to incorporate elements of the older games, but Banjo and Kazooie only have a fraction of the moves they sported in the past, and given the limited capacity of the GBA it's often hard to discern depth onscreen. There are still jumps to be made and differing levels of elevation to each area, but the top-down view used isn't even in the neighborhood of capturing the feelings of quality and excitement I expect from a Banjo game. All things considered, Rare might have been better off making a new set of characters without such high standards to live up to in this middling cart, instead of producing something that seemed destined to disappoint.

As the average Game Boy Advance adventure goes, Banjo Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge gets the job done, although it's doubtful that you'll remember much about it a week after finishing. Still, if you're desperate for another adventure with bird and bear (and no word of any major console sequel on the horizon) it'll do. That said, if you've never played either of the original games, I'd recommend picking one (or both) up and seeing what the series is really all about.

The Hobbit

Developer: Sapphire
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Plaftorm: Game Boy Advance
ERSB: Everyone Violence

Portable Project Product Shot - The Hobbit
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Rating: 5.5
by Erin Bell

The handheld version of The Hobbit is a lot like its console cousins except that the two-dimensional graphics put it squarely in the tradition of the 2D Legend of Zelda action/adventure aesthetic. Actually, the game borrows substantially from Zelda in gameplay as well in the way Bilbo can light braziers with a tinderbox, uproot and throw certain rocks and vases, perform a dash attack, and organize his inventory into a primary and secondary item quick-use.

Rupees become "tokens," Heart Pieces become Life Runes, the bow and arrow becomes a sling with rocks, and bombs become firecrackers. The stamp of Zelda is all over this game—for better or for worse.

The Hobbit

Unfortunately, what The Hobbit does lack is Zelda's depth. It does a good job of not plaguing the gamer with fetch-quests that deviate from the source material—in this case Tolkien's book of the same name that would become the precursor to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Instead, Bilbo spends most of his time exploring linear areas in the old pull-the-switch-to-open-the-door style of gameplay.

In essence, the monotony of pointless fetch-quests has been replaced by the monotony of wandering around searching for levers to pull. The graphics and animation on Bilbo and his companions are very good, but unfortunately the same care was not taken with the background settings. The generic environments aren't enough to inspire any sort of joy of discovery or exploration, nor are slaying palette-swapped variations of the same old hawks, rats and wolves that respawn endlessly.

The Hobbit is also made a more lackluster experience by its low level of difficulty. The so-called boss enemies can be felled by button-mashing the attack button while replenishing health with the healing items that the game doles out in abundance.

Rounding out the package is music that quickly becomes cloying, as well as cheesy and often inappropriate sound effects. (When was the last time you heard an elf emit a barrel-chested yell like one of the monsters from Drakkhen?)

The Hobbit is not a bad game, or a glitchy game. It's just not a particularly inspired game.

The cartridge has three save slots, and the game can be saved at certain save points in specific locations. These points can be far between at times, but it's still preferable to a password system. The game can also be put into "sleep mode" to conserve battery power without turning the system off and losing progress before a save point.

The Ripping Friends

Developer: Software Creations
Publisher: THQ
Plaftorm: Game Boy Advance
ERSB: Everyone Mild Violence

Portable Project Product Shot - The Ripping Friends
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Rating: 2.5
by Erin Bell

Based on a now-cancelled children's cartoon where four brawny men go around beating up stuff, Ripping Friends the videogame is about four brawny men who go around beating up stuff. In fact, the four-player simultaneous multiplayer linking option is the only potentially appealing part to this epitome of rushed, licensed mediocrity.

The single-player story mode offers the choice of selecting one of the four Ripping Friends and taking them through a progression of beat 'em up levels. The goal is always to dispatch baddies by repetitively thwacking them The Ripping Friends to death. The only diversion is the option of building up the Friend's "Manly Gauge" to unleash about five seconds worth of a super-powerful attack.

For a game that offers nothing but brawler-style combat (along with the occasional jump across a ledge), it's simply not acceptable that the fighting itself is such a boring experience. Besides the unimaginative fighting moves themselves, the game comes with iffy hit-detection and depth perception. When hit by an enemy, the Ripping Friend will collapse and lay on the ground for a full five seconds before getting up. Similarly, the enemies when hit go invincible for a few seconds too long, which makes fighting a drawn out affair indeed. There are a few ranged weapons (guns) in the game, but they disappear too easily (if the character jumps off a high enough ledge, for example).

The game can't be saved, but after completing each level a password is provided so that it can be hastily scrawled on a bit of Kleenex while trying to pack up belongings and get off the bus.

The jazzy soundtrack is quite good, and the graphics are a fair representation of the cartoon. It's just too bad everything else is so sloppy. Those who enjoyed the cartoon will get the opportunity to salivate over video game renditions of their favorite heroes, but everyone else will find nothing more than an aimless, flawed beat 'em up.

Brad Gallaway
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