Pilotwings is a franchise of such quality, it is a shame it’s as malnourished as it is.
The original SNES debut was a true gem, utilising Mode 7 psuedo 3D visuals to give a sense of immersion in a quaint flight sim with a true Nintendo vibe. Its sequel on the Nintendo64 was a stone cold classic. It took the original’s ideas and brought them out into true 3D with sublime analogue controls and a massive injection of character and real world delights. And until now that’s been it from the franchise. Like Metroid skipped the Nintendo64, Pilotwings skipped the Gamecube and seemingly has skipped the Wii although this 3DS installment bears as much resemblance to Wii Sports Resort as it does Pilotwings.
Being a handheld title, it suits being played in short five to twenty minute bursts. Such is the simplifyed nature of the game.The game is split into two modes, Missions and Free Flight. Missions initially holds the main bulk of the game, which isn’t much on first impressions. A typical series of difficulty classes await ranging from Novice up to Platinum which are unlocked as you progress. A further class becomes available after meeting some high standards. So far so predictable but structurally sound. There are three main vehicles on offer each with their own missions and the objectives are set around the way each vehicle works. These machines, being the plane, rocket belt and hang-glider. Each behaves in a distinct way and requires genuine skill to get top scores in the varying missions. The entire game is played on Nintendo’s delightful Mii populated island of Wuhu, as seen in the Wii Sports and Wii Fit titles on the, well, Wii obviously. For those who’ve played the flying section of Wii Sports Resort, flying the plane in this version is a carbon copy of it with added Pilotwings style objectives and minus the Wii’s well implemented motion controls.
The inclusion of Pilotwings iconic rocket belt and the hang glider are very welcome and make it a little more Pilotwings than Wii Sports. That being said, this uses your 3DS’s Mii as your character, and clearly uses a lot of assets from Wii Sports Resort and as such all the character of the Nintendo64 iteration has been sucked out. The missions then, range from flying through hoops, performing stunts, popping balloons landing, shooting targets, attaining altitudes or photoing locations and so on. They become more complex by combining the tasks to create a bunch of genuinely varied and taxing missions. Whilst passing them may be quite easy, perfecting them can be a true challenge, particularly the rocket belt and hang glider missions which require perfectly gauged blasts to move precisely and make efficient use of fuel. Quite simply your performance can earn you up to three stars, the better you do the more likely a three star rank is, the accumulation of these stars unlocks the higher classes with a nice bonus for three starring all missions. For the true completist the missions can be completed with a perfect score which gives you red stars for bragging rights.
Which brings us to the Free Flight mode, which looks like it does what it says on the tin, but is far more than that. It’s a stupendously addictive but frustratingly timed explore and collect marathon. Being on Wuhu, like the Wii Sports Resort flying game, info icons that detail specific locations and attractions on the island appear and flying through them checks them off your list. There are 75 to find... as well as 120 balloons to pop, some of which can only be done at specific times of day or in certain vehicles. To add to that each vehicle type has there on collectibles - the plane has 60 stunt rings, 60 cute little Mii Trophies for the rocket belt and 60 gold rings for the gliders. All of these would normally give an hour or so each of standard exploring and collecting. Alas, the time is stretched out by a frustrating two minute flight time limit - which can be extended after meeting certain requirements, but the limit still is a restriction, but ultimately does lend itself very well to scored based, handheld, on the go style gaming. A few easter eggs and unlocks await the dedicated, only the dedication won't have to last particularly long.
The game on offer is very fun and quaint but ultimately quite frugal and meek. The controls are nice and tight, the visuals crisp, clean and very colourful and really pop in 3D, there is plenty to do, it just won’t take seasoned gamers or those familiar with Pilotwings and or Wii Sports Resort to breeze through.
Definitely worth a go, just maybe not at full RRP.
After thought: Is it a valid point in it’s defense that it is a launch title? Possibly, it does bring back memories of short and sweet early DS titles like Pac-Pix and Yoshi Touch & Go in its simple brevity. Can a game as self contained as this, a game as delightful to play as this, one which has a decent seven to ten hour challenge on offer, albeit a throwaway one be criticised for bearing too much resemblance to a single game mode on Wii Sports Resort? A franchise which has put countless Wii’s in many homes, and as such will lend a certain amount of sales to Pilotwings to the many Wii adopters who never had a Nintendo prior to the casual, family orientated, motion controlled trojan horse? Putting the Pilotwings name on this sells it to those who loved the original and tremendous Nintendo64 release and possibly sells the Virtual Console version of the SNES title to those interested in its history.
Can the game be criticised for being less original than its previous incarnations? What of the younger 3DS owners or new to Nintendo adopters or just those who never have experienced the Pilotwings franchise and or Wii Sports Resort. Is this a better game to the uninitiated? These questions aside Pilotwings Resort is an almost perfect 3DS game, it happily ticks all the boxes which make it a great title and is also one that is can be shown off to wow friends and family of the 3D capabilities the 3DS has. As such after careful consideration and reviewing the game without comparison it’s worth an extra mark out of ten.
I <3 my Wii Mini