Like a much-loved but ageing fighter plane, Nintendo’s Pilotwings property has been gathering dust in a hangar somewhere for the past 15 years, just waiting to be wheeled out and sent back into the skies.
A delightful, pared-back flight simulator that placed its emphasis on fun over absolute realism, the original Pilotwings was at once a series of hugely enjoyable aerial challenges and a demonstration of the Super Nintendo’s once jaw-dropping Mode 7 graphics. Similarly, Pilotwings 64 offered a similarly engaging flying experience, while at the same time showing off the Nintendo 64‘s polygon-based graphics.
It’s fitting, then, that Pilotwings Resort has been chosen as a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS, having been engineered specifically to showcase the handheld’s stereoscopic prowess. And as the game opens, with a tiny biplane puttering across the sun-drenched island of Wuhu, it’s obvious that the spirit of the earlier two games is back.
It’s also obvious why Nintendo has chosen Pilotwings Resort as one of the system’s earliest titles; its usage of 3D is, initially, quite spectacular. It really does look as though you’re looking into a tiny model village, with land and sea stretching off seductively into the distance, the sun setting in a crimson blaze.
In terms of challenge, this is the same old Pilotwings. There are three types of flying vehicle to master – biplane, hang glider and rocket pack – and around 39 challenges to beat, which generally include taking off and landing, flying through hoops or collecting spheres, which double as a flying line through each stage. There’s also the occasional shooting mission, with a gun added to your biplane, and a challenge that involves taking snapshots of things with the camera installed on the hang glider.
The biplane’s the best vehicle of the three, giving you the freedom to barrel roll and boost through stages with a satisfying sense of agility. By contrast, the rocket pack’s more cantankerous, requiring accurate dabs of power to coax onto landing platforms, while the hang glider floats ponderously around the map like a crisp packet on the breeze.
There are six classes to play through, with six challenges to complete in each. Do well enough in each set of challenges, and the next class is unlocked. Those looking to simply unlock every class will probably be able to do this within an afternoon or two, yet doing so would be to miss the point of Pilotwings’ carefree ethos – the greater challenge comes from perfecting your flying abilities to the point where you can achieve a perfect score on each stage, which in turn unlocks extra vehicles, bonus stages and time in Free Flight mode.
As the name suggests, Free Flight allows you to explore Wahu island in the flying contraption of your choice. Here, too, you’ll find bonus items and stunt rings that will unlock extra features. The more balloons you pop, the more time you’ll have to flutter around Wahu island collecting things.
For the most part, Pilotwings Resort serves as a pleasant, engaging introduction to the 3DS’ visual abilities, albeit with some frustrating challenges to contend with, which more often than not involve that wretched hang glider. And yet, in spite of the numerous unlockable items, and the time it’ll take to get a top score in every challenge, it’s a surprisingly small, modest game.
That Nintendo has chosen to recycle the environment from Wii Sports Resort wouldn’t matter if there were other maps to fly over in addition – after all, Pilotwings 64 was packed with different cities, forests and icy planes to fly over. With only one, extremely familiar island to explore, it feels as though Nintendo is, I’m sad to say, resting on its laurels with Pilotwings Resort.
And while there are a handful of other vehicles to unlock – some simply variations on the standard three craft, including a jet, a pedal-powered cycle glider and super-charged rocket belt – for the most part, you’ll be zipping about in the same three flying machines.
Pilotwings Resort therefore feels more like a glorified demo than a full game in its own right. It’s perfect as a means of showing off to your friends what the handheld can do, and its use of 3D has a greater sense of depth than either Super Monkeyball 3D or even, despite its infinitely superior graphics, Super Street Fighter IV 3D.
As a full-price game, however, Pilotwings Resort is a fun yet disappointingly slight experience. Had Nintendo invested the game with the humour and variety of the previous two Pilotwings games, this could have been the 3DS’ first killer app. Instead, it’s merely an amusing diversion until bigger, better games come along.
Pilotwings Resort is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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