Also available on: N/A
Genre: Flight Simulation
In an era of yearly updates, multiple sequels and numerous spinoffs, it's comforting to see that some companies appreciate the concept that less is more. Despite debuting approximately 20 years ago, Pilotwings games have been few and far between, having appeared only once on the SNES and N64 respectively. A new entry in the series was long overdue, and a game with an uncomplicated control scheme, relaxed pace and an aesthetically pleasing island setting, sounds like the perfect vessel to showcase Nintendo's new 3D handheld. However, Pilotwings Resort's strengths ultimately prove to be its downfall and the surprisingly addictive gameplay means that it won't take long for players to sample all that the game has to offer.
The game takes place on the fictional Wuhu Island, which players might recognise from Wii Sports Resort. Much like its Wii cousin, it features bright, basic graphics and makes use of the player's Mii. Regardless of its understated visual style, the island is an attractive sight, looking especially beautiful bathed in bright sunshine or under a dusky sky. Much like fellow launch title Super Street Fighter IV, the 3D slider adds layers and depth instead of screen-bursting 3D visuals. This is by no means a bad thing, as it brings mundane scenery to life, making every sight one that's worth seeing. Even something as simple and innocuous as flying towards a tree becomes an eye-popping visual treat. However, as DS noted in an earlier hands-on 3DS session, Pilotwings Resort's 3D can be a bit much sometimes and we found it less of a strain to play with the 3D slider turned only half way up.
Of the two game modes, Mission Flight Mode is probably the mode that players will veer to initially, but Free Flight Mode will keep fans coming back for longer. Mission Flight Mode is broken down into a number of challenges which are grouped together in difficulty. Early missions typically involve flying through rings, popping balloons and completing a perfect landing. Later missions, on the other hand, tend to be much lengthier and involve performing stunts, putting out fires and even rounding up UFOs! A maximum of three stars are awarded for successfully completing a mission and earning enough stars unlocks the next tier and so on. Unfortunately, with only five tiers available, of which Training and Bronze are a doddle, it doesn't take long to complete the mode, although obtaining maximum stars proves to be quite difficult.
Missions are also grouped together by aircraft type. There are three kinds of aircraft available, as well as a few variations (such as the Turbo Jet and Pedal Glider), all of which handle and control quite differently. The traditional hand glider has the most basic set-up, requiring little more than an eye for the wind, some deft tilts and speedy nosedives - although ironically the hand glider missions are probably the hardest to master and also the most fun. The Jetpack mixes things up by utilising a fuel system which needs to be carefully watched and rationed. Pressing and holding A propels the Jetpack in the desired direction, but give it too much juice and the player will plummet to their doom. The Airplane is the most complex machine to fly, allowing players to use speed boosts and perform a whole manner of high-speed stunts, which is essential for collecting all of the rings in Free Flight.
Admittedly sceptical about the lasting appeal of Free Flight Mode, it took a quick glance at the watch to realise that I'd been flying around the island for more than two hours and that I was utterly hooked. In Free Flight, players choose an aircraft and then spend a minimum of two minutes flying around collecting balloons, performing stunts and obtaining tourist information. With only a short period of time to explore (although more time can be unlocked), it becomes a race against time to find that balloon that you missed on the previous flight, perform that tricky stunt without crashing or find the hidden tunnel that contained all of those goodies. It becomes even more addictive and time consuming by the end when only one balloon remains undiscovered, even though you're sure you've searched everywhere.
Unfortunately, once everything has been found and the island has been completely explored from top to bottom, there isn't much reason to come back for more. In fact, despite containing plenty of nooks and crannies, the island suddenly seems a little on the small side, especially when whizzing through the skies in something speedy like the Turbo Jet. Pilotwings Resort would definitely benefit from an additional island or increased landmarks in the sparse and spacious sea. There's no multiplayer and unlockable items are limited to a number of statues, which while nice to look at in 3D, don't do anything, unlike the fighting figurines from Street Fighter.
Pilotwings Resort is a beautiful game that does a wonderful job of showcasing the machine's 3D features. The simple, explorative gameplay is utterly addictive and there are some really interesting and inventive challenges. Unfortunately, it's far too short and it won't take more than a few days of extended play to see and do everything that the game has to offer. In many respects that's testament to the moreish gameplay, which demands your time and attention. It's just a shame that there isn't more to do when it's all said and done, because we don't want to wait another decade to soar through the skies in the next Pilotwings.
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