Developer: Monster Games Incorporated
Handhelds are a perfect platform for flight simulators. Think about it: they've got two triggers for yaw, a thumbstick for pitch and roll and enough face buttons to cover everything else. Unfortunately there simply aren't many around, so we were delighted to hear that Nintendo were resurrecting their beloved Pilotwings series to accompany the 3DS at launch.
As it turns out, their decision has paid off in spades.
Pilotwings Resort takes the accessible yet deep handling of the original games and brings it up to date. The action takes place in the airspace over Wuhu Island: the tropical paradise that plays host to Wii Sports Resort. It's an absolutely perfect location for a flight sim; chock full of bridges to swoop under, canyons to run and gorgeous mountain views to enjoy. And a volcano to recklessly plunge through while cackling like a madman.
Three of the six flying machines on offer are unlockable extras (and I'm loathe to spoil the surprise), so you'll be spending the vast majority of your time in a default stunt plane, rocket belt or hang-glider. Each vehicle/dangerous contraption handles very differently and offers a completely different experience. The plane is is the most traditional vehicle to pilot and provides the perfect launchpad to learn the ropes, but even the greenest flyers will quickly get used to the simplified banking mechanics, tight steering and barrel rolls mapped to the triggers. Flight sim veterans may find the setup slightly patronising, mind.
The Rocket Belt is a very different beast. Its thrust nozzles can be angled to a very fine tolerance thanks to the Circle Pad's precision, making for a deeply manoeuvrable machine that can hover and turn on a dime. However, the most rewarding vehicle is easily the hang-glider; which provides a deeply tranquil experience punctuated by moments of intense panic when you can't find a thermal. Regardless of your choice, the controls are responsive and as forgiving as you'd expect from a Nintendo launch title.
The 3DS' three dimensional effect works best when a game displays deep, sprawling environments and a single focal point in the foreground... so naturally a flight simulator is absolutely perfect. The graphics look much crisper and more detailed than a Wii title (demonstrating plenty of small flourishes like lens flare, firework effects and even grass clippings flying into the camera when skimming the fields), but frankly, the first thing you'll notice is just how brilliantly the 3D works. Your plane pops out of the screen as Wuhu island stretches out into the sunset, with stray palm leaves and slipstreams whipping out into the foreground. Coupled with the colourful art design, it's an absolute feast for the eyes - though there's no denying that the graphics are stylish rather than traditionally good.
Whilst I'd personally recommend keeping the depth slider low in order to mitigate the risk of headaches, it's probably worth cranking it up every once in a while for the added visceral thrill. Not only that, but the added depth perception will help you navigate the tighter tunnels and gulleys that riddle the island.
So it's a tech demo then. And a damn good one. But is there actually a game in here?
A forty-five stage mission mode provides a number of short challenges that are easy to complete, and as you'd expect, gradually much more difficult to fully master. You'll start off slowly with some traditional stunt ring-based challenges, but later levels add some much-needed variety to the proceedings. Putting out fires with a seaplane, plummeting to earth in a wingsuit and other bizarre objectives will challenge your skills to the limit, though without online scoreboards, there's little replay value beyond self improvement.
The Free Flight mode should have let us enjoy the thrills of flying without restrictions or constraints, but inexplicably tight time limits conspire to make the experience much more limited than it ought to be. You can unlock extra time and features by collecting balloons, locations and stunt rings (which have to be entered at a certain orientation), but frankly, the omission of a truly "free" mode is a disappointing missed opportunity that reeks of attempting to artificially lengthen the experience without adding anything new. Still, flying around is good, honest, uncomplicated fun; a concept which many games have lost sight of in an age of homogeneous shooters, overbearing exposition and hackneyed mechanics.
All of this means that Pilotwings Resort is light on content. There's no getting around it. The missions can be completed - if not 3 starred - in a matter of hours... but that's that's not necessarily the same as being light on value. If you're the kind of gamer who craves constant new stimuli, thrills and challenges, you'll soon lose interest in the unfocused Free Flight mode. But for those of us seeking an engaging, tranquil diversion that can be dipped into for minutes or hours at a time just because it's fun, Pilotwings Resort will continue find its way into your 3DS many months from now. More unlockable planes and extras (or hell, even colour schemes!) would have allowed me to recommend it to everyone.
Finally, on a personal note, I've been agonising about whether to award a 7 or an 8 to Pilotwings Resort. The decision was finally clinched by how few of the 3DS' new features actually are actually used. Sure, it's got 3D graphics... but what about tilt control? Online multiplayer? Online leaderboards, even? For a launch title developed under Nintendo's watchful eye, it's bizarre that more of their new handheld's capabilities weren't shown off to advantage.
- Solid and accessible flight mechanics
- Eyepopping 3D and attractive visuals
- It's unabashed, unpretentious fun.
- Unfocused lack of content
- Nowhere near enough unlockables
- Empirically poor value
The Short Version: Pilotwings Resort is probably the best launch title of the bunch. It's the perfect tech demo to show off your brand new 3DS... and the lack of focus that makes it undesirable for some is the same open-ended thrill that will guarantee its continued play for many months to come. Unfortunately the lack of content ultimately clips its pilotwings.