The launch of a new system is always special, especially for the consumer. What will the launch games be? In the case of the Nintendo 3DS launch, Nintendo were probably asking the same thing at one point. Launching a platform with a Mario or Zelda game seems to the logical thing to do, but what if the timing isn’t right? What franchise do you turn to? Apparently Nintendo decided that dusting off the 15 year old Pilotwings franchise was the best way to go, and it seems to have been a sound decision. By combining the 3D features of the new console with the fun and diverse gameplay of Pilotwings and the sunny setting of Wii Sports Resort’s Wuhu Island, Nintendo have created a launch game that should not be missed, even if it falls short on a few aspects.
Wuhu Island is one awesome little paradise, because it’s a place that knows no boredom – there are lots of activities you can enjoy. You can play basketball, ride a bike, do some serious bowling and perform various types of water sports and even air sports. Pilotwings Resort takes what Wii Sports Resort has done with the latter and evolves it into a new instalment in the Pilotwings franchise. When you join the Wuhu Sky Club, you get the chance to master various aircraft, like planes, jet packs and hang gliders.
There are basically two ways to play Pilotwings Resort: you either take on missions to earn stars or you can do a free flight and collect various objects to unlock extras. The game works great in short bursts. Missions take only a few minutes to complete and Free Flight Mode is capped at only a couple of minutes of flight time.
The island itself is as colourful as ever. Sunny skies, blue seas, greener pastures, characteristic landmarks and a volcano bring life to your surroundings. However, what’s obvious is that the island is much less active than in Wii Sports Resort and that’s kind of a bummer. Where are all the boats and other planes? It makes the missions and – most of all – Free Flight Mode a lot more lonesome. At least they’re still playing Super Mario Bros. in that one little house (you know which one I mean).
After you’ve signed up for the Wuhu Sky Club and taken an optional test flight, you will most likely want to get busy with the missions. There are five mission classes to go through at first. In every class there are up to three missions for each of the three available aircraft classes. You can earn up to three stars for a mission depending on the number of points you score. You generally get scores for each ring you fly through, the accuracy and impact of your landing and the time it takes complete the mission. Eventually you unlock better and faster aerial vehicles for each aircraft type. As it only takes a couple of minutes to finish a mission, you’ll be through with Mission Mode in a matter of hours. It’s up to your will to perfect your runs if you want to add a little more lasting value to the game.
Pilotwings is foremost about flying, so why not hop into a plane and take off? The plane in this game is very similar to the one in Wii Sports Resort: a single-seat, single-propeller aircraft. The plane handles well thanks to the 3DS’s thumb stick – you can subtly adjust your plane’s heading just as easy as doing a sharp turn. What’s interesting about the plane is that it has one thing on its mind: GO. You don’t have to hold any button to make it go forward, you can just press A for a short turbo boost or hold B to slow down – very useful when you have to land. In a plane mission, you usually have to manoeuvre through rings or shoot targets before landing the plane. Some cool exceptions include a mission where you have to extinguish fires by dropping water and a mission where you have to shoot balloons hanging from the back of a car you have to chase on low altitudes.
The Rocket Belt is a fine piece of equipment. Basically a powerful jetpack, the Rocket Belt is a joy to control as it is very manoeuvrable and has various thruster settings, making taking off and landing fun every time. Just make sure you master the hover/brake so you won’t slam into anything due to the momentum. Rocket Belt missions are usually about flying through rings and landing on a floating landing pad, but don’t be surprised when you’re suddenly asked to guide lost UFOs back to their mothership. To add a little diversity, there’s also a stage with a Flying Squirrel Suit, where you take a deep plunge and have to fly through rings while basically plummeting to your death.
In any Pilotwings game, the hang glider is one of the more challenging aircraft to master, mainly because there’s no engine to help you out. There are only a few things you can do when you’re hang gliding: gain speed, gain altitude, land or crash. The only way to accelerate is to point your gilder down which automatically means you’ll lose altitude. To gain altitude you need to enter thermals, which are rising streams of air. Again, most missions involve going through rings, but sometimes you get to take your camera with you to photograph landmarks.
As mentioned before, the thumb stick works really well for the plane, but it really works well all around. Besides the thumb stick you can use the d-pad to look around while flying or landing. What’s great is that you’re never forced to use the touch screen. You can use it to navigate through menus and you can grab your stylus to write down your signature on your membership card and that’s it. The game is easy to pick up and play, because the controls are generally intuitive.
If you just want to take a relaxing flight around the island, you can check out Free Flight Mode. Select one of your unlocked aircraft, choose one of three times of day (daytime, evening, night) and take to the skies. If you do well, you can unlock extra flight time by popping balloons that are scattered all around the island. You can also unlock cute little dioramas if you collect certain items or fly through rings.
It’s a big plus that you can enjoy lovely surroundings when you’re flying around the island and crashing into volcanoes. The graphical engine from Wii Sports Resort has been ported over well to the handheld. The 3D effect is great and adds to the sense of flying, but is not essential to play the game. It’s especially useful during landing approaches as the 3D makes it much easier to judge distances. During play, the bottom screen is used to show the map of the island as well as your fuel gauge when you’re using a Rocket Belt.
Various types of weather would have been great additions, because the only settings you can fly in are different times of day. There’s not even any wind when you fly. Dark skies, rain and storms would have given the game a little extra on the visual side.
On the audio side, the music combines classic Pilotwings tunes with the style of the music from Wii Sports Resort. The result is soothing elevator music, which only rarely erupts or annoys. Sound effects are mild and adequate. Don’t expect a big explosion when you crash your plane into the side of a mountain.
One of the major shortcomings of the game is that there is no multiplayer whatsoever. Granted, Pilotwings isn’t the most suitable game for multiplayer, as there aren’t really any competitive modes, but it would have been nice if they had added the Dogfight mode from Wii Sports Resort. It’s also a shame that there is only one location in the entire game, as opposed to the multiple islands in Pilotwings 64. If you’ve played Wii Sports Resort, Wuhu Island should have no more secrets for you in Free Flight Mode. Let’s hope Nintendo will provide additional downloadable content in the future, but considering the past that seems unlikely.
One final shameless breach of continuity must be mentioned: in Wii Sports Resort, the whole island seemed to be filled with tree-hugging environmentalists driving electric cars. How are they letting me pollute their island with the fumes from my Rocket Belt?