Pilotwings
  • Genre:
    • Flight Simulator
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 12/21/1990
    • US 08/13/1991
    • UK 1992
Score: 65%

This review was published on 01/16/2016.

Pilotwings is a flight simulation video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on December 21, 1990, North America on August 13, 1991, and Europe in 1992. The game was a launch title for the Super Nintendo in North America, but came out a month after the Super Famicom in Japan. In a way, this game is essentially one big tech demo that shows off the Super Nintendo's heavily advertised Mode-7 feature. Mode-7 allowed the SNES to mimic three dimensional graphics by rotating and scaling a flat texture. When utilized properly, this allowed players to see the landscape from different viewpoints, almost as if there's a 3-D camera system. The only drawback is that the rendered landscape will always be completely flat, since there are no actual polygons. At the time, this was extremely advanced, though it obviously doesn't look that impressive nowadays. So how good is Pilotwings? Well, it does a good job of demonstrating the technology it's built on, but it's a major pain in the neck to play.

Image

Take flight and soar the skies in Pilotwings. You are a nameless student enrolled into the most exclusive flight school in the world. Now you must report immediately to the secret Pilotwings Flight Club, where your rigorous training in aerial sports will finally begin. According to the game's box, you're already late to your first class! Some student you turned out to be. In order to become a full fledged pilot, you must earn various licenses and certifications by going through lessons in how to operate many different types of aircraft. During the duration of your training, you will be instructed by a couple of different instructors, and they will be sure to harshly criticize you for any of your potential failures. With so much pressure on your shoulders, you'll need an ace up your sleeve to succeed. That's the premise to Pilotwings. There are no worlds to save or villains to thwart; your task is simply to become a qualified pilot. It is a flight simulator, after all, so the more realistic angle is to be expected.

Image

The general flow of the game consists of completing objectives to progress from one lesson to the next. Every lesson takes place on a different course and will have a certain amount of objectives to do, each having you pilot a different aerial vehicle. Solely clearing the objectives isn't enough to progress further, however; you need to earn enough points. Depending on how well you execute each individual objective, you will get a different amount of points. Once all objectives have been completed, your total score will be tallied, and if it meets or surpasses the required threshold, then you'll go to the next lesson. Rinse and repeat until you beat the game. Between lessons, you will obtain a password that you can use to resume your progress after turning the game off. Due to the way scoring works, it's possible to make up for the low score of one objective by doing exceptionally well in another, giving players some leeway. You can even outright skip some if you're really good. Don't think this makes the game too easy, though, because it's still rock hard.

Image

Airplanes are the aforementioned wings you pilot in Pilotwings. Controlling the airplane can be broken up into three parts: taking off, flying, and landing. Taking off and flying is pretty easy, as all you have to do is use the buttons to increase or decrease your speed and the directional pad to steer the plane. Once in the air, you'll have to be aware of your fuel. Flying around is kind of relaxing, but the handling is a bit rough. The relaxation stops once the need to land arises, however. Landing an airplane is one of the first objectives in Pilotwings. It may sound simple, but like most things in this game, it's fairly difficult to actually pull off. First of all, you have to land on a runway; anywhere else will result in a crash. Secondly, you must be absolutely sure the plane is straight when it lands, because the slightest wrong angle will cause it to crumble. It gets worse when there's wind and snow added to the mix. The later objectives will require you to fly through rings and such, but landing is always the toughest part. Flying is fun, but landing can be frustrating.

Image

Skydiving is, surprisingly, another activity that's available right from the start. Personally, I find this is a tad too risky for a beginner, but the game thinks otherwise. This dangerous activity is similar to landing a plane, except you're landing your body. These sections begin with a long scene showing your character being carried several thousand feet into the air; thankfully, you can skip this. Once the game puts you at the height it desires, you'll automatically jump off the ladder and begin freefalling. While skydiving, you'll have to try to maneuver yourself through some rings, and once you're close enough to the ground, you'll be able to open your parachute. At that point, you'll have to use your limited maneuverability to land on the target. The problem is that your controls are extremely limited through all of this, making the whole ordeal quite irritating. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how to adjust yourself properly to get to where you want to go, as none of it is intuitive.

Image

One of the more unique gadgets you'll get to use in Pilotwings is a rocket belt. Yes, you read that right; you wear a belt with rockets attached to it and then take off into the air. Questionable realism aside, this is the coolest contraption in the game. You move the thrusters with the d-pad and press the A and B buttons to propel yourself in different directions and at different speeds. Additionally, you can press the shoulder buttons to get an overhead view, which comes in handy when landing. It takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you'll have a decent amount of control. Like with everything else, your goal with the rocket belt is usually to fly through rings and then safely land. Because maneuvering the rocket belt isn't too hard, the main concern is being fast enough to not run out of fuel. Out of all the vehicles in the game, this is the one with the best control, which makes it the most enjoyable one to use.

Image

Hang gliders technically count as a vehicle and they're also in this game. On the surface, controlling the hang glider won't seem too different from the plane, but it is. The thing about the hang glider is that it can never gain altitude on its own. To get around this limitation, you have to fly over something the game refers to as thermal currents, which resemble puffs of smoke. When you pass over these things, you'll suddenly gain lots of altitude. The good thing about the hang glider is that it has better handling than the plane. It also doesn't use any fuel, so you can take your time when completing objectives, provided you continue to use the thermal currents to remain airborne. The worst part is landing, though. It's like landing a plane, except instead of a whole runway, you have to land on a tiny circular spot on the ground. This is horrible, to say the least. Together with skydiving, this is a contender for the worst part of the game, and it's all because of the rough landings.

Image

At certain points in the game, you will be sent on a secret mission to infiltrate an enemy base and rescue hostages. Unlike most of the other objectives in the game, you aren't scored for these missions. The vehicle of choice for these special sections of the game is a combat helicopter that is fully armed with missile launchers. You get a bird's-eye view of the action while piloting the helicopter and can aim with the crosshairs to fire missiles at grounded targets. While flying to your destination, you'll be assaulted by countless turrets that'll fire an endless barrage of bullets at you with surprising accuracy, and you're meant to destroy these gun emplacements with your missiles. Fuel is also a concern. The biggest concern, however, is the fact that you die in one hit. To further worsen matters, there are invisible turrets that'll ambush you. Surviving the invisible turrets will often come down to sheer luck, since it's usually too late by the time you figure out where they are. Despite that, the helicopter sections are one of the better parts of the game, as the controls are decent and blowing stuff up is enjoyable.

Image

When doing any of the skydiving, rocket belt, or hang glider objectives, you'll have a chance to get a bonus stage. To achieve this, you must land on a moving platform during these objectives, which is usually the hardest thing to shoot for. Once accomplished, not only will you be taken to a bonus stage, but you'll also get a perfect score for whatever objective you were doing. The bonus stages consist of trippy activities in which you control strange entities in extreme situations, like a penguin that skydives into a pool, a birdman that jumps off trampolines to hit blocks, and a chicken dude that flies over the sea. The purpose of the bonus stages, besides having fun, is to add extra points to your total score for the lesson you're currently in. This is handy for the harder lessons in the game, as you'll be able to pass easier. Think of it as doing extracurricular activities to get extra credit on your test grades in school. Anyway, the bonus stages are a nice bonus, although they're a bit too hard to get to.

Image

Fulfill the fantasy of being an ace pilot in Pilotwings. Aside from the Mode-7 effect, the presentation of this game is minimalistic, so the focus is entirely on the game play. Using the rocket belt is the most entertaining part of the game, but everything else is a mixed bag. Skydiving is a pain, hang gliding is infuriating, and landing anything that isn't the rocket belt is an absolute nightmare. The whole game is incredibly frustrating to play. Successfully completing these challenging challenges can be satisfying, but you'll practically have to be a masochist to do so. Pilotwings is more palatable than most other flight simulators, being that it's nowhere near as complicated, but it's still very tough to get into.

Word Count: 1,790