The Pilotwings franchise was last seen at the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, but before the 2012 release of Pilotwings Resort, it had been missing in action for over a decade. However, that very nearly wasn't the case, as former Nintendo collaborator Factor 5 made multiple attempts to bring it back to life.
Factor 5 is best known for Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and its two sequels, and its first attempt to resurrect Pilotwings came immediately after the final game in that trilogy. This take on the franchise would have been completely different from any other that ever saw release.
Pilotwings would be reimagined as a gritty action game set during the Cold War. Given that the original title and its Nintendo 64 follow-up — not to mention Pilotwings Resort — are among the most colorful games in Nintendo's back catalogue, this would surely have caused some controversy among fans.
However, this project wasn't to be, as the disappointing sales performance of Rebel Strike prompted Factor 5 to focus its efforts on the Xbox, rather than the Gamecube. Its first project was set to be a remastered collection of the Rogue Squadron series, which of course never came to be.
A few years passed, and Factor 5 found themselves once again working with Nintendo hardware, this time the Wii. The idea of resurrecting Pilotwings came up once again, although this time the dour Cold War setting was dropped, and the studio pitched something far closer to the tone of the original franchise.
The interesting part of this take on the project was that Factor 5 wanted to put together some unique hardware that would have expanded upon the experience. By tweaking the Wii's IR technology, they would have created a set of glasses that would have given the on-screen image some depth, allowing players to look around the cockpit by turning their head, years ahead of the launch of PlayStation VR and its ilk.
At some point, Nintendo got cold feet — likely due to its own plans for Pilotwings Resort — and decided to pull its support. Factor 5 shacked up with another publisher, and Nintendo was even on board to produce the hardware, but money troubles led to the whole project falling through.
It's a shame, too, because some of the work Factor 5 did looked great. The game, which at that point was dubbed WeFly, was set in a massive open world where players could fly from New York City to the North Pole without any loading screens to interrupt. Each location would have its own unique challenges.
There's a ton more detail to this story in the video from Unseen64, which is well worth checking out. It remains to be seen whether we'll ever see Pilotwings return to the skies — but at the pace Nintendo is revisiting its classic franchises for the Switch, it seems like there's a distinct possibility.