The Pilotwings franchise finally makes a triumphant return on the Nintendo 3DS, and it's a little bit different than the last installment on the Nintendo 64.
Pilotwings Resort will lure in players with the promise of some enjoyable flying mechanics, fun gameplay, as well as immersive 3D graphics, and for the most part, the game delivers - but there are still a few things that keep the title from being anything more than just another half-baked launch title for the new system.
Pilotwings Resort takes place in an area that some may find strangely familiar - because it takes place on Wuhu Island — the same island that appears in Wii Sports Resort. Since the game utilizes the same island, the graphics offer up a nearly identical visual style in order to convince gamers that the latest Pilotwings does in fact take place in the same universe, and locale, as Sports Resort. The reuse of the island isn't by any means a game breaking problem, but anyone who has spent some time in the latest Wii Sports game is going to be hit with some hardcore deja vu.
Graphically the game looks very cartoony, but this makes sense since the main character in Pilotwings Resort is none other than your very own Mii. The graphics in Pilotwings certainly don't live up to the system's full graphical potential by any means (most launch titles rarely do), but the 3D effects in the game are executed effectively. The 3D really adds a lot of depth to the in-game world, which can be extremely useful when trying to determine how much space is left between the player and a hazard or target. Some of the launch titles don't use the console's 3D effectively, but Pilotwings Resort isn't one of them. The effect makes the title a great launch game to show-off.
One potential issue that I was worried about was how well the flying controls would handle on the new 3DS joystick nub, and to my excitement everything controlled fluidly. When a game's main appeal is an assortment of flyable aircraft, then the controls need to be spot on, and for the most part they were. Very rarely did I find myself getting frustrated while flying any of the vehicles in Pilotwings Resort, but learning how to control some of them wasn't overly easy either. Planes, jet packs, hang-gliders, and even squirrel suits all handle differently, so there is a mild learning curve for anyone who plans on mastering all of the aviation options.
The gameplay in Pilotwings has been split into two sections that each offer a very different way to enjoy the game. The first option is called 'Free Flight Mode' which allows the player to fly around the island in an attempt to find collectables that are hidden throughout the area. Finding the collectables will unlock bonus content (that would otherwise be inaccessible). The ability to fly freely around Wuhu in an assortment of arial-based transportation is a lot of fun, but after awhile, piloting around the island and collecting things was a little stale. It's not that collecting items isn't fun, without any larger goal, it just gets old.
The other mode, 'Mission Flight Mode,' is, as advertised, mission-based - featuring a set of challenges and tasks that must be accomplished using several different flying contraptions. Each challenge has been siphoned off into one of five sub-categories. The first mode 'Training' features some very easy challenges that help introduce less experienced (or young) players to the controls, but it's horrifically easy for anyone who has even a remote inkling of how to play a video game. I was pretty concerned when I blew through both the 'Training' as well as 'Bronze' challenges - growing increasingly bored but the game quickly took care of those concerns.
The difficulty of the challenges begins to ramp up severely in the 'Silver' challenges and it only becomes more difficult in the 'Gold' levels. Once the 'Platinum' challenges reared their demonic heads I had to take a break for fear of throwing the Nintendo 3DS (that Nintendo was king enough to provide us) in a fit of rage. Pilotwings Resort's difficulty picks up pretty quickly and anyone who isn't ready may very well be caught off guard by the sheer spike that the later levels in the game contain.
Some of the challenges in Pilotwings Resort include flying through rings and destroying targets - completing missions give a traditional star rating based on performance. The maximum amount of stars someone is set to three - and these stars are extremely important because they unlock new levels. It becomes increasingly hard to obtain the heavily sought after three-star rating, but the game certainly wouldn't be very much fun if it didn't offer up some challenge.
Pilotwings Resort is a fun little game that utilizes the 3D ability of the Nintendo 3DS quite well, and it also packs in a decent amount of content that is sure to keep anyone preoccupied for a solid amount of time. That being said, the latest Pilotwings is far from perfect. The graphics, while acceptable, really don't push the boundaries of what the 3DS is capable of, and the game also feels like it's severely lacking in terms of features. 'Free Fly Mode' and 'Mission Flight Mode' contain a decent amount of content, but after you've beaten them there is really no incentive to go back and revisit Pilotwings.