The launch title for the discerning fan
Picked this one up on launch day (27Mar11) along with Steel Diver. Nintendo clearly picked this franchise as a featured launch title due to the obvious possibilities for vivid, showy 3D experiences. I suspect that the decision to recycle the Wii Sports Resort locale had something to do with it as well; this familiar backdrop provides a sleek bridge between the console and new handheld while conveniently shortening development time and lending personality to a game that was formerly devoid of personality. I’m not some die-hard Mii fan; I mean, I like the concept, and the execution is distinctly “Nintendo” (i.e. cute, entertaining, and fun for most ages) that I’m generally ok with the idea. I didn’t really see the need to “mii up” the Pilotwings universe, but as I wrote in my Club Nintendo commentary, I’d probably have voted to do the same thing, had I been in charge of development.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time covering the basic gameplay; the Pilotwings franchise is light-flight-sim that aims to entertain, not emulate anything approaching a “realistic” flying experience. This particular iteration focuses primarily on light plane, hang-gliding, and a cartoony rocket-pack. There are other vehicles to unlock, but they are few and far between, and underused at that. Plan to spend most of your time in these three modes, all of which are well made and are varied enough to keep the player engaged. I was very disappointed that skydiving was not included as a primary mission. It was one of my favorite modes in the original Pilotwings, and stands out as an unforgivable omission. I can’t even think of a single reason for skimping on it.
The gameplay is good. Pure Nintendo. The controls are easy to pick up, but the scoring system and subtle nuances of each vehicle allow for a significant refinement of skill. A poor player can still complete missions and pass ahead, but the adept gamer can spend a fair amount of time perfecting their skills and going for a perfect mission score. Overall, the difficulty is a bit easy. I regularly achieve 3-star ranking–the highest–on only my second or third attempt of a particular mission, but the majority of missions require repeated (numerous even) playthroughs. Whether this appeals to you or not is a personal thing–I can understand how some critics see the game as light on content, given that it isnt difficult to “pass” a mission with a middling score. This is one of those titles that relies on your willingness or desire to get REALLY good at piloting each vehicle in a variety of situations.
I am the kind of gamer who enjoys casual titles, even if they aren’t the sort of thing I’ll be placing on my “best ever” list. Some games expect the player to sit-down-and-grind-for-hours; others, especially handheld experiences, are intended to be played while you wait in line, ride the bus, or take extended bathroom breaks at the office (currently one of my primary 3DS-playing-locations). Pilotwings for 3DS is definitely one of those casual experiences intended to be consumed in short bites. It doesn’t have the depth to sustain lengthy devotion, but as a game I play for 20-30 minutes a day a few times a week, I’ve gotten my money’s worth (though I do feel that the current prices for 3DS titles are a little higher than I’d ideally expect to pay).