Pilotwings 64 review
Earned its wings with flying colors
You kids love getting that sudden rush of adrenaline, right? So do these guys - whether it's through hang gliding, parachutes and even zipping through with a jetpack, as well as ripping through the air in a light weight plane, these wannabe pilots are having the time of their lives trying to earn their pilot wings. When you think about it, this sounds like a recipe for disaster. I mean, it's not like the SNES was an arcade or anything. But when geniuses are given these ideas to work into a game, the game ends up being one of the best games on the system... or at least, one of the more unique games on the system. A couple of things prevent it from being a 10/10 release, but they're nothing to get pissed off about.
Gameplay: Pilotwings can be summed up in one word - points. You need to be able to go through rings and land successfully where your instructor wants you to land. Any hiccups, and you won't get as many points as you would if you did it all perfectly.
Using light airplanes, hang gliders, parachutes and jetpacks, you, the newbie, have to make sure that you land without killing yourself (or destroying the equipment, as it seems - nobody dies in Nintendo, after all). There are some differences between the four. The airplane involves you flying around, going through rings before landing. The parachute allows you to skydive, first falling through some rings, then letting it rip and making sure you land on the target with the most points on it. The jetpack has you going through rings like in the plane, but you have to land like in the parachute levels. The hang glider is about the same, though where the jetpack has you using fuel, the hang glider runs on wind energy, so finding a stream of wind to help you up is essential in getting those challenges completed.
Don't get me wrong, Pilotwings can be amusing, but it's pretty tricky. The first half of the game has moderate difficulty, easing you into the mold, but also giving you somewhat of a challenge. The second half, on the other hand, is a prick to get through, especially since that's when you start using the hang glider, and it's very tricky to get the hang of. You have to take these streams, but you never know if it's too high or too low, and in the end, it just gets needlessly frustrating to deal with. There are only 2 hang gliding missions per difficulty mode, thankfully. Then you head into expert mode, and if you didn't get used to how things work, you'll get your ass kicked, because expert mode is pretty *bleep*ing tough, especially a certain mission at the end, though I won't spoil it for you. Thank god for 6 digit passwords!
The only issue I have with this game is that it didn't age that well. Newer players will jump in, thinking you can just *bleep* about and fly everywhere, but the restricted nature of this game says no. You're given a strict, linear path, and you're timed, and this kind of pisses me off when I think about it... hell, even as a kid, you think that you can fly around and do sick manoeuvres or something, but nope. Computer says "no, stick on THIS path", and it'll throw hissy fits if you deviate in the form of... well, giving you no score. That's the only real flaw with the game.
Controls: Controlling each of the machines or hang gliders takes a bit of time to get the hang of, since you need to be at a pretty specific height and leaning a specific way, and as you progress throughout the game, it gets more and more specific, especially since there are lots of curve balls. Once you get used to them, you'll end up finding them very tight, responsive and easy to use.
Graphics: Now, of course, Pilotwings wasn't different just because it had a unique concept that was pulled off quite well. It also contained some different looking graphics, with Nintendo experimenting with a mode-7 chip they developed to fool your eyes into thinking the environment is 3D, when in reality, it's just a 2D backdrop that shrunk in height and was then shaped more like a trapezoid. It looks pretty good for the most part. The colors used for the base and its surrounding area look lively enough, though outside looks a bit drab.
Audio: The soundtrack may not seem energetic enough to be used in a game about flying. The songs seem more lounge-y and used for cutscenes or exploration on the overworld of an RPG, but nevertheless, they still sound good. They're actually a bit quirky when you pay attention to the songs during each training session, with some weird sounding notes and whatnot in there, especially with one song that made me think about the teacher from Peanuts. I liked the songs, though if you don't, they're easily ignorable. Love it or hate it - your choice.
Replay Value: When you finish the game, you get an Expert mode, in case you don't mind the extra challenge. You also get a couple of extra modes, just to have a little more fun before putting it back on your shelf. If that's not enough, then consider this - it was ahead of the curve enough to warrant a few extra playthroughs every now and again. That, and it was short enough for some quick playthroughs. On top of that, it's fun to play through. The only problem is that it just didn't age too well in the long run, since there are a lot of games like this that just manage a lot more than this one does, including its sequel on the Nintendo 64.
Overall: Pilotwings may not have aged as well as it wanted to, especially since you could always play Pilotwings 64, though for its time, it was a very different game, and a pretty damn impressive one, too. The use of mode-7 graphics here showed its potential, and the concept managed to work very well, given that it was different from "save the princess", and the gameplay was different from "jump platforms" or "beat the piss out of bad guys". Nintendo made a huge risk, but if this review said anything, it said this - it was well worth it.
Replay Value: 6/10