When I first tried the demo of Pilotwings Resort at the Nintendo 3DS press event, I was impressed by the graphics and 3D effects, but wondered if there was really enough gameplay to make it worth a purchase as a full game.
So what do I think now that I've spent some time with the full game?
Pilotwings was a launch title for the SNES and showed off its amazing Mode 7 graphics. Then, Pilotwings 64 was a launch title for the Nintendo 64, showcasing the console's 3D polygon-rendering capabilities with its expansive environments. So I guess it seems only natural that the series would return to launch alongside the Nintendo 3DS and show exactly what the 3D handheld is capable of. Pilotwings Resort is a deceptive little game. It looks so cute and adorable, but it will seriously test your aerial skills! You will take control of three different vehicles a plane, rocket belt and hang glider and fly all over Wuhu Island in an attempt to complete missions and unlock dioramas. It sounds simple, but it can get tricky!
The graphics are crisp, clean and bright. Wuhu Island looks better here than it did on the Wii, and the depth of the 3D effects is seriously impressive. This is a great game to show off what the 3DS can really do with that third dimension. You will play as your Mii, and even that looks more detailed than on the Wii. The touch screen is used as a flat map during flight time, and you can zoom in and out with the tap of a thumb. The music is catchy while you're playing, but ultimately so innocuous that it doesn't stay with you. This would have been a great opportunity for Nintendo to allow you to play the music on your SD card as background tunes while you fly. Sound effects are good, and not too distracting except for the birds when you're flying through the trees... Controls are tight, with the analog nub being used to navigate the skies, and various buttons offering up speed boosts and braking depending on the aircraft. At no point did I blame the controls for my crashes it was all on me!
Each of the three aircraft controls very differently, and while the rocket belt takes the most getting used to, I found the hang glider the most frustrating, simply because you're at the mercy of gravity. There are also upgraded versions you can unlock by completing the mission that features them, giving you access to the turbo jet, the super rocket belt and the pedal glider. (The pedal glider mission made me want to murder someone...) The plane is fast and has a speed boost, the rocket belt is the most maneuverable, and the hang glider lets you take 3D photos of the island scenery to save to your SD card.
In Mission Flight Mode, you will play through five different levels, unlocking each one as you go up to a total of 39 separate missions (including Training level). Each level has different missions to complete for each of the aircraft. Points are given for how well you complete the mission, adding extra for time, leftover fuel, and the like, and deducted for penalties like crashing or brushing against cliffs. Depending on your points, you can earn up to three stars per mission, and a certain number of stars are required to unlock the next level of missions. And in the later missions, some really tight flying skills are required to earn those stars, let me tell you!
There is also a Free Flight mode, which is somewhat misleading. You can't actually fly around at your leisure. No, there's a time limit, although you can technically just fly around during those few minutes and do whatever you want. However, there are also goals in Free Flight. There are informational icons on each of the Wuhu Island landmarks to collect, and balloons floating around that you can pop to extend your time limit. Then, depending on the aircraft you've chosen, there's one more task to complete. With the plane you fly through stunt rings, with the rocket belt there are Mii Trophies to collect, and with the hang glider you have to maneuver through gold rings. And the more of those you complete/collect, you unlock little 3D dioramas. They're cute, but nothing to write home about. It's more about the satisfaction of finally completing more tricks and collecting the trophies. Oh and you can also select the time of day during which you want to fly, which helpfully relocates your starting position so you can reach certain locations faster.
There is no multiplayer to speak of, which is really a shame. Two-player dogfights would have been awesome. Even online leaderboards where you could compare your mission scores and Free Flight progress with your friends would have been welcome. Maybe if it wasn't a launch title, Nintendo might have been able to include it. But while there's really only the two gameplay modes, there's still more to do than I had expected. The missions get progressively harder, and it can be difficult to get a three star rating, let alone a perfect score. And collecting everything in Free Flight isn't exactly a cake walk, either! Pilotwings Resort has what I like to call "One More Time" gameplay. Each flight will last only a few minutes, but as soon as it's done you either think "Oh, I could totally get a better score than that!" or you see another icon/ring/etc to collect that was just out of reach when the time ran out. So you immediately tap "Restart Mission" and give it one more go.
Pilotwings Resort may have launched alongside the Nintendo system like its predecessors, but it isn't exactly a system seller for the 3DS. However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much replayability I found in the game, even with only two gameplay modes. It's one of my favorites in the launch lineup, and I can honestly recommend it.
The reviewer played a copy received from Nintendo and unlocked all the aircraft and Mission Flight Mode levels, even if they haven't all been three-starred yet and all the collectibles in the Free Flight Mode remain elusive!