It's all right, I've played a pilot before.
Much like what we saw with the launch of the Nintendo DS, the first weeks of life for the 3DS have been swamped by a flurry of titles which sometimes more closely resemble tech demos. A couple of relatively strong third party titles have been supplemented by an uncommonly weak showing by the first party, nostalgia-inducing IPs notwithstanding.
But it’s not all bad. While Pilotwings Resort is most certainly not robust enough to warrant its full-bodied price tag, it does contribute, however mildly, to the diversification of an otherwise pretty starved selection. Though it can hardly be called relaxing, its mixture of explorative and mission-based gameplay provides an often addictive (albeit short-lived) introduction to Nintendo’s new (and powerful) handheld.
Pilotwings Resort and Wii Sports Resort both share the same resort (not just similar titles). Pilotwings sends you back to WuHu Island, where you’ll now be spending the entire time (obviously) airborne. It’s a suitable location with some attractive variations (during sunset, for instance), but it isn’t exactly expansive—and thus, this is the first clue of Resort’s lacking depth. It would have been nice to see additional locations beyond the relatively modest WuHu (and its equally-modest annex, Private Island) available.
The first and most focal game mode you’ll find is Mission Flight Mode, which features five (plus one unlockable) “classes” of increasing difficulty, each with six to nine timed missions. Every mission is built around a particular vehicle, of which there are several overall, but three of which are most common:
Plane – Fly relatively quickly; boost with A and turn sharply with L/R. Also, as a wise man once said, “Do a barrel roll!”
Rocket Belt – A jetpack which features the typical A-to-thrust gameplay. By rotating the angle of the rockets, you can move in varying directions, speed up, or slow down.
Hang Glider – No engines here, though you can regain altitude through the use of updrafts in some missions.
Gameplay is tight and generally well-serviced by the comfortable Circle Pad, and the 3D effect is really pronounced (and in some ways, helpful in judging distance and position). Throughout Mission Flight Mode, there are lots of different types of objectives. You’ll find yourself flying through rings, popping balloons, shooting targets, snapping photos, putting out fires, and landing on particular spots, just to name a few. Depending on the goals at hand, your performance is ranked (with the help of some augmenting factors such as special bonus collectibles and event markers) and you’re awarded a score and a corresponding star rating (one, two or three). You only need an average of two stars on each mission to progress, but earning three (or better yet, a perfect score) will unlock the ability to shoot for even higher marks on said mission.
It’s an addictive (rather traditional) template, and it makes for an enjoyable unfolding of the game’s finer mechanics. Unfortunately, there really aren’t a lot of finer mechanics to behold, and that’s perhaps the biggest issue. Persistent players will likely conquer all five main classes of missions within the first few hours of play, after which only one unlockable class (Diamond) remains until the entire mode is tapped (save for higher scoring attempts, something which isn’t likely to hold any appeal without the inclusion of some sort of leaderboards system for comparative competition).
Then it’s on to the other half of the game, Free Flight Mode. Here, you’re set to explore the entire game world (in one of three selectable times of day and using any of six vehicles) without any constraining objectives apart from collecting various items dispersed throughout:
i-Rings, which provide information about particular landmarks
Balloons, which extend your time limit for each free flight and vary in location by vehicle
Stunt Rings, Mii Trophies, and Gold Rings, all of which are specific to particular vehicles
Of course, it’s not quite that simple: you are timed (as you might have guessed from reading about the balloons), so you’ll have to plan your routes and get as much done as possible during each trip. The compartmentalized approach to exploration (split into minutes-long trips) probably serves to stave off boredom and provide some incentive for directed travel planning, but it also manages to artificially extend what would otherwise be a pretty cut-and-dry combing of the game world’s limited real estate.
All in all, both game modes are equally entertaining, though neither feels as fleshed out as it ought to be. Again, some more real estate or additional locations would have really served the game well. It also would have been nice if the explorative gameplay somehow tied into the mission-based stuff—for instance, if you could fly around and discover new missions in Free Flight Mode—as it would provide more incentive to spend the time traversing the landscapes. Nevertheless, in spite of its flaws, Pilotwings Resort is one of a (currently) very limited supply of worthwhile introductions to what will hopefully be a riveting 3D handheld experience.
Fusing nostalgic foundation with Wii-casual design philosophy, Pilotwings Resort offers unique 3D-friendly entertainment while it lasts. The two game modes are both enjoyable—and, at times, addictive—but more real estate would be seriously beneficial to the experience. It’s certainly more than a tech demo, but at the price of a full course, it’s merely an appetizer.