The Pilotwings series returns after fourteen years with Pilotwings Resort, does the series continue to soar or should it have gone the way of Concorde.
Fourteen years is a long time for any videogame series to make a comeback, the wait has been agonising, with talks of a sequel stemming back to an announcement by Paradigm at E3 in 1997. Since then Factor 5 have also been linked with the series but no game was ever announced, leave it then to Monster Games who were responsible for reviving the Excite series to finally give us what weíve been waiting for.
In Pilotwings Resort you are a member of a Flight Club which tasks you with a series of around forty aerial missions. The game also features a timed Free Flight mode which allows you to fly around Wuhu Island at your leisure with no specific mission to complete. There are three initial vehicles which are the Plane, Rocket Belt and Hang Glider with more becoming available as you progress through mission mode. The setting for Pilotwings Resort is Wuhu Island, a tropical resort which appeared in both Wii Fit Plus and Wii Sports Resort.
Mission Mode begins with a novice section aimed at easing you into flying each vehicle type and familiarising you with the available mission types. Each mission requires a certain amount of points to get up to three possible stars plus a perfect rating, once you have completed every mission and reached the required point total the next section (Bronze, Silver) will unlock allowing you to progress. While starting off very easy, allowing you to simply pass through a few rings then land, the missions do ramp up in difficulty and getting a three star rating is going to take quite a few attempts. The missions themselves are very fun and only get more so as you progress, while initially simple you will soon be flying through moving rings, shooting balloons strapped to cars and hitting speed limit barriers all under a strict time limit.
Old favourites make a return such as taking photos while hang gliding or reaching a certain altitude before landing at a very precise time. New mission types also make an appearance that offer a change from the traditional missions associated with the series and add a bit of humour into proceedings. I personally really enjoyed my time with mission mode, although seemingly light on content the draw to come back and beat my scores or gain that extra star was very strong, in my opinion getting three stars on every mission was well worth it for the unlockable alone. I would have been happy with a few more mission types or maybe even a bit more of the same in order to extend my playtime but at a total of nineteen hours logged so far that may be a bit greedy. Leaderboards would also have been a great addition as once you hit the perfect cap on a level you are then allowed to try and beat that score by finishing in a faster time.
Free Flight mode is an extension of the Air Sports game from Wii Sports Resort allowing you to fly around Wuhu Island under a time limit, collecting location markers that divulge information about certain areas of the map. In addition to this you can also collect balloons that allow more time and vehicle specific collectibles that unlock some cool Dioramas to view from the main menu. I enjoyed Free Flight mode a lot more than I expected, I found the extra collectibles to be a fun extra to the location information of Wii Sports Resort and some of them were quite difficult to obtain. I canít say I am happy with the timed aspect of the mode though, I understand that it helps with the high score aspect of the collectibles and makes it a bit harder to collect them all, but it would have been nice once all the balloons were collected to allow infinite time rather than a maximum of five minutes.
The real stars here though are the vehicles and Wuhu Island. Wuhu itself has been gorgeously rendered here, draw distances did nothing but astound me and every now and then I just had to take an in game photo as the sights are breath taking, these photos can be transferred to SD card and you can see a few of mine in this review. Initially I was very sceptical of having Wuhu Island as the sole location but after spending nineteen hours there so far in I havenít once asked for anything more. This must be a testament to the detail, sights and intricacy of the island which has a great deal to see. If I have one complaint it that the place falls short of becoming a living, breathing world, seeing Miiís at the beach, sword fighting at the coliseum or flying around in various vehicles would have done more to bring the island to life.
The vehicles themselves are probably the best they have ever been, the plane is perhaps a little too arcade like for my tastes but feels great as an entry level means of flying around the island. The Rocketbelt feels the same as it has in the past but the added benefit of 3D here allows for much better control, especially during landing sequences. Landing the Rocketbelt has always provided a challenge but the 3D here really helps provide a more accurate landing without the need to switch to an overhead camera perspective. I have saved the best for last here though and that is the Hang Glider, I donít think the Hang Glider has ever felt this amazing to fly in any other game in the series. Hang Gliding around Wuhu Island is such a delightful piece of gameplay that I donít think I wanted it to end, I have spent hours flying around taking photos of various locations during Day, Evening and Night and it hasnít gotten old yet. The feeling is so relaxing yet you are kept on your toes needing to catch thermals wherever possible in order to maintain altitude.
I would have liked a bit more vehicle variety, the extra vehicle unlocks offer little in terms of variety and it would have been nice to see the return of the cannon, Jumble Hopper and Birdman. Some bonus levels would have also been nice.
Audio also deserves a special mention here as the soundtrack is brilliant in my opinion, I have always enjoyed the catchy, jazzy songs used in the Pilotwings series but here the songs are amazing, adding a few new tracks while creating some really great remixes of old favourites. The 3D aspect of the game really helps this game both in terms of gameplay and aesthetic value. Itís hard to argue that the game doesnít look great in 3D and turning 3D off really made me feel like I was missing out. Maybe it was because it was my first 3D title but it did take some getting used to, having the 3D on high made me feel a little nauseous but that depth slider has slowly been creeping up and I now have it on near maximum most of the time. The gameplay is helped by turning the 3D on too, I have mentioned above that the Rocketbelt benefited in terms of landings but trying to fly through rings or collect capsules is certainly easier with 3D turned on.
All in all Pilotwings Resort is a great return to the series and is one of my favourite games in recent memory. There are some omissions which canít really be ignored but so much is done right here that it is also easy to forgive them. If you can only buy one launch title for the 3DS I would without a doubt recommend this one, it may be a bit short for people who donít like to replay for high scores but there is plenty here to keep newcomers and fans of the series happy.