Wednesday 3 August 2016

Pilotwings (SNES review)

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1991

Pilotwings is a flight simulator that was a launch title for the system in North America.

It consists of eight lessons and four events. To progress you must score enough points in each lesson by taking part in three events; you're judged based on factors like Accuracy and Speed, and failing to achieve the required score forces you to replay the entire lesson. In Light Plane you follow a guide beam, fly under arches and then land on a runway. The plane controls perfectly making it a fun event, and the landing sequence is just as intense as Top Gun (1987, NES). In Sky Diving, you open a parachute, fly through rings and land on a target. It's tough due to the precise aim you need to have when switching directions. Landing is maddening as you need to use the flare while judging altitude in relation to your proximity to the ground; being accurate takes some superhuman skill and I could never get the hang of it. In Rocket Belt, you fly through rings and then land on a target. It's an enjoyable event as the controls are intuitive and the ability to switch to an overhead view for the landing sequence makes it easier to judge distance. In Hang Glider, you ride a thermal current to a particular height and then land on a target. It's another frustrating event as learning to flare and judge the best angle / altitude to land is too challenging. Overall, the lack of a training mode leaves you with no real guidance so it's easy to feel lost when repeated failure strikes. At least the unlockable Helicopter rescue missions are worth it (via cheat codes in my case!) as you launch missiles at opposing enemies. This more aggressive based action has a great sense of freedom that reminds me of Desert Strike (1992, Mega Drive).

I can see the appeal of Pilotwings but it just didn't pull me in due to its gameplay that demands near perfection from the outset. While some events are entertaining, the Sky Diving and Hang Glider activities offer you little guidance that makes it impossible to progress through each lesson without some serious practice or a stroke of luck.
Random trivia: In 1996, a sequel called Pilotwings 64 was released on the Nintendo 64.

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