Pilotwings Resort 3DS Review «

Reviewers have a tendency, I think, to conflate reviews of a new system’s launch titles with their critiques of the hardware itself. It’s not a good habit, but it’s an understandable one: Everything that seems good or bad about a platform is often distilled into those early releases. Plus, a high-profile game review makes for a convenient soapbox. In the case of Pilotwings: Resort, however, the strengths and failings on display have less to do with the 3DS platform and more to do with Nintendo’s current creative direction.

The Pilotwings series has been around since the Super NES launched, 20 years ago, but Resort hardly resembles the previous games — at least not on a superficial level. Where the older installments were essentially hardware tech demos dressed up with classic Nintendo charm and personality, Resort doesn’t really do anything particularly dazzling, and its aesthetics are drawn directly from the company’s modern Wii-brand games. In fact, the game’s subtitle ties it directly to Wii Sports Resort, as the two games are set on the same island. Whatever personality Pilotwings as a series might once have possessed has been whitewashed by a deliberate sense of genericness, with familiar characters completely replaced by Miis. It’s a somewhat strange decision, since the 3DS’s early adopters are most likely to be dedicated Nintendo fans who would prefer the familiar to the faceless, but I suppose Resort is meant to be the 3DS’s equivalent of Wii Sports…minus the “free with purchase” part, of course.

Reviewers have a tendency, I think, to conflate reviews of a new system’s launch titles with their critiques of the hardware itself. It’s not a good habit, but it’s an understandable one: Everything that seems good or bad about a platform is often distilled into those early releases. Plus, a high-profile game review makes for a convenient soapbox. In the case of Pilotwings: Resort, however, the strengths and failings on display have less to do with the 3DS platform and more to do with Nintendo’s current creative direction.The Pilotwings series has been around since the Super NES launched, 20 years ago, but Resort hardly resembles the previous games — at least not on a superficial level. Where the older installments were essentially hardware tech demos dressed up with classic Nintendo charm and personality, Resort doesn’t really do anything particularly dazzling, and its aesthetics are drawn directly from the company’s modern Wii-brand games. In fact, the game’s subtitle ties it directly to Wii Sports Resort, as the two games are set on the same island. Whatever personality Pilotwings as a series might once have possessed has been whitewashed by a deliberate sense of genericness, with familiar characters completely replaced by Miis. It’s a somewhat strange decision, since the 3DS’s early adopters are most likely to be dedicated Nintendo fans who would prefer the familiar to the faceless, but I suppose Resort is meant to be the 3DS’s equivalent of Wii Sports…minus the “free with purchase” part, of course.

Not that this really matters, though, since beyond its vanilla façade, Resort is a Pilotwings game through and through. That is to say, it’s a series of aerial challenges via prop plane, jet pack, and hang glider that begin as rather unassuming tasks and eventually become infuriatingly difficult. There’s really not all that much to Pilotwings, but it’s entertaining nevertheless — the game’s sense of flight strikes a rare balance that puts it directly between pure flight and aerial combat simulations. Unlike a true flight sim, it eschews realistic aerial physics for a less demanding feel that nevertheless maintains a sort of internal consistency.

In the same way that Mario physics are ridiculously exaggerated but always work in the same predictable manner, Pilotwings Resort probably doesn’t bear much in common with the real rules of flying, but it works within the loose interpretation it establishes from the get-go. And while the game is broken into a rigid mission structure, some portion of which involves shooting (in the sense of both guns and cameras), it never feels stressful in the way that something like Ace Combat does. 

In other words, the appeal of Pilotwings is in the simple joy of flying. Wisely, Nintendo offsets the increasingly demanding missions with a free-flight mode in which you’re given the freedom to fly around the islands at your leisure. This mode does demonstrate the game’s greatest weakness, though, which is simply that there’s not a lot of game here; the few dozen missions can be completed in a few hours with a little persistence, after which all that’s left is replaying them again and again in pursuit of a perfect score, or flying around the free-flight mode in search of collectibles.

The collectibles are frankly annoying, since there are several hundred of them divided up not only according to your choice of vehicle but also by the time of day you decide to fly. Free-flight is initially limited to two minutes, and you earn extra time by collecting balloons while flying. That’s fine in concept, but every balloon appears as a “ghost” that can be seen but not collected unless you’ve selected the proper combination of vehicle and time of day. It feels manipulative, like an artificial way to create the illusion of replay value, and the contrivance of the whole affair makes even the free-flight feel a bit like work. But, much like the 3DS itself, Pilotwings is ultimately designed to appeal to casual players. It’s an approachable, enjoyable, but ultimately somewhat insubstantial game, and the 3D visuals add a nice touch but don’t have a material impact on how it plays. Hmm…I guess the game and system have a lot in common after all.

 

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