For what it’s worth, Pilotwings Resort couldn’t have come at a better time. After an excruciating 15-year hiatus since the excellent Nintendo 64 release, another relaxing sojourn through the skies was long overdue, as Nintendo tends to pair the release of new games in the series with the launch of a new console, at least when they feel a need to show off the technical prowess of the console playing it. That console this time around is the new 3DS, and the new tech that needs showing off is glasses-free 3D. Developer Monster Games (behind the Excitebike games and spin-offs for the Wii) has crafted a fun and entertaining follow-up that delivers most of the excitement and wonder you’d expect from the Pilotwings series, even if the experience often depends on shutting off its biggest gimmick – the 3D.
Technical showcases they may be, but the real magic of the Pilotwings series was how effortlessly they allowed anyone to take to the virtual skies through a series of gradually stringent challenges, with plenty of discovery and exploration mixed in for good measure. Pilotwings Resort follows much of the same formula, as you’ll brave the skies and locales of sunny Wuhu Island (first see in Wii Sports Resort) in vehicles that include biplanes, jetpacks, hangliders, to a pedal glider and even a flying squirrel suit – some of which need to be unlocked. To see everything you’ll have to complete challenges in Mission Flight Mode, which narrows the missions to specific objectives across Training, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum classes, each offering challenges that increase in difficulty.
Free Flight Mode lets you explore the island using any of the available vehicles to help perfect your skills, as well as pulling off stunts and searching for collectible items such as trophies and balloons that open up more of the game’s secrets. This is Nintendo 101, only its a drag that your experience is cut short by an opposing time limit for no other reason (I imagine) than to keep you from getting bored of the game entirely, although this comes off more annoying than clever.
While the environments portrays a sunny and colorful Wuhu Island, the game can be just as demanding as its predecessors, though none of the missions are impossible to beat, and hitting that perfect three star score is just as addictive as ever. The mechanics of each vehicle are well thought out and invite even the most novice of players to jump in and enjoy the sights, yet they require some precision if going for a perfect run is what you’re after. Landing your plane in the designated starred water runway takes an entirely different skill level than using the fuel-gobbling jetpack, and don’t be surprised to see the ‘ejecting parachute’ animation more than a few times before
Visually, Pilotwings Resort looks pretty good, as you’re treated to a Mii-centric appearance that wouldn’t look out of place on the Wii home console. But the game literally rides on the idea of 3D, and even the most playful Nintendo-styled graphics woudln’t mean anything if the effect didn’t work. It does, for the most part. The autostereoscopic enhancements keep things interesting on your bright and detailed Wuhu getaway, and certainly add a layer of depth that we’ve never quite experienced before. Its easy to see why Nintendo chose to resurrect Pilotwings to show off the 3DS’ impressive effects, as zooming over the locations and vistas simply looks and feels better when the 3DS effects are working.
But when they don’t, the results can be game-killing for some. Even the slightest movement away from the game’s ‘hot spot’ will break the 3D effect entirely, meaning you’ll probably end up spending just as much time adjusting the 3D slider or trying to refocus as you will actually playing the game. Non-discerning players might be able to put up with the occasional double images, but leaving the 3D completely off tends to work best if you’re planning
As launch games go, Pilotwings Resort is a mostly enjoyable and immediately accessible flight simulation that signals the happy return of a series we haven’t seen since Pilotwings 64. Nearly all of the familiar elements are here, and there’s nothing quite like zipping through the skies and unlocking secrets, although the amount of available vehicles and challenges will probably disappoint hardcore fans of previous games. But as a full-fledged demonstration of the power of 3D gaming, the results can be passable at best, and nearly unplayable at worst, as even the slightest wrong movement means rendering the 3D effects into a blurry mess. Still, when everything lines up correctly there’s definitely some true gameplay magic at work here, though it would be nice if the 3D came together like it should, seeing that’s the main purpose of having the 3DS in the first place.
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