Imagine that you can fly. Not just levitating out of your chair or floating over your computer screen, but flying. Opening the nearest window, mounting the sill, and soaring into the endless skies above. The sense of freedom would be incredible. What would you do? Where would you go? Would you try to go as high as you possibly can, pushing yourself into the stratosphere and beyond? Or maybe you’d go on a journey around the world, coasting over whole oceans and continents along the way. Perhaps you’d visit different countries, soaking up as much culture and sights as possible… It’s good to dream. Unfortunately, the closest thing you’ll ever get is riding a plane. Maybe a hang-glider, helicopter, or hot air balloon if you’re the adventurous type. If you’re not, then at least you can pretend to be by indulging in Pilotwings Resort.
You’ll be whisked into the sunny realm of Wuhu Island, a place that Wii Sports Resort veterans know all too well. This tropical paradise has everything: a spotless beach, quaint fishing town, lighthouse, bowling alley, golf course, fencing arena, ancient ruins, and even a hollowed-out (but still harboring lava) volcano. You know, the usual. Instead of messing around on the ground, however, you’ll be spending almost all of your time in midair with the game’s flight simulator. You’ll be given command over a small assortment of aircraft, including a single-engine plane, jetpack, and hang-glider. They don’t impress at first – the plane is relatively sluggish and bland compared to the others – but differences in controls and playing styles are varied enough to keep things interesting. More vehicles will eventually be unlocked, ranging from the speedy Turbo Jet to the horrendously awkward Pedal Glider. None of them are perfect, but you’ll probably find one that best fits your playing style
If you want to get anywhere in the game, however, you’re going to have to use all of them. The Mission Flight Mode tests your ability to control and maneuver each aircraft through a series of increasingly difficult challenges. It’ll start off simple, like flying through rings, floating to platforms, or collecting floating bonus points. Things gradually become more complex with the inclusion of breakable speed barriers, shooting targets, cyclone-like thermals, and angled turns that require a ridiculous amount of timing and precision to pull off correctly. Not to mention the landings; if your flight has a rough ending, you’ll be graded accordingly. The game not only keeps track of how many floating bonuses you pick up, but the amount of time it takes you to finish, the amount of fuel used, and how accurate you are with the controls. Aside from a handful of nasty surprises in the later challenges, you shouldn’t have much trouble beating everything in a single afternoon. Getting perfect score ratings, on the other hand, is best left to completionists and masochists alike.
It’s worth the effort, though. The more missions you complete, the more options you unlock for the game’s Free Flight Mode. As the name implies, you’ll be able to take any available aircraft up for a brief spin around the island. It’ll seem horribly limited at first; you’re only given a couple of minutes to zoom around, which is hardly enough time to take in everything. But if you focus on nabbing all of the pick-ups scattered around the area, you’ll eventually be rewarded with an extended time limit and a few other features. Not only will you be able to drift around under the midday sun, but fly through the evening and night skies as well. There are several other collectibles that appear depending on what vehicle you’re using; you can barrel roll through stunt hoops with the Turbo Jet, look for statues with the Jetpack, and coast through floating rings with the Pedal Glider. With dozens of things to find, you’ll have to play quite a few times to uncover everything.
Your only incentives for collecting everything are a small assortment of unlockable dioramas. These trophies present you with animated models of the various aircraft and a few areas from the island. While they’re undoubtedly fascinating to watch – they make surprisingly good use of the 3DS’s graphical features – these lively trinkets also underscore how little content Pilotwings Resort actually has. All of those items and pickups could have been used as a way to purchase new parts and colors for your vehicle, thus giving you more options with which to work. The default plane has the ability to fire bullets; why was there no shooting gallery included? Or how about an actual multiplayer, for that matter? The game would have been so much more fun if you could battle your friends in virtual dogfights, or design and trade different challenges via online and StreetPass. Despite being one of the 3DS’s most prominent launch titles, it barely utilizes the system’s capabilities.
At least it looks pretty. Aside from the awesome dioramas, the rest of the game looks gorgeous with the 3D effects at work. The vehicles and floating pickups have a decent amount of depth; you can get a good sense of how far you are from a given item. The fierce glow of the jet boosters is almost as eye-catching as the orange and yellow-tinged evening skies. It can be disorienting, though; if you’re not looking at just the right angle, the images become blurry and overlap, making it easy for you to botch a mission. The same goes for the awkward camera, which you’ll occasionally struggle with when you’re exploring the caves and hidden passageways with the jetpack. While it’s fun to wander over the island – the scope of which hasn’t been rivaled by any handheld Nintendo game in recent memory – it’ll only take you a few playthroughs to uncover everything. The landscape is enormous, but a lot of the buildings and structures don’t have much in the way of scaling or features. Once you get up close to some of the places, you’ll realize how their designs simply trick your perspective into thinking that they’re bigger than they really are. Despite being huge and a nice reference to Wii Sports Resort, Wuhu Island still comes off as a little shallow and limited.
That could be said for Pilotwings Resort as a whole. It’s got a lot of great ideas, but it never deepens or develops them beyond their basic concepts. There’s a decent variety of vehicles, all with their own handling and playing styles. The missions may be brief, but the steady rise in complexity makes for some interesting challenges. Being able to soar through the skies over a vast, beautiful island is surprisingly fun, even when you’re not trying to nab all of the pickups and unlock everything. The problem is that there’s nothing else. There could have been more incentives to collect items. A few features (particularly the plane’s gun) would have been better utilized as mini-games. The utter lack of a multi-player feature is a huge oversight; a launch game is supposed to demonstrate what its system can do, and this barely does anything. Aside from the stunning 3D graphics, there’s little else to justify the game’s hefty price tag. Pilotwings Resort doesn’t quite crash and burn, but it can’t quite fly on its own.