You have to give it to Nintendo, they know how to get the most from a franchise. Be it the brilliant reinvention of their plumber every few years, the consistency of the boy called Link, or the avalanche of cash that Pokémon brings in, they’re not short of a license of two.
For me, however, it is the ones they don’t trot out so frequently that have always stirred my loins. Where is the sequel to Luigi’s mansion? What have they done with R.O.B.? And, up until last summer, why had they grounded Pilotwings?
The weight of expectation, not only from being a sequel some fifteen years in the making but from being a flagship launch title for a new generation of hardware, can be crushing. And though it may not be the must-have 3DS title, it capably shows off the advancement in the platform whilst also refusing to wilt under the steely gaze of its forebears.
It still remains a toy box of aerial antics and the inclusion of an analogue nub makes soaring through the skies above Wuhu Island and absolute treat. Subtle dips and movements that wouldn’t have been possible on the DS’s digital dpad instantly prove that the upgrade in hardware was worth it on more than a visual level, but it is that sense of depth the extra dimension brings that not only adds to the sense of technical evolution but actually enhances the experience.
With many of the missions requiring flying through hoops, landing on platforms and popping balloons, the ability to place yourself in three-dimensional space is a crucial one. Previously this has been achieved by a fair amount of gut instinct, cross-referenced with a mini-map giving you a top down view. Once the sense of scale had settled in I barely found myself referring to the mini-map, such was my sense of knowing my place. It almost became intoxicating at times, knowing just when and how to bank and see my target looming up, and playing with the 3D turned off almost made it feel like a completely different and poorer experience.
On a more shallow level, pushing your hang glider into a steep descent and seeing the world dash towards you only to then bank up and slide between a forest’s trunk, or skimming your jet plane so low over the sea at sunset as to kick up spray at the screen, should be enough for most. The amount of natural tunnels, hoops and grand structures the island possesses is ripe for exploiting the graphical wonder as you see the world dash by.
Unfortunately the glue holding the package together is not as rich. Early missions frame Pilotwings Resort as a tech demo, offering little for experienced pilots to get their teeth into. It takes some time before later classes to be opened up and your mettle to be truly tested, but it is not so much the difficulty that is found lacking but the variety.
No matter the trappings, it lacks the extras that were attached to its predecessors. Flying the plane, jetpack and glider around are all fun in their own right, but the distractions that used to be offered by sky diving, spring-loaded boots, and the human cannonball are missed; something that gave the player a truly different way of exploring the game.
And exploring the island of Wuhu is an activity that should wholeheartedly encouraged. Be it as it may imported from Wii Sports Resort, it has been kitted out with a myriad of sea caves and rock formations that are perfect for a little stunt flying. Unshackled from mission objectives, the world becomes your playground.
So once again Pilotwings appears as a launch title and once again it offers an absorbing showcase for Nintendo’s latest console. Whether it’s selling the virtues of the third-dimension, newly achieved portable analogue control, or the inclusion of your Mii in the cockpit, everything is there to sell the virtues of the 3DS. It may not be the complete package compared to those that have gone before it, but it does anything but disgrace the family name.