Pilotwings Resort is one of the many cartridges churned out to support Nintendo’s new 3DS, and unlike some of the other launch titles, Pilotwings Resort actually feels like a full game. If you absolutely need to have a 3DS, it’s probably one of your better early options. There are nearly forty separate missions spread across four difficulty levels, and while they’re all relatively short, the game does have some decent replay value if you’re looking to get higher scores.
That’s not quite the same thing as a recommendation. The gameplay is exactly what it was on the N64, so Pilotwings Resort is essentially the same game with better graphics on a smaller screen. If you’ve never been a fan of the franchise then the latest installment isn’t going to change your mind.
Pilotwings Resort also fails to make good use of the much-touted glasses-free 3D. The scenery looks good, but the slightest tilt of the screen will ruin the effect and leave you staring at a blurry mess of colorful pixels. My eyes slowly glazed over while dealing with the visuals, and while I never got a headache, the 3D makes it hard to focus and it doesn’t add anything to gameplay.
Beyond that, the overall experience is good-but-not-great conventional. The basic premise is that you’re visitor to a tropical island and the resort allows you to experiment with a number of different forms of aerial transportation. The three primary vehicles are an airplane, a rocket belt (read: jetpack), and a hang-glider, and there are also a few one-off missions that make use of other high-altitude technologies. My personal favorite is a free-fall mission with a flying squirrel suit, although the mechanics are relatively consistent regardless of your vehicle.
The game itself is structured as a series of obstacle course-style missions, and gameplay always follows the same general pattern. You’ll be placed on a pre-set course and you’ll have to fly through rings, shoot targets, and collect orbs in order to score as many points as possible. You’ll then have to land your craft once you’ve reached the end of your path, and you’ll receive additional points for fuel efficiency, run time, and graceful landings.
Thankfully, those landings are easier than they were in past Pilotwings games. Your depth perception isn’t great, so a few of the target areas will sneak up more rapidly than you’d expect, but you should at least be able to avoid a crash once you’re familiar with the timing. Getting a perfect score usually requires a bit of good fortune – you’ll be docked points for a heavier impact and there’s no real way to tell how hard you’ll hit the ground – but you can at least get a max three-star rating even if you miss a couple of points here or there.
The level design is otherwise one of the stronger aspects of the game. The stages are inevitably linear, but there are many subtle tricks that you’ll have to master in order to pick up every item and the meticulous design will reward studied observation and practice. Again, you might have to get a little lucky if you’re looking for a perfect score, but the goal is attainable and sound technique can significantly improve your chances.
The core gameplay, meanwhile, completely forgoes the stylus and touch screen to use the thumb pad for navigation and the face/shoulder buttons for everything else, and it’s all generally functional and intuitive. Your vehicle will go where you tell it to go and there’s a nice sense of speed and acceleration. Doing 120 with the hang-glider does not feel like doing 50 with the jetpack and the vehicles are unique enough to make the differences worthwhile.
That said, Pilotwings is not without its quirks and aggravations. The hang-glider, for instance, has no form of propulsion and can’t accelerate when it’s close to the ground, while piloting the jetpack can be a nightmare in narrow corridors. Simply going straight is a challenge, and losing points every time you hit a wall will definitely raise your blood pressure.
Even for a flight simulator, the physics are also a little loose. None of the vehicles have any weight, and while that might be deliberate – the game could accurately be described as ‘airy’ – it can make for some extremely unforgiving gameplay. Once your craft starts to drift, it’s tough to wrest it back on course and you’ll seldom have any time to make adjustments if you start to float away.
When you’re done with the missions, Pilotwings Resort does contain a free flight mode that allows you to cruise around at your leisure, and the developers have added a series of collectibles to encourage you to visit every corner of the island. You’ll unlock dioramas for finding more items, and the layout is surprisingly elegant. The various items trace many natural routes across the sky, so you’ll be able to break off one path and immediately embark upon another.
The problem is that the developers don’t trust the player to have fun without proper supervision, so they’ve unnecessarily turned exploration into a mini-game with a timer. You’ll never get more than about two consecutive minutes before you get kicked off the course, and the rigid structure completely cripples any sense of freedom. You’ll eat up half of your time retracing your steps from a previous run and you may not even know where you’ve been because collected items never disappear.
If you’re able to get past the harsh restrictions, the sheer size of the island does provide some substantial gameplay value. Collecting everything will take time, and while the mini-game aspect is pointless – the game records your best runs and allows you to compete against yourself for no meaningful reward – there are enough hidden extras to justify a few extra hours of flight time.
Pilotwings Resort is ultimately the rare DS game that’s built around solid design principles instead of technology gimmicks and it makes for a reasonably enjoyable experience. It’s a solid option if you’re looking for something for the family, although it’s probably not good enough to justify a $250 3DS.