Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Retro Review Tuesday: Pilotwings

It's been awhile since anyone else has worked on a review, but this is one neither Jen nor I were good enough to do. We had to call in our third contributor to work on this title as he's the only one of us who can beat it. This week we salute one of gaming's odd little classics, Pilotwings.


Nintendo is a truly legendary company. They can take a plumber and a mushroom and make arguably the greatest video game of all time. They also do a pretty damn good job with two elves and a pig-shaped thief. And the most magnificent video game company of all time can take a game about earning your Pilot's Wings and make it a super fun, classic, aerial experience. Here you will find the quaint wonders and oddities of this SNES gem, Pilotwings.

I can hear this image


The basic idea of this game is that you are an aspiring air wizard who's joined the instructual institution of the Flight Club in your quest towards your goal of earning, you guessed it, your Pilot's Wings. You will meet four different instructors (twice) and attempt to complete their unique courses. You will do this by passing fun and challenging lessons which include the Light Plane, Skydiving, Hang gliding, and the Rocket Belt. These lessons involve flying through floating, colored rings, touching erect bars, climbing to certain heights, and other various obstacles. And of course, easily the most challenging part of all this - Landing.

He's not the man they think he is at home.

Graphics -The graphics of this game are quite crisp and good for their time.Your instructors look like reasonable illustrations of people and everything is clear as far as what it is. Probably the most notable thing about this game's graphics would be the 3-D mobility the game offers, allowing you to travel in every direction in each of the lessons. The different items on the ground are actually all flat, which is made slightly less notable with simple lighting and shading on their surfaces. The sprites are smooth and easy on the eyes. Over all, it's a nice game to look at.

Sound - Sounds are good, you've got the sound of air passing by, the unmistakable sound of the Light Plane's motor, the rough expulsion of the rocket belt's flames, and the sound of the air whipping past you as you fall to the ground, before you open your parachute. Nice little chimes are heard when obstacles are cleared. No real complaints on the sound. The music is memorable if not a bit repetitive. Each lesson has its own music, and when you check back with your instructors after a lesson, the music is a good indication of how they feel you did. Upbeat if you did well...not so much if you didn't.


The gameplay of Pilotwings is very dependent on the lesson you are doing, as well as the instructor that's offering it. Two things thing they all have in common would be that they all offer a certain amount of points depending on how you performed, and they're all successfully completed once you've found yourself safely back on the ground.

I've always wanted more information on the suspended ring technology used in the Pilotwings universe
Light Plane: Probably the most basic lesson in the game, and one of the hardest. This is the only lesson with no bonus game available. Basically, you will have to fly the plane through the air and pass through obstacles of multiple types then successfully land the plane on the runway. This is quite difficult, as your wings cannot be dipped in the slightest way, your speed must be right, and you must not be coming at the ground too hard. Additionally, you MUST land on the runway. One centimeter on anything but runway will cause you to loose a wheel and skid your plane until it stops, meaning a failed landing. However, All Light Plane lessons will still offer some points for the obstacles you passed before the crash. Early Light Plane lessons have you start already in the air, and later ones require you to take off on your own. Be sure to watch your fuel meter as running out of fuel is an automatic failure and will earn you zero points.

Hitting the ground too hard results in lost wheels and bent wings. Harder yet and the plane's engine blows up, a crash you're lucky to be able to walk away from.

Controls: Controls are as easy as they can be, but the only thing that can really help you here is genuine skill.

"I'm directly under the earth's"

Skydiving: You will be lifted up to a nose-bleeding 3,800 feet into the air by helicopter (If you don't want to wait the entire time it takes to climb to this height, you can push the A button to be taken straight up to near the max height.) Once you reach the target height you will let go of the rope ladder and begin your plunge to the ground below. As you fall, you can change your angle and how your body falls. Useful, as now you must maneuver yourself through 3, 5, or even 8 rings, turning your body in the air to get yourself in the correct position. Falling feet/head first will cause you to fall straight down, whereas falling belly/back down will do the same but slower. Feet/head a little forward makes you fall forward. Backwards, well you get the idea. After all the rings fly by, passed or not, open your parachute when prompted, and try to land on the multi-scoring target below.

Landing too hard with this will cause you to land on your back, although this doesn't seem to effect score. If you just neglect to open the parachute entirely you'll hit the ground so hard that you fall right through, leaving a humorous man-shaped hole.

Controls: A little restricted as far as what you can do but let's agree that that's bound to be true while parachuting. Still, smooth and simple.

It's NOT gonna be a long, long, time'Til touchdown brings me 'round again

Rocket-Belt: Possibly the most fun lesson in the game, the Rocket-Belt is essentially a jetpack and offers the most control of all of the lessons. That said, it can still prove rather difficult to control the flight of this gadget. It is first available with your second instructor, Shirly. Generally what you do is use two different speeds (B button = slow, orange fire; A button = fast, blue fire) to navigate your way around the 3-D course and pass through the green rings or what have you, and then land as accurately on the target as you can. If you touch the ground prematurely you will loose 2 points off of your final score. Also mind your fuel meter, If you run out fuel, you will fail your lesson earning 0 point.

Landing too hard with this will cause you to fall onto your back. Harder yet (and this is pretty hard to do on accident) will cause the Rocket-Belt to explode, leaving your character grounded and charred.

Controls: Simple and responsive, but this thing can get away from you.

Gamers who aren't entirely comfortable in their masculinity may want to avoid this discipline as the Hang Glider only comes in hot pink.

Hang Glider: One of the most difficult lessons in the game, the Hang Glider is likely to make you not too picky about whatever score you get, as long as you get one. You will start off attached by a cable to a Light Plane (don't worry, you don't have to pilot this plane) and then you will be released, required to fly yourself around. The Hang Glider controls much like the plane, pushing up causes you to nose dive, back causes you to swing back up, and you can move side to side on the 3-D map. Unlike the plane, however, your speed and height is not so much in your control. As your Hang Glider flies through the air, it will loose steam, and begin to fall to the ground. The only way to regain your momentum is to fly over a "Thermal Current" to gain a substantial amount of height again. Completing these lessons involve either climbing to a certain height, or passing through a ring twice, landing on the Hang Glider's special target afterwords. Landing prematurely will disqualify you, entirely. To land, you "flare" with the A button to tip your Hang Glider straight up and put your feet underneath you when you're just feet off the ground. Beware, however, as you will not come to a dead stop, and will take a few steps forward, or even "hop" and step before coming to a complete stop. Also keep in mind that failing to land on your feet will result in no points.

Landing too hard with this (with your feet out) will cause you to land on your backside. This does not count as a failed landing, however

Controls: Smooth? Yes. Simple? Yeah. Easy? ...

Rings: A big part of this game would be the Rings, the main obstacle to overcome throughout all of the lessons. Rings usually take the form of many small, [generally] green  balls that spin in a circle, creating the actual ring. Clearing them requires you to fly through their center. Some lessons give you a score for each ring passed, others do not but still require that all rings are cleared before landing. For difficulty reasons, at times rings may be smaller in size, move in strange ways, or take alternate forms such as Bars (several green balls stacked vertically) Arches, and more. When cleared, you will hear a chime, be given a message, and the Rings will change color (usually to red) to indicate that they have been cleared.

Water: A big part of this game would be the water. Landing in the water will effectively end your lesson right then and there. It comes as no surprise that the moving Bonus Targets are located in the water. Even for normal targets, as you progress, you'll notice that the Target-to-Water ratio is getting to be less and less in your favor.

Scoring: Depending on the game, you will be scored on the following factors - Speed, Time, Angle, Accuracy, and Rings. All lessons offer an opportunity at a perfect score of 100. Needless to say, this is not an easy task to acheive. You must accumulate a certain amount of points in each Flight Area to be certified for your next license, moving one step closer to the coveted Golden Pilot's wings.

Shot from the little Known Match of the Penguins follow-up  Awkward fall of the Penguins

Bonus: All Lessons apart from the Light Plane offer an instant 100-point target that is not effected by time, accuracy, etc. as long as you hit it. The obvious catch is that these targets are very hard to hit and missing often means no points at all. Generally the Bonus target is indicated as the floating yellow square in the water and will get smaller in the later Flight Areas. This excludes the Hang Glider, in which case the Bonus Target would be the Rocket-Belt/Skydiving targets, as they are almost too small too land on with the Hang Glider. Upon landing on one of these targets, you will then be granted a "Bonus Chance," a very fun mini game that can award you anywhere from 5 to even 70 bonus points on top of the 100 you received for landing on the Bonus Target (Interestingly, your instructors seem more impressed with normal 100-point scores than the Bonus ones).

Instructors/Flight Areas:
Before jumping into training at each new Flight Area, you will be given a small introduction by your new instructor, basically telling you what you can expect to learn with them. Your instructors offer different personalities and expressions. Doing poorly influences unhappy expressions whereas doing well makes them happy. Doing VERY well will prompt an overjoyed or shocked expression on the face of your instructor and a perfect score of 100 will be met with a face that can only be described as absolutely hysterical. Before each lesson, they will tell you what you need to do. Once you've scored high enough to see the next Flight Area/meet the next instructor, you will be given a password to use at the titlescreen if you'd like to return, later.

Tony: A young looking, dark-haired,  mild mannered man. May seem impatient with you if you do poorly but encourages you to "never give up." Offers Light Plane and Skydiving. 120 points are required for certification. Passing his course grants you a Class A license.

Shirly: Nice brunette woman who offers a wide-eyed encouraging smile when things aren't looking so good. She'll never get mean with you. Offers the Light Plane, Skydiving, and Rocket-Belt. 220 points are required for certification. Passing her course grants you a Class B license.

Lance: A blonde-haired, hard-nosed man, who is quite difficult to please. Asks you if you want to give up when you're doing badly. Offers Light Plane, Rocket Belt, and Hang Glider. 220 points are required for certification Passing his course grants you a Silver Class license.

Big Al: As the name implies, a large looking tough-guy kind of man with shiny sunglasses and a waste-no time kind of attitude. Also a bit hard to please, but seems to have a slightly better attitude than the previous instructor. He reviews all of your past lessons. A big, bad 300 points are required for certification. Passing his course grants you a Gold Class license.

Helicopter Rescue Mission:
Once you've earned your Gold Class license, Big Al will accost you with a request that is "above and beyond the call of duty." Tony, Shirly, and Lance have been captured by the EVIL syndicate, and need you to rescue via Attack Chopper. You are the only one in the Flight Club whos qualifications are near what is required to pilot the chopper. Take off from the carrier and ready your missles, as the anti-aircraft guns will be blaring. Find the heliport and successfully land on it to complete the mission. If you can do this, you've not only proves how skilled a Pilot you truly are, but you've proven something to the video game universe itself, as this mission is one of intense difficulty. After surviving the quest, destroying the artilery (some of it being invisible to the eye), and rescuing your instructors, you will have truly earned your Silver Pilot's Wings.

And it's not over, yet. For you've set out to earn your Golden Pilot's wings, right? Well as it turns out, this game is only half over. Now you must revisit all of your past instructors in Pilotwings: Expert Mode. Now, their lessons are much more difficult. After enjoying an altered title screen, use the password presented with your Silver Pilot's Wings and get started on your road to the Golden Wings.

Expert Tony: Snowy, winter conditions. Runway is slick, and targets are smaller. 140 points to earn your Class A Expert license.

Expert Shirly: Rainy conditions. Once again, a slick runway and windier conditions. 240 points to earn your Class B Expert license.

Expert Lance: Very windy conditions, and a sunset time of day. Control is harder, here, be careful. 240 points to earn your Silver Class Expert license.

Expert Big Al: Nighttime's the name of the game, keep your eyes open wide and use the illuminated lines as your guide. A staggering 320 points stands between you and your Gold Class Expert license.

...And once you've finished with these four again, you will find Big Al once again waiting to request your help in another rescue mission. This time the Evil Syndicate as captured a government figure who opposes them. Not on-ly that, but he is Big Al's brother. Fire up the chopper and get ready for a nocturnal mission, your for difficult task yet. Succeed and you've done it. You have earned your Golden Pilot's Wings and are now not only a true pilot, but a true hero as well.

♪Practicing our night moves in the summertime...♫


Pilotwings is one of those titles that seems so random, and maybe not even the best idea. But when executed with the genius mind at Nintendo, it proves to be another classic in the company's big vault of gold. With its quixotic themes and unforgettable gameplay, we would highly recommend this to anybody who has not played it. It is almost guaranteed that you will find it fun and addictive if not sometimes infuriating. We love it, and we certainly think that you should, too.

Richard M.

Don't forget to stop by our shop for retro gaming collectibles:

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails