Friday, January 15, 2010

Wii VC Review -- Pilotwings (SNES)

Having played this game for many hours in my younger years but not touching the game since I was 17, I was curious how my view of a game aged 20 years would come out. A game that, in its time, used the revolutionary Mode 7 Engine for its 3D view but now looks dated and pixelated compared to even some of the simplest 3D games. A game with no multiplayer, no real story, and no replay value other than to top your old scores on each stage or try to achieve a few different and more difficult goals. My view, admittedly seen through a slightly rose-tinted lens, saw a game that made me feel a little younger and, finally, a credits and completion screen I'd never found in my teen years.

First off, as stated, this game looks and feels as dated as most early SNES games come, even though it was a 1st-party game made under the eyes of Miyamoto. Even my nostalgia-goggles couldn't hide how every jagged pixel jumped out at you, screaming its presence. Nor could they hide how far flight control has come even on a console with analog triggers and sticks, making Pilotwings' controls feel sluggish in some of the more intense and precision-needed moments. One expects a little of that when handling older 3D games but a decade of analog has one truly saying "you don't know whatcha got 'til it's gone". On the plus side, maybe it's 'cause I'm so old and have fond memories of how hot Elisabeth Shue was in Adventures in Babysitting, but I thought Shirley still looked good with that late-80's hair.

Even with how dated the game feels, it still holds up with that classic gaming challenge but stays fair when you crash and burn. Each flight lesson has you completing 2-4 trials with the gravity-defying object of the game's choosing (biplane, hang glider, rocket pack, and parachute), and as with most games they start you off easy and work their way up to hair-pullingly frustrating. Just as with most challenging games you will want to throw the controller at something expensive when you barely miss the amount of points needed to continue to the next lesson, but the game doesn't feel like it punishes you too severely for failure. Having to redo at most 5 minutes worth of trials isn't all that bad and, in most scenarios, you'll only be trying one or two again. Which is good, 'cause you'll be doing that a lot as you get used to the controls and reactions each aircraft has.

After your first four instructors you'll be asked to pilot a missile-firing helicopter on a rescue mission where you'll probably be shot down more than a few times before getting a feel for how the anti-aircraft guns below take potshots at you. Again, frustrating and difficult but not so much that after such a long trial you'll feel too defeated to continue. And after successfully completing this you get to go through another set of four lessons and one more rescue mission. All of the later lessons have adverse weather, nighttime flying, or both, and all require you to earn more points than before to pass.

Sadly, as fun as all of that is, that's really it. You can find some one-shot bonus games by completing certain tasks in the hang gliding, skydiving, and rocket pack trials, all of which give you a higher score during your flight lesson. Otherwise, there isn't any multiplayer and there aren't any unlocks to force replay value, so post-completion you have little else to do other than try to get higher scores. Still, it's difficult to regret an eight-dollar purchase that ended in me finally beating the second rescue mission, something I'd never done back on the SNES, and made me feel a little bit younger during my five hours of play. And just like the old greats of Punch-Out or Super Mario Bros. you know you'll find yourself, one day, picking the game up again for another playthrough and seeing if you still have it in you. Anyone who hasn't played this oldie-but-goldie and is in the mood for a classic controller-snapping challenge should definitely consider trying this out.

Pilotwings is available on the Wii Shop Channel from Nintendo for 800 points. It was played to completion, then messed around with to earn and try out each bonus game at least once. No controllers were broken, but intent was building. Also, 3rd instructor Lance was called Rod Stewart more than once and 4th instructor Big Al might've been called a "fat $#%@ing pedo" during some trials.

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