Pilotwings is kind of a weird game. I don’t mean that negatively, it’s just not the kind of game that you would typically think of when you think of Nintendo games. It’s not an epic adventure and there’s not much in the way of action. Rather, it’s a game about earning various levels of your pilot’s license by completing different tasks. Although it doesn’t sound very exciting, Pilotwings definitely stands out as something unique in the SNES library.
I actually don’t have much experience with this game, although I played a lot of its sequel, Pilotwings 64. I know I didn’t have the game growing up, and I’m not sure exactly when I bought it. My copy still has a Goodwill price tag on it. I do remember playing it though, however this might as well have been my first time.
Starting out, you’re given two tasks. You have to land a plane and you have to skydive through three rings and land in the target area. Both those tasks sound easier than they actually are. The game’s controls are a little finicky, resulting in an almost embarrassing amount of attempts by me just to get my first license. The plane controls are about what you expect. Pressing up causes you to descend and down makes you ascend. A speeds you up and B slows you down. Everything is just a little too touchy though, causing me to descend way too quickly and crash my plane. I did eventually get the hang of it and found that it was very satisfying to land properly.
Skydiving is a different story. I never fully figured out what it is that you’re supposed to be doing here. There’s three rings you need to pass through on your way down, and doing so if fairly easy. Unfortunately, once it comes to time to land, I could never figure out how to slow my landing. At the end of the lesson, my instructor would tell me that “flaring” too often would cause me to stall, but I have no idea what that means or how to apply it to how I was playing. This is probably just me being dumb, but this made the skydiving a thousand times more frustrating than landing the plane.
I did end up getting my first license and moved forward to get my second one. In the next series of lessons, you need to fly through some rings before landing your plane, you need to fall through five rings while skydiving, and you need to fly through some more rings with a new vehicle, a jetpack. The jetpack is super fun and might be my favorite thing that I’ve done in the game so far. Pressing the A button will fire your fast jets and the B button will do the slow jets. Using those in combination, you guide yourself through three rings before landing in the target zone. It’s simple, but controls very nicely.
Despite being a launch title for the SNES, Pilotwings has a very nice look to it. It uses the SNES “Mode 7” graphics mode to create a fairly 3D looking environment. It’s especially great in the jetpack mode, where being able to tell how high off the ground you are while still being able to tell what’s going on around you is much better than in most sprite based games. As frustrating as crashing your plane can be, the animations of the plane blowing up when you hit really hard or just smashing up a bit when you go just a little too fast are great.
I only heard a couple of songs while playing today, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be stuck in my head the rest of the day. They’re simple but catchy, and sound about you’d expect from SNES music. The sound effects are good too, especially the gut wrenching sound of your plane smashing in the pavement when you thought you could just barely pull off that landing.
Pilotwings is a very good game and one that I’d like to spend some more time with. It’s very unique among the rest of the Super Nintendo’s catalog and brings some very challenging gameplay. I’d like to see Nintendo try this kind of game again. I know Pilotwings Resort was on 3DS, and I had some fun with that, but I think it’d be great to see another big budget home console entry in the series.