Pilotwings (Super Nintendo) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 22.04.2011

Review for Pilotwings on Super Nintendo

When the Super NES arrived on the scene, Nintendo was losing the market share it had gained with the NES to SEGA’s far superior Mega Drive, so to mark the beginning of a new generation of Nintendo goodness no corners were cut. At the console launch in North America, they released Super Mario World, one of the best 2D platformers ever made, and two games meant to show the graphical feats that the Super NES was capable of pulling off with the famous Mode-7 technology, both produced by Shigeru Miyamoto himself. One was F-Zero, which went to become one of the most prominent Nintendo franchises. The other was Pilotwings.

As a trainee in the Flight Club, your goal is to take on several flying tests to earn licenses of different levels. Upon gaining certification, you start a new level with harder and different flying tests, sometimes involving flying the same kind of machine as you did before. The game sees you gaining four licenses, and then being sent on a mission involving piloting a helicopter to rescue the abducted instructors, and a spy sent to free them, from the EVIL Syndicate’s base.

The different tests involve piloting a light plane, a rocket belt (AKA jet pack), a hang glider (AKA deltaplane), and skydiving. Each test is usually divided into two sections: the air-based task and, once complete, the landing. The more accurate and fast you are, the more points you'll rake in. Each certificate requires a certain amount of points to be obtained. If your point total for all the tests at the end of the level is sufficient, you're certified, regardless of the individual scores, which means you can screw up a test and catch up on the others.

Screenshot for Pilotwings on Super Nintendo

The light plane tests will have you typically taking off, passing through rings, and then landing. As easy as this may sound, flying a plane implies that the player has to pay attention to the throttle, the trim, the altitude, the speed, and the wind. All this will require some training before it can be performed correctly. As you progress through the game, the wind during the tests will become stronger, making steering even more difficult. The rocket belt tests are similar, except you'll be dealing mostly with managing your speed, trajectory, the wind and, most importantly, inertia. These tests end when you land on a target, which becomes smaller in subsequent tests.

Skydiving has you starting high up in the air, and as you descend you'll have to try to pass through a series of rings, before landing on a target that, again, becomes harder to aim for as you progress through the levels. When you're done passing through rings, you must open your parachute to prepare for landing. While falling, you steer by leaning your body, using the steering lines and toggles, gaining speed if you fall in a vertical position and decreasing your speed if you fall horizontally. Hang gliding plays similarly in that you're launched into the air by a plane, and then you need to reach a certain altitude using ascending air currents and / or by passing through rings. After that, you once more have to land on a target.

Screenshot for Pilotwings on Super Nintendo

Every test, except the light plane one, has an alternate landing area: a yellow moving platform for the rocket belt and skydiving, and the target usually reserved for the rocket belt in the case of the hang glider. Managing to land on these (which prove much harder than regular landings) grants you a perfect 100 points score, regardless of the test’s other objectives, and give you access to a secret bonus level which, if played well, grants you even more points on top of what you would normally be able to achieve.

Pilotwings was designed as a showcase of what the console was able to produce with a DSP-1 chip in the cartridge to boost its Mode 7 handling capabilities. It was a beautiful and impressive game when it came out, but unless you have a love for all things old-school in video games, it has become hard to appreciate the game's visuals and the impressive techniques used to produce them. However, the game is still has much fun as it was, and there are still some cute details in its visual aspect, like the varying facial expressions of the instructors, the different ways in which the little pilot sprite can crash and burn... The little sand box aspect, though very minimal, is part of the appeal that this game has. You can ignore the objectives and soar through the air to your heart's content, experimenting. For example, you can make holes of different shapes in the ground in a cartoon fashion by never opening your parachute.

Screenshot for Pilotwings on Super Nintendo

Pilotwings is not really a simulation game, but rather an arcade-style game with simulation elements. Expecting a Microsoft Flight Simulator clone would completely miss the point of Pilotwings; it's not a completely unrealistic game, but rather surrealistic. The cheerful music, composed by Soyo Oka and Koji Kondo of Mario and Zelda fame, also helps increase the light-hearted feel of the game.

Pilotwings is short, but beating it opens the Expert mode, in which different weather conditions are added to the mix, score requirements are increased, and the overall difficulty is raised. This proves to be a much bigger challenge to beat, and will keep you busy a while longer. The Expert mode even has some missions taking place at night, where the runways and some objects are lit in the dark. This makes for a nice change of scenery, and a brilliant way for Nintendo to bring even more variety within the limits of Mode-7.

Screenshot for Pilotwings on Super Nintendo

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Pilotwings seems to be condemned to being used as a tech-demo for new Nintendo hardware, always being released alongside a new console. It could really use an episode that gets released later in a console's life, therefore taking full advantage of the hardware that runs it. The only thing that doesn’t age well in this first episode is the Mode-7, which won't be easy on the eye to everyone. The rest is still as much fun now as it was 20 years ago. Just like Punch Out disappeared from Nintendo's consoles for a long time before making a big come-back, it's good to see that the old franchises still get some attention at Nintendo's HQ, with the new episode Pilotwings Resort releasing alongside Nintendo 3DS. This first episode is available on Virtual Console, but its vastly improved Nintendo 64 sequel, Pilotwings 64, has yet to be released on the service. Hopefully, Nintendo will see fit to fix this soon to accompany the release of the new 3DS instalment.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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