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Pilotwings Review Rewind

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On 01/04/2014 at 12:00 PM by Jamie Alston

Get ready to earn your wings.

For anyone that enjoys a flight sim that is easy to pick up and play.

In the early ‘90s, a new video game console was only as strong as its launch titles.  When we look back at a console’s history and wonder what attracted us to it, often it’s those first games that we think of and say, "that’s why I fell in love with that system."  Nintendo understood this concept when they released the Super Nintendo. Included among a shortlist of launch games was the flight simulation, Pilotwings. Beginning as an early tech demo in 1988 to show off the Mode 7 graphical capabilities of the 16-bit system, Pilotwings was developed into a full-fledged game that allowed us to take to the skies in a way never before possible on a home console.

Pilotwings consists of eight stages, or lessons, consisting of either flying or falling your way through a set of goals.  Each lesson is led by a different instructor, helping you sharpen your skills and meet the minimum scoring requirements to get to the next certification level.

For a flight simulation, Pilotwings is a surprisingly fun game with simple controls. While simulations tend to alienate those who prefer more of an arcade-style, Pilotwings is far less intimidating than it seems.   There is plenty of realism present throughout, though.  One example is the Light Plane training in the biplane.  Since it isn’t a high-powered machine, you can’t do barrel rolls or loop-the-loops.  Wind resistance is simulated well anytime you bank left or right.  If you suddenly pull up, the engine’s power decreases; if you quickly plunge downward, you can sense the gravity pulling you toward the ground.  Attention to these details makes the game realistic yet accessible to a wide range of players.

Pilotwings offers plenty of variety, considering it's a launch title. I first approached the game expecting that it would only provide lessons involving piloting a plane, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Skydiving requires you to freefall while rotating through a set of rings and successfully land in the proper zone to win the most points possible.  The rocket belt training allows you to fly around like James Bond and pass through rings or horizontal lines.  My personal favorite is the hang gliding lessons where you glide your way to air currents which help keep you afloat before landing on the marked area.  For an early Super NES game, there's plenty here to keep your attention.

The difficulty of the game is somewhat twofold. Each task can be easier or more complex than others. For instance, piloting the plane is relatively easy, whereas it takes a little more thought and attention when trying to make a nice landing from a hang gliding session. But then the challenge of completing those tasks becomes steeper with each new set of lessons.  In later lesson sets, you'll have multiple tasks to complete for a passing grade, such as getting your plane off the runway, flying through a longer series of rings, and then going in for a landing all in one swoop.  In particular, the skydiving parts become tricky because the landing targets become smaller and are also surrounded by a wider area of water. Plunking down into the ocean will result in a poor score if any.

All of this training culminates with you receiving a special assignment to pilot an attack helicopter and rescue your trainers.  By this time, you should be well accustomed to the controls and how they function.  These final missions are great because they make the training sessions worth your while.  While the rescue section is not particularly lengthy, it does help the game to feel complete.  After the first rescue mission, the game restarts in Expert Mode.  This continues your lessons with the same curricula but under various weather conditions and more demanding score requirements.  The expert portion will take you quite a while to complete, but it’s still time well spent.

As mentioned earlier, Pilotwings was one of the premier games to show off the Super Nintendo's 3D-simulating scaling abilities. The skydiving and hang gliding lesson are my favorite to look at because the landscape from that point of view looks pretty realistic. It offers an experience previously only available on a home computer system. The calm, lounge-style music goes perfectly with the menu screens and in-game training sessions.  Again, the hang gliding lessons won me over, particularly with their musical score; it’s good stuff.  There’s also a surprising amount of ambient audio detail to be heard in each lesson, like the air rustling through your skydiving character’s jumpsuit.

When you add it all up, Pilotwings comes together quite nicely. I appreciate the game because, far too often, simulation games like this can go wrong very quickly.  They're either too dull, mentally involved, demanding with the controls, or all of the above.  Somehow, Pilotwings successfully avoids all of these pitfalls.  It's a well-crafted game that is worth playing if you haven't already.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



The Last Ninja

01/04/2014 at 12:31 PM

Never really been interested in this game, but after reading your review, I might give it a shot (if I ever get the chance). F-Zero was another SNES launch title that showed off Mode 7, and I love that game, so maybe this one would be enjoyable for me as well.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/05/2014 at 10:05 PM

I'm pretty sure you'll find something to enjoy with Pilotwings.


01/04/2014 at 12:37 PM

Nice review! I remember my neighbor having this game and it was pretty fun but also challenging.  Did they ever do a proper sequel?

BTW, it is great to read reviews of old games brought back for the new folks.   Keep up the good work!

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

01/04/2014 at 01:03 PM

Pilotwings 64 was an amazing sequel and then there was Pilotwings Resort, a 3DS launch game that was sorta boring for some reason.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/05/2014 at 10:05 PM

Thanks for filling in for me Travis! LoL.

Nick DiMola Director

01/06/2014 at 11:30 AM

The 3DS sequel definitely didn't have the same charm. I did enjoy the game though. From a purely mechnical standpoint, it was pretty good and the free roam mode was pretty good (though ultimately limited). I eventually found and collected everything, but I'm also something of a Pilotwings junkie, and of course, there was nothing on the 3DS at the time, so that helped.

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

01/06/2014 at 01:14 PM

The mechanics were definitely sound. I don't really know why I lost interest in it. It very well might have been due to it being on a hand held? It's worth playing if you're a fan, for sure. Just a big change from me getting every last thing in Pilotwings 64 and then diving back in to play birdman mode for the hell of it for years.

Nick DiMola Director

01/06/2014 at 02:37 PM

It's definitely no Pilotwings 64, that's for sure. I can totally understand losing interest in it - it was a pretty bland game. I believe Monster Games did it and if you know the name, they actually did Excitebots, which is literally brimming with character. Kind of sad, because I get the impression that Nintendo forced them into making it on Wuhu Island with the Miis, which was really a step back for the series.

If Nintendo does revisit the series again, I hope they do something more in the vein of P64, which is definitely the pinnacle of the series.

Cary Woodham

01/04/2014 at 03:18 PM

I have a lot of good memories with SNES Pilotwings.  I got it for Christmas when I got my SNES a few months prior when it first came out.  I took my SNES with me to Alabama when we went there to visit family that year.  My dad and his brothers would stay up until 5:00 in the morning playing Pilotwings every night we were there!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/05/2014 at 10:14 PM

Yeah, it's one of those all-nighter type of games.


01/04/2014 at 05:21 PM

I had bought Pilotwings 64 because I couldn't remember if I played that one or the original. (It was the original) I liked the N64 version, but it just didn't seem like much of a game to me. I never could get into flight simulators.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/05/2014 at 10:16 PM

Really? People always rave about Pilotwings 64 more so than the original one. I'd like to play it myself.


01/05/2014 at 07:59 AM

The game reminds me wistfully of a time when Nintendo was willing to dip its toe into other genres that weren't so mascot or franchise oriented. And the game was a briliant way to explore a 3-D world long before anyone had ever heard of polygon graphics.

The N64 sequel followed in the original's footsteps and was fun in its own right, but the 3DS installment, while still perfectly competent, lacked the charm of its predecessors. (Probably because of the overuse of those ugly Miis.)

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/05/2014 at 10:27 PM

I know what you mean. Most developers just take the same kind of risks anymore. I guess they can't afford to have a dud.


01/06/2014 at 12:05 AM

I have actually never played any of the Pilotwing games for some reason. Maybe one day I will check it out. Good read.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/06/2014 at 10:21 AM

Yeah, I slept on this game for years because Ididn't think I'd like it, and the boxart didn't interest me all that much.  But I was pleasantly surprised when I finally bought it and played it.


01/06/2014 at 12:27 PM

I've always wanted to play this game. It seems, from your review, to balance the sim stuff with the controls of an arcade game. It can get into that. True flight sims not very accessible.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/06/2014 at 01:45 PM

You hit the nail right on the head my friend.  It's combines the best elements of both gameplay styles.


01/06/2014 at 05:12 PM

I only ever played the 64 game. We got that and Mario with our console. Had a lot of fun playing it.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/07/2014 at 09:01 PM

Your comment reminds me of the Sunday sales circulars I'd see every week in 1996. They always advertised the N64, Super Mario 64, and Pilotwings 64. Weren't the games priced at $60 or so?


01/08/2014 at 08:07 AM

yeah they were pretty expensive


01/07/2014 at 01:01 AM

The only Pilotwings I actually played was Pilotwings Resort, which was a launch title for the 3DS, at the store. I thought videos of Pilotwings 64 were pretty impressive for their time. I never saw the SNES game in action.

The first line of your review really shows how times have changed. The NES (with Super Mario Bros in the US), Game Boy (Tetris and Super Mario Land), SNES (Super Mario World, Pilotwings, etc) and N64 (Super Mario 64) all launched with strong titles designed to showcase their systems. I guess Wii Sports falls into this category as well even though Wii games like Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Fire Emblem are more my speed.

For other systems, their good games didn't come until the consoles had been out for a year or two.  Even Nintendo hasn't been launching with the same kind of system-showcasing titles since the Gamecube, while Sony and Microsoft have always had kind of lackluster launches. That said, the PS3 and 3DS, my current favorite systems, both launched with rather weak launch titles, and look at them now!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/07/2014 at 09:13 PM

I get what you mean when you compared type of games that were developed during the early days of launch titles. I do think companies today still try to show off what the new hardware can do, but it's just not as impressive as they have been in past generations because the gap in visual and technical enhancements are getting smaller and smaller with each new gaming generation. Heck, the PS4 and Xbox One are nearly identical. And things seem to be more about social media and streaming movies than it is about games this time around.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

01/07/2014 at 07:17 AM

damn this is a lot of comments for a little old game.  I never played this back in the day and I've never played any of the others too.  Seems pretty cool, though!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/07/2014 at 09:15 PM

Pilotwings is a games that's easy to overlook if you've never played it before. But once you sit down with it, you'll smile a little as you take to the skies in various ways.


01/07/2014 at 01:39 PM

I remember being excited when I saw Pilotwings as one of the Super Nintendo's launch titles.   Sadly, after all these years (over 20), I still hadn't played the game. Laughing

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/07/2014 at 09:16 PM

There's no shame in being a late-bloomer when it comes to well-known games. It's the story of my life.


01/10/2014 at 10:08 AM

I loved SNES pilot wings and the 64 edition but I was seriously disappointed with resort on the 3DS, the magic just seemed to be absent but couldn't really put my finger on it, it could be some thing to do with the super generic 'wii fit island' locale which seems to infect most nintendo titles these days.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

01/13/2014 at 09:10 AM

Your comment is consistent with a lot of feelings out there towards the Pilotwings series-- The first one was good, PW 64 was the pinnicle of the series, and PW Restort was just okay.  So far, i've only played the original Pilotwings.  I'd like to play the others as well and see for myself.

Thanks for reading!

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