Review by Anclation

Reviewed: 05/09/07

A somewhat overlooked gem.

Way back in 1996, when the N64 was launched in Japan and the US, it was accompanied by a revolutionary new game called Super Mario 64, which received rave reviews and went on to become the N64’s best-selling game of all time. Pilotwings 64, another lauch game, received far less attention, even though it was an impressive showcase for the new console, being a visually impressive title which featured massive 3D environments that the player had plenty of opportunities to explore. Oh, and most importantly, it was also a very enjoyable game to play.

What it is:

Pilotwings 64 is a flight sim (of sorts), and sees you taking to the air using a number of different vehicles, all of which have their own set of controls. The standard vehicles are a hang glider, a rocket belt (basically a jetpack) and a gyrocopter, with the more outlandish vehicles (used in bonus-missions) ranging from jumping boots to a birdman suit. In addition to this, you also have six different characters to choose from, ranging from the very big and heavy, to very small lightweighters. Which one you pick out matters quite a bit, since they all handle differently and have their own strengths and weaknesses; For example, a heavy character might be slow, but is also unlikely to affected by gusts of wind, while is opposite is true for a small, light character.

To advance in Pilotwings 64 you have complete a number of missions that make up several different courses, achieving a decent score in the process. You’re judged and awarded points based on a number of factors, from the time it took you to complete the mission to how well you landed your vehicle. The first few missions are very simple and easy, almost painfully so, but from there on it gets a lot more complicated and challenging (not to mention fun!), with plenty of enjoyable and inventive missions spanning over several huge islands.

How it looks and sounds:

In 1996 Pilotwings 64 was quite a good-looking game, being only somewhat inferior to Mario 64. By 2001, with visually stunning N64 games such as Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the market, it still looked pretty nice, but was definitely showing its age. And by 2007….well, to put it like this, you wouldn’t be playing an 11 year old game on a retro console in the first place if all you cared about was graphics, now would you? Judging by N64-standards, it does however look good, the islands are huge and the drawn distance was impressive for its time, though the game does rely somewhat on pop-ups. Decent framerate as well.

The music in Pilotwings 64 is relaxing and lighthearted, it fits the mood of the game well, but is otherwise pretty forgettable. In terms of sound-effects, the game mostly delivers good, life-like sounds, and the screaming done by the character you control when crashing is a nice touch.

How it plays:

As mentioned, you control a number of vehicles, all with their own controls. The hang glider is for example a pretty slow vehicle that’s a bit difficult to control, while the gyrocopter is faster and more responsive. It takes some time to get used to the different controls, but once you do, you’ll fly like a pro.

The missions also vary a lot from vehicle to vehicle, both in terms of objectives and how you’re impacted by the environment; Using the hang glider you do not have to worry about fuel, using instead thermal columns of rising air to soar higher up in the sky (some missions even require you to soar as high as you can in certain amount of time). On the other hand, when using the rocket belt the fuel supplies are real a concern, but as long as you have fuel enough you can fly as high as you’d like without having to rely on external factors. There’s also the gyrocopter, which is armed with missiles and therefore features in a few missions where target-shooting is the name of the game.

Despite the inclusion of these handful of more action-oriented missions, Pilotwings 64 is in essence a slow-paced game, emphasizing the experience of flying rather than action (if you want an action-packed game to get the adrenaline pumping, you’d be better off with Star Fox 64). That doesn’t mean Pilotwings can’t be exciting in its own way, as the feeling of soaring high up in the sky or making a perfect landing can be quite exhilarating in its own right.

The varied gameplay is certainly a strong point of Pilotwings 64, as the standard missions are plentiful and diverse, with mission-objectives ranging from taking photographs to taking down a giant robo-hawk (!). The bonus-missions are also great, and provide lots of unique and enjoyable challenges for those who have the standard missions done and dusted.

How long it will last:

With plenty of missions available, Pilotwings 64 should last quite a while. A very good thing about the game is how it offers something worthwhile to achieve for every gamer out there; If you’re a less skilled, inexperienced gamer, you’ll find the initial objective of getting a passing grade on your flight courses challenging, but not impossible. If you however are a more experienced game, the challenge of getting a silver or gold medal on all the courses will prove to be a good one, with great rewards such as the unlocking of bonus-missions. And if you are a hardcore gamer, getting a perfect score on all available courses will still keep you occupied for a long while.

With its slow-paced, relaxing and freeroaming gameplay, Pilotwings 64 also boasts plenty of replay-value, and even if you grow tired of the missions themselves, just flying around and exploring the massive islands is still good fun.

Final words of wisdom:

Pilotwings 64, while not suited those demanding a quick fix of action, is still a game with a lot to offer and an enjoyable experience that remains great fun even today. There’s nothing really quite like it on the market (even the SNES prequel differs in many ways), let alone on the N64, which certainly adds to its value in a time when “seen that, done that” could be used to describe most of the new games around. You’ll probably be able to pick it up for next to nothing now, so there’s little reason for N64 owners to deny themselves this little gem.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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