Review by snowblind

"Freedom to explore, creativity and a challenge... superb!"

Five years on and I still love this game. Few games bring a sense of something unique that you won’t find in any other game, fewer have uniqueness which also translates into quality.
At first it can all be very overwhelming despite the lack of options to confuse you, starting a mission from turning the N64 on is simple enough but once you’re airborne it is difficult to comprehend the massive environments and the precise nature of the controls.

The basic premise of the whole game is to gain points in a group of missions using various means to fly around the islands. Points are dished out in many ways, some as simple as flying through a succession of rings and then there are the missions where you have to take out a giant robot with missiles. Each of the means to fly is very different from the next and learning to master all of them is a challenge in itself. First up are the gyrocopter, hang-glider and rocketbelt (with secret ones to unlock later). Choosing one vehicle and character to start the game you are then taken to a training mission, very simple and you only require basic controls to progress. After accumulating a certain amount of points from these missions you can then move onto the vehicle’s next License Class. The training missions are Beginner Class, followed by A, B and Pilot class. The more points you get in the available missions the more classes you can unlock. The more advanced classes have more missions to each of them so things get tough, much tougher as you go on.

The controls take getting used to even if you’ve played flight simulators before: the rocketbelt can be awkward to direct at first, the hang-glider takes a lot of practice before you know just how long you can fly at a particular height and speed, before you know just how much you’ll slow down from banking and with the gyrocopter you have to master landing the thing on target if you want to complete a mission. It’s all very precise and intricate despite the somewhat cartoonish graphical interface. Not everyone will feel rewarded for doing well or find the patience to learn enough to progress to later classes, it can be very frustrating trying for perfect scores in many missions but persevere and you feel you’ve accomplished something good.

The islands themselves are amazing. I was in awe for the first few months of owning the game, was always finding new areas to explore and things to see far into the actual mission side of the game. That’s one thing about PW64 I love, you can take on the missions to be rewarded with secrets later on or you can just relax and explore the huge islands and be rewarded in a different way. Do what you want when you want, appreciate the freedom allowed in the game. Fly around a mini version of the US called Little States; circle the Empire State building with just the sound of wind rushing past in the hang-glider or take Route 66 to LA passing through Monument Valley and the Kansas fields as you go. Use the rocketbelt to soar over the Rockies and land on Mount Rushmore, enjoying the view and solitude. Take in the picturesque sights of Frost Island and see a school of whales, chill out on Crescent Island’s beaches before exploring the long deep caverns, see the charming holiday resort on Holiday island packed with details. During the missions these islands are populated with objectives, rings to fly through, floating balls to fire missiles at, thermal air currents to climb….there is a lot crammed into this huge game.

Graphics are impressive to say the least, even 5 years after its release. There is some fade in and some pop-up on objects such as trees and buildings but at certain places you can see for miles to the horizon and the landscape can be spectacular to look at. There are glitches however, a common one is when close to a building the texture will break up and black lines appear. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay, luckily. The nature of the graphics varies from realistic (the splashes of water and look of the weather) to cartoonish (the character pilots and the game’s interface) but it all works together, making a convincing world that impresses without taking itself too seriously.

Sound – this is the area that a lot of people don’t like much. No surprise that I like it. The music can be described as upbeat jazz and funk I guess, with appropriate mellow tunes for the calmer missions. It’s nicely done to suit each level and vehicle. But it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Sound effects, as with graphics, vary between cartoonish and realistic. The sound of waves hitting the shore and of wind rushing past are spot on, with the cries of your character hitting the ground very exaggerated and twee. They’re not noticeable enough to annoy or stand out often but they add to the game’s atmosphere effortlessly.

Onto the learning curve. It starts off well but can be brutal towards the later missions. Bursting a group of balloons using the rocketbelt is easy enough but when you reach the mission where you have to take photos of several landmarks on Little States using the hangglider you will be looking for a new controller to replace the one you just threw at the tv. Passing most mission will take some practice and cause no trouble however getting a perfect 100 points on some requires more than skill, there’s luck to be found too for they are a nightmare. So the learning curve can be too high but it ensures the game has a long life….at least.

There are many impressive aspects to the game and they all add up to make something which gave me hundreds of hours of fun while still feeling fresh. If you are looking for immediate action then don’t look to PilotWings 64 for it, the fun will be found when you learn to take the game at your own pace while enjoying the wealth of sights waiting to be seen in each of the creatively made islands.

My own opinion is that it’s the best game I’ve played and that there is something special in it to be found, that not everyone will enjoy it because of its slow start but it’s a game that rewards your efforts.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/19/02, Updated 07/19/02

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