Pilotwings titles have always been showpieces for Nintendo's new hardware, and Pilotwings Resort is no exception. It's clear from the moment you begin playing the game that the developers created the game in an effort to show off the fancy 3D visuals and analogue Circle Pad, and given the fact that it's been over 15 years since the last Pilotwings release, you can't disagree: this new entry in the series is long overdue.
From a gameplay standpoint, Pilotwings Resort deviates very little from the trademark formula that's made it popular among Nintendo fans over the years. You'll have your choice of three different aerial vehicles — an airplane, a glider and a Jet Belt — each with their own unique sets of controls. The airplane provides the most versatile experience since its engine will keep it moving without any help from the player, but also comes with a speed boost and the ability to perform some fancy stunt work. The glider controls much like it would in real life, requiring you to keep it moving using your momentum, not to mention a bevy of thermal pockets. And last, but certainly not least, the Jet Belt provides the most challenging controls, requiring you to use its directional jets to control its horizontal and vertical movements. You'll also be able to unlock a few additional vehicles by completing missions, but these crafts share control similarities with the three you start the game with, with only slight nuances to set them apart.
There are two modes of play in Pilotwings Resort, each offering up a very different playing experience. Mission Mode is the meat of the package and gives you five different classes to play through, all containing a wealth of different tasks to take on. These tasks include challenges such as flying your vehicle through hoops, shooting targets and balloons and even shuttling lost UFOs back to their mothership, and with over 40 missions to play, you'll never be at a loss for things to do. Once you've completed a mission, you'll then be graded on your performance and awarded up to three stars. Once you've acquired a certain number of stars, you'll be able to unlock a new and even more difficult mission class. You can even go back to previous missions in an attempt to better your performances and scores.
Free Flight mode is where you'll likely spend the majority of your time once you've completed some of the tasks in Mission Mode. Here you'll be able to fly around the island locating and picking up goodies that you've unlocked in Mission Mode, as well as snapping photos you can view later on in the 3DS Camera feature. It's possible to take some fantastic shots in this mode, and it's a welcome addition to save them to SD card, and although there's a time limit this mode is a great way to just relax and enjoy the game without the added pressure of tackling the game's missions. As you collect various items, you'll unlock the ability to fly in the evening or at night, as well as unique Dioramas that you can go in and view at any time. The game also keeps track of your performance specs, so this provides a nice incentive to go back and try to better your previous mission performances.
The game's controls are simple and intuitive, with good use of the Circle Pad, and no matter which vehicle you choose to pilot around the island there's always plenty of new things to see and do. The biggest part of the game's charm lies not in learning to pilot the game's various aerial crafts, but perfecting your manoeuvring and landing in order to earn better grades on the mission modes. The controls of the vehicles themselves are extremely responsive and mimic many of the same conventions found on their real life counterparts, another aspect of the game that gives it such a realistic feel.
About the only real downside to all of this is that no matter what you choose to do throughout the game, flight always remains the basic principle behind the tasks at hand, something that might become a bit repetitive for gamers looking for a bit more variety. The sharp difficulty spike in later classes might also end up turning some gamers off, especially those who enjoyed the fairly relaxing earlier missions.
Very few 3DS launch titles take advantage of the 3D visuals of the system quite like Pilotwings Resort. Even as gorgeous and lush as Wuhu Island looks on its own accord, it's made even more stunning and realistic with its 3D depth. Of course you can't ignore some of the smaller touches like the lens flare and the different times of day that give the island and its surroundings a completely unique look depending on the time setting. The developers spared no expense when it comes to putting together the game's visual presentation and it shows just how much of an impact the 3D capabilities of the system make from a graphical standpoint.
Nintendo seems to have an obsession with jazz music when it comes to Pilotwings, and here there's another round of interesting music tracks to carry the flight-based gameplay. It's fairly clear that the developers wanted something to liven up the settings of the island, while at the same time blending into the background and not standing out too much. Some tracks are fairly soothing for those times when you're free-flying around the island whereas other tracks are a bit more intense, such as when you're barreling towards the ground in a custom squirrel suit. Even the sound effects tend to be more subdued, but still a nice compliment to the game's unique musical score.
It would be easy to label Pilotwings Resort as just a simple package of eye candy for Nintendo to show off its new piece of hardware on, but those who dismiss it as such will be missing out on an extremely well-rounded and challenging gaming experience. At its core the majority of the game is still just basically flying around the island, but there's enough variety between the various missions to keep things fresh and enough unlockable goodies to keep you coming back for more. It might have been a rather long wait for a new Pilotwings release, but Nintendo couldn't have picked a better system for it.