(Nintendo 64)

Pilotwings 64 (Nintendo 64)

Game Review

Pilotwings 64 Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Martin Watts

Flying high

Releasing alongside Super Mario 64 when the Nintendo 64 launched back in 1996 (1997 if you're European), it was somewhat inevitable that Pilotwings 64 was never going to see the same commercial or critical success. Simply put, Mario's first 64-bit adventure was a masterpiece and proved that Nintendo could recreate its flagship franchise for the next generation of gaming. While the portly plumber delivered a much-needed killer app to Nintendo's advanced system, its amateur flight simulator counterpart was considered little more than a glorified tech demo by many observers at the time.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Pilotwings 64 actually served a greater purpose than Super Mario 64. Co-developed by Paradigm Simulation and Nintendo, it was proof of the N64's graphical prowess and innovative design. Much like how its predecessor Pilotwings had successfully demonstrated the SNES' impressive Mode 7 feature, the game utilises the N64's power to render detailed, large-scale environments in real time. Even though it is now tremendously outdated compared to modern titles, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by a sense of wonder when exploring the huge islands that the game has to offer.

Pilotwings 64 earns its classification as an amateur flight simulator because underneath all the pretty visuals and technical wizardry, there's actually a game (it's also worth noting that the controls are nowhere near as complex). Making the most of the environments on offer — something which, for all its beauty, the SNES version couldn't do — players are given a set of challenges to complete with a variety of different flying vehicles. These range from flying a gyrocopter through a series of rings and taking high-quality photos while flying a hang glider to firing your poor pilot out of a cannon at large targets. The latter may not be your traditional aviation fare, but it's still jolly good fun.

The game's difficulty is affected by in-game weather conditions, such as wind speed, as well as the varied nature of its detailed environments. For example, one particular mission tasks the player with flying down a meandering river and passing through a series of rings along the way. The rings are mostly located under a series of bridges, and only by flying with exceptional precision will success be achieved. It makes for a refreshing change from simply flying through objects high up in the sky, and presents you with quite a tough and risky challenge at times.

This is where Pilotwings 64 takes advantage of another of the N64's unique features: the joystick. At the time, it offered unparalleled accuracy and, therefore, married up nicely with the game's flight sim nature. However, this doesn't necessarily make it any easier to play. In fact, some mastery of the controls is required by the time you reach the later stages, as over-steering and misjudging the affect that speed and weather have on the control of your vehicle can quite easily lead to failure.

Even to this day, the accuracy provided by the game's controls is simply astonishing, and its success in this area is purely down to Paradigm Simulation. For the game's development, Nintendo wisely made the decision to seek out a specialist in the simulation industry that had already worked with advanced 3D graphics, hence its eventual collaboration with Paradigm Simulation. Interestingly, this company had never created a videogame prior to Pilotwings 64, yet the game's high-quality build would lead you to think otherwise. Nintendo limited its own input to game design, while still overseeing all other aspects. With this, Paradigm was able to create the perfect mash-up of serious simulation and wacky fun.

For example, the game's cast of characters all look a bit zany, which is at odds with the precise game mechanics, yet reminiscent of Nintendo's history of creating colourful, vibrant titles with tight gameplay mechanics. It is Pilotwings 64's subtle additions, however, that make it truly undeserving of the tech demo generalisations that many critics have assigned it in the past. The game is filled with a wealth of fun, little Easter eggs that appeal directly to most Nintendo fans' sensibilities. These range from the obvious like the now-infamous Mario Rock to obscure references such as the character Lark, who bears a strong resemblance to Nester from the Nintendo Power comic, Howard & Nester. Without a doubt, exploration is made all the more rewarding for it. All of this is complemented by the game's wonderful soundtrack; composed, arranged and integrated by Dan Hess (who also worked on F-1 World Grand Prix), the music and sounds add a funky, soul edge to the game's overall presentation.

With such large, detailed environments for the player to explore, you'd think that Pilotwings 64's frame rate would be catastrophically low, yet the game remains pretty smooth throughout. In terms of what it has to offer on the gameplay front, Pilotwings 64 really stands the test of time. Although the game isn't especially long, it is very challenging. There's very little repetition when it comes to the missions, and the terrain itself is often used to create some tricky scenarios. It's an unforgiving game, and one where learning the stages and performing every single manoeuvre perfectly is the only way to achieve the highest score; completionists will no doubt find great entertainment value in this.

The only real major issue that can be levelled at the game today is its low screen resolution, which can make seeing distant objects — such as rings and targets — a tad difficult. As with all N64 games, playing Pilotwings 64 on the smallest CRT screen possible will result in the best-viewing experience. Regardless, exploring each of the vibrant, colourful and large-scale environments is always an enjoyable event, especially when you consider that it’s all contained within a mere 8MB cartridge.

Conclusion

From its lush and detailed landscapes to the near professional level of control, Pilotwings 64 utilises virtually all of the N64’s most prominent features to provide a wholesome and adventurous gameplay experience. The game’s perfect blend of tense, challenge-based gameplay and simple, yet relaxing exploration modes gives it an almost universal appeal, and it’s a shame that more games don’t aspire to offer this rare and well-rounded gaming package. On the surface, Pilotwings 64 may seem as shallow as a paddling pool, but those that delve deeper will actually find a fun and rewarding game that draws them back in time and time again.

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User Comments (38)

Crouteru

#2

Crouteru said:

I still love this game. Been waiting years for a Virtual Console release. Make it happen Nintendo!

SLiM

#3

SLiM said:

I would play this game for hours just exploring places. The map that resembled the United States was huge!

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#6

Philip_J_Reed said:

I've never played this one. Like everyone, I've been holding out for a VC release. This review just makes me want it more!

JJtheTexan

#8

JJtheTexan said:

I freaking LOVED this game and desperately want it on Virtual Console!!!

On a somewhat unrelated note, what was the deal with the blonde female pilot's, um, proportions???

Spoony_Tech

#9

Spoony_Tech said:

Its really good and much more variety then any other in the series! So much more to do!

XyVoX

#10

XyVoX said:

I remember clearly importing a JAP NTSC N64 into the UK and only had this game for the first 2 months and boy what an amazing game this was, what i remember most was the fact that up until this point in time we'd all been using joypad/joysticks and along come an analogue stick for the masses and i WAS amazed by the level of immersion you could have with it, coincidently i stil reckon its the best game on the N64 to experience controls mapped to an analogue stick.

World

#11

World said:

It might never come to the Virtual Console, and that's a mystery only Professor Layton can solve, but I would settle for a "Pilotwings Express" or some such for the eShop that was just various takes on the Birdman stage.

Ah, the freedom.

And that music!

Shiryu

#12

Shiryu said:

One of the finest games ever for the N64, wish they made a new one...

RightHemisphereG

#13

RightHemisphereG said:

Great review, 1996 I rented is game along with Mario and the console for great deal. We were young and 3d controles had a different learn curve to them.
The memories of that game and the need to get farther along then had before caused me to buy this game in 2009. No looking back right?

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#14

Philip_J_Reed said:

@bahooney

...and an N64. And working controllers. And space that doesn't exist to hook it up. And...ya know what? That turns out to be a solution that just won't work for everyone. :D

datamonkey

#16

datamonkey said:

Played this for hours back in the day. Hope it comes to Virtual Console and we get a brand new Pilotwings on Wii U ;)

datamonkey

#17

datamonkey said:

@X-Factor - Definitely not worth $40 in my opinion.

The content that is there is good but it is more like a tech demo than a full retail game. There is only one island to fly around and it doesn't take long to complete.

I'd recommend it but not at full price.

KAHN

#19

KAHN said:

eh, i found this at my book store for $1.00. i was already picking up goldeneye 007, diddy kong racing, and mario 64, so i thought "why not?". it's a great one. i keep finding myself coming to this game just for the atmosphere.

Luffymcduck

#20

Luffymcduck said:

Why hasn´t this been released on Wii Shop, I have no idea. Nintendo, I can give you money.

chiefeagle02

#22

chiefeagle02 said:

I borrowed this from a friend back in high school. I remember absolutely loving the Birdman suit and just leisurely flying around the United States.

suburban_sensei

#23

suburban_sensei said:

I remember being at a mall when I was little and begging my parents for this game. I wish I still had my N64! To the person interested in Pilotwings Resort, you can easily find it for $20 or so bucks on Amazon, Ebay, etc. I don't think it's worth $40.

RetrogamerFan

#24

RetrogamerFan said:

Great review.
Such a wonderful game, this and Mario 64 really were amazing when i first got my N64.
So many great moments, i remember spending ages trying to perfectly launch my hang-glider down the side of a mountain. Flying around in the little gyrocopter taking photos and many more
Pilotwings 64 for Wii U VC, please Nintendo

TenEighty

#25

TenEighty said:

Would love to see this on the virtual console. This is one of my favorite games. Man the N64 era was awesome!

ajcismo

#27

ajcismo said:

Gonna sound like a broken record, but what a great game. Its almost too bad it was so overshadowed by Mario 64.

bahooney

#28

bahooney said:

@Philip_J_Reed lol, it's not like an N64 takes up as much space as on OG xbox. It's the size of a shoe box! I'm assuming most people have N64's here at NL, it's really not that far fetched to pick up the cart rather than waiting years for an N64 game to hit the VC.

globalisateur

#29

globalisateur said:

You can't fathom how much time some friends and I just lay on a couch playing this game just having fun flying between mountains, under bridges and avoiding skyscrapers listening to some Vai and Satriani albums.

And incidentally, repeatitively and stubbornly triggering a glitch in the japanese version to reach some almost infinite speed and far away from above the map as if we reached space until the game freezed.

allav866

#30

allav866 said:

This, along with Mario Party 3, are games that should have been on the Virtual Console for the Wii, but maybe they'll be available for Wii U.

DaemonSword

#31

DaemonSword said:

Why this version of Pilot Wings wasn't released on the 3DS boggles the mind. Sorry, PW: Resort just wasn't up to this standard at all.

DaemonSword

#32

DaemonSword said:

Why this version of Pilot Wings wasn't released on the 3DS boggles the mind. Sorry, PW: Resort just wasn't up to this standard at all.

LJay

#38

LJay said:

One of the most beautiful games ive ever played! 9/10 is spot on!,pw64,mario64 n wave race 64 imo have not been surpassed by nintendo yet(i however dont believe mario64 has had a true sequel yet)
Ive sunk soo many hours into pilotwings and id advise anyone who doesnt mind a game playing at a slightly slower pace to buy it,its a great challenge-birdman is a great way to chill out too! The music in the game is also fantastic,im sure nintendo wanted to prove the 64 could do in game music as good as any cd console.

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