(SNES / Super Nintendo)

Pilotwings (SNES / Super Nintendo)

Game Review

Pilotwings Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Mat Allen

Soar like an eagle

Sometimes games deserve second chances. Let us tell you a story...

A long time ago in a television studio far, far away, a member of our team took part in an episode of Games World, Hewland's Gamesmaster clone shown on Sky 1 in the UK. Everything was going great until the semi-final, when the skydiving stage from Pilotwings came up as the challenge. At that point one person of the three remaining contestants had never played the game before. No prizes for guessing who failed to qualify. And so Pilotwings was consigned to a list of those titles never to darken their console. Things change of course. Cue a decade later and forgiveness.

So, second chances: much in the same way that people will now be able to relive the game via the Virtual Console on their Wii. Pilotwings sees you as an aspiring flight wannabe who has to pass a series of lessons comprising two or more of the following disciplines: light plane, skydiving, rocket belt and hang-glider. Successful completion allows an upgrade to your pilot's license and progression to the next lesson, although it will be several upgrades before they will let you anywhere near the missile-loaded helicopter.

Missile-loaded helicopter? It would appear that your flight instructors got themselves in a spot of hostage-related bother and need rescuing, so it's time to put all that training into practice and go get them. This mission, rather like the embassy storming at the end of Combat School, sits so incongruously with the rest of the game it's strangely bizarre and yet, for all the destruction unleashed, seems so perfectly apt at the same time. Completing this section unlocks expert mode which, as suspected, really is for the experts.

But back to the training at hand. All four vehicle types play out fairly similarly, in that there are usually targets to reach and pass through before landing the vehicle on the ground; it is how they all control and respond that changes the strategy and tactics required. For example, the plane is fairly responsive whereas the rocket belt has a degree of inertia to compensate for. In standard Nintendo tradition the controls themselves are pretty simple to pick up, for the most part being turn, climb, dive and change speed, while they allow for subtle complexity and precision. The basic conclusion there is if you screw up then you've only got yourself to blame.

Each test is scored out of hundred points, broken down into various categories involving how fast the challenge was completed, how many targets or rings were passed, and the accuracy of landing, be it at the correct speed and angle for the plane, or the points zone for the skydiving. Accruing more than the minimum total for each lesson results in passage to the next, although help is also at hand by landing on the moving platforms and triggering the hidden bonus games.

Assisting you in the task the HUD is both practical and clear, providing a radar output, elevation and bearing information as well as height and speed readouts. Back in 1990 however, that isn't what players were gawping at; Pilotwings was part of the second wave of releases in Japan and like F-Zero before, it was a perfect demonstration of how Mode 7 graphics could make producing explorable environments seem effortless and easy. Today they may seem simple and functional but there is a fluidity, smoothness and uncluttered air to them, something that many modern titles struggle to equal.

Another similar note would be balance of difficulty within the game, which Nintendo unerringly seem to precariously position right between challenging and frustrating. Once the controls and game mechanics are sussed then the first couple of lessons are reasonably simple to pass, but the hang-glider can be occasionally teeth-grinding and one mistake in the helicopter mission can send you right back to the start. This would be for nothing if the game was torpidly dour but for the most part it is fun as well as tricky. Nailing a perfect hundred (or greater) score on a particular discipline is guaranteed to bring a satisfied smile to anyone's face.

The game however, for all its brilliance, is not actually that long: a mere four lessons plus the helicopter mission (which is then duplicated in expert mode) and would probably fill a couple of weeks of dedicated play before it is vanquished, while a password system allows play to continue from the lesson last attempted. What is in its favour is the sheer freedom of experimentation and ability to tackle the task at hand in a multitude of fashions, coupled with the ubiquitous internal smugness when a new high score is achieved for a particular vehicle. Getting perfect scores everywhere will not be easy.

This in part is what makes the game so refreshing and open: it tells you what you need to accomplish and then lets you get on with it. No hand-holding, no giant arrows pointing the way, just take to the skies and complete the objectives as best as you possibly can. There is sufficient leeway in the total points required for each lesson to allow for minor weaknesses in certain disciplines to prevent the need for complete perfection, although with practice you will get better at every segment of the game. All it takes is a little thinking about how to approach certain aspects of each level.


Pilotwings was always an odd title, sitting outside of the usual genres that gamers at the time would play and yet heralded to high heaven by those who chose to delve into its almost bottomless depths. Likewise it could appear to be calm and relaxing to those observing on the outside, while sometimes generating annoyance and pad-throwing frustration to those who took on the challenge. In a good way of course. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle of all of these points. If you haven't played the game before, now is a fine time to pick up the baton.

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User Comments (57)



b_willers said:

Its an amazing game, lets hope now Nintendo remembers they made made it we will get a wii sequel. PLEASE!!



OldBoy said:

Always wanted to play this game.Now I can, Woo Hoo.Will download this weekend.



Gabbo said:

Nice review Mat. For me, Pilotwings was a wasted rental back in the day even with the fancy graphics. And today it's just a tech demo that's pushing 20 years of age. But to each his own.



warioswoods said:

I love this game; never played a flight-based game that is even half as fun, no matter how much more advanced the graphics might be (and that includes the inferior N64 game).



Turbo_Genesis_64 said:

If I remember right, Pilot Wings, F-Zero, Sim City, and of course Super Mario World were the launch titles for the SNES -- a killer lineup.



Xkhaoz said:

I want this game!!! Dang it, Europe. You get SSB and this, stop hogging!



Gavin_Rozee said:

Downloaded it earlier. Played it for ages and had great fun. Which surprised me, as even though I've had the SNES cartridge for many years, I've never really played it, as I despise games with a password save (The Wii's suspend point feature for most VC games rectifies this though). So yeah, I didn't have that lovely nostalgic feling when playing it, but it's just awesome. I've strangely never played or owned Pilotwings 64 either, so I'm looking forward to it's inevitable future release.

I have a question, which controller do you think I should I use to play this game; my black Classic Controller Pro, or Super Famicom/SNES Classic Controller? I can't decide which is best/more accurate for the game.



Ren said:

I remember how pixelated things looked even when it came out, but the overall relaxed tone, and crushing difficulty made this such an awesome and balanced game. I spent some serious hours on this back in the day and I'm glad I did. When I hit the lottery I need to get this and about 20 other VC games. Nice review.



Bikeage said:

Back in the day I played Pilotwings and F-Zero at a friend's house and HATED them. Flash forward 15 years and I give F-Zero another chance on the VC. Still no two player, ehhh..... but an awesome game I mistakenly overlooked. I think i'll feel the same way about Pilotwings. Hope it lands in NA soon.



James said:

Sir Paul McCartney used to play Pilotwings, you know. I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.

As for me, this never interested me at all, even though it'd probably be right up my alley. We shall see if this VC version gets me interested...



Dazza said:

Nice review Mat, this wasn't one of my favourite early SNES games either (I was too hooked on F-Zero to notice it!)... but I got it later down the line and loved it. It's a very original game and makes nice use of the mode 7 powers of the SNES.

I hope you didn't have a similar reaction as Dave 'GamesAnimal' Perry when you experienced your epic fail on TV!



moroboshi said:

Only 8/10! This is one of my all time favourite games, it's pure Nintendo magic. Hopefully it will hit the NA Wii store very soon.



Mayhem said:

@Dazza - internally yes hah hah, but I didn't show it on camera (and if anyone ever tracks that particular show down, have fun!). More's the pity as I would have decimated the other two guys in the final where it was Streetfighter 2 on the SNES. So, yeah Pilotwings, like you I was more into F-Zero instead. I think that's why I wrote the first sentence of the conclusion; I think it did get overlooked by many when it first came out.



Machu said:

I preferred the 64 version, but during this review I doubted that opinion. Great read, thanks.



Pj1 said:

I'm Looking forward in playing it! I downloaded it but saving it for when I'm next off work!
Hopefully North America gets this on Monday!

Super Mario Kart soon, I hope....



Ricardo91 said:

I'm more interested in the 64 version, but I'm glad this has finally released after being rated for so long. I hope Nintendo resurrects this series for Wii.



StarBoy91 said:

Oh, man, does this game bring me back! Not only is it one of the most visually impressive Generation 1 Super NES titles, but it's also one of the best, period!!! I don't think I ever played the 64 followup, but I was in love with this game. Me and my cousins only ever got to the fifth stage this summer, and we've yet to beat it.



D00M said:

I love you Nintendo, All is forgiven for the last few months of VC dross.
Don't do it again.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Dazza: That guy's reaction was 100% justified because the game hadn't even been released in Europe yet! At least Mayhem COULD have played Pilotwings before the competition without having to import anything!

Regarding Pilotwings itself: I always hated this game, and to this day I have no idea why my dad wasted his money on this trash. I do not intend to download it whenever it hits North America. I guess it's good for the people who DID want it, though. Better than random crap nobody wanted, anyway.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@StarBoy91: My sentiments exactly. It does seem quite popular for some reason, so I can be happy with that. I think we still have the game cart somewhere in the living room, though. I should probably dig it up and give it another shot sometime. If it's in the cabinet, that won't be happening anytime soon (buried behind piles and piles of DVD's). If it's accessable elsewhere in the room, I might try it within the next week, provided I don't forget (which to be honest, I probably will).



Stuffgamer1 said:

I did pull this out and give it another go last night, and I can't say I'm impressed. I have a particular problem with this passage from the review (and the context in the paragraph it's taken from):

"The basic conclusion there is if you screw up then you've only got yourself to blame."

I call BS. I got through the first lesson pretty well, with more than enough points. I guess the little green dots pointing the way on the plane made that pretty easy, but if it wasn't for those, I'd have crashed every time! How do I know this? Because I have no freaking clue how to land the plane in lesson 2, and the game never bothered to actually tell me!

Basically, my complaint is with the way the game just throws you in with very basic control instructions and no in-depth info on what the heck you're doing. For a game this complicated and unique, I need something more!

I also hate the way not getting enough total points in the lesson makes you re-do the missions you did well at as well as the ones you suck at.



Stuffgamer1 said:

Continuing (PS3 browser)...

Not only is it a waste of time to re-do levels you already did really well at, it's all-too-easy to actually do significantly WORSE on your next attempt! That's when I gave up on this crap...I've got better things to play!

So at least I'm not bashing this game from vague memories anymore...it really does suck, IMO (of course)! Again, I'm glad for the people who did want this, though I have no idea why they did. Of course, I have no idea why people like F-Zero either, so it may be no real surprise I dislike this as well (seeing as people have been mentioning the two together a lot lately)!



brooks83 said:

Stuffgamer, no offense but I just lost a lot of respect for you with your assessment of Pilotwings. How could you land the plane in lesson 1 but not in lesson 2? It's the same way! The game is not as complicated as your making it out to be. I'm assuming you don't have the instruction manual as that would tell you about the controls, but it is very simple to figure out what to do. Skydiving - Fall through the rings and land. Rocketbelt - Fly through rings, land. Light Plane - Fly through green dots, land. Hanglider - Hit air current and land. Seriously man, how could you find that complex and confusing? As for redoing missions you do well on after not getting enough points, on just about any other game don't you have to redo levels after getting a game over? There's nothing wrong with just not liking a game, but those complaints seem a little lame...



Mayhem said:

Regarding the quoted line from Stuffgamer, it's regarding the control system. You can't blame that for cocking up while playing, only your own ineptitude. And if you find you are having issues with one particular vehicle in a lesson, do that one first! Then if you still get a low score, you haven't wasted much time to then try it again from the top. Or just practice more...



Stuffgamer1 said:

@brooks83: In the first plane mission, you just follow the green dots down, and it gives you the proper angle of decent to land with. In the second plane mission, you just fly through a few rings, after which there are no hints as to what angle you're getting into.

To be fair, I hate games that make you redo stuff after getting a game over in general. Y'know, the ones that have no or too few save points. I don't like being punished for failing ten minutes into a level by having to redo the first ten minutes!

@Mayhem: Yes, I can, because I think the game's controls SUCK! I was fighting them to get them to go where I said the entire time! This game does nothing to make practicing feel worthwhile. I'd much rather just shut it off and play something fun.



brooks83 said:


Well since you don't like the game I'm probably wasting my time here, but here are some tips on landing the plane. Don't focus too much on getting the proper angle, you may lose a few points over it, but it's really not a big deal. Just as you approach the runway (the bigger one, unless you've gotten really good I wouldn't try the small one) gradually lower your speed and altitude, lightly touch down on the runway and then come to a stop. If you can land the plane in the first mission then it really shouldn't be that much harder. With practice you can get better at your angle, but I don't think you would lose more than 10 points or so for a bad angle.

EDIT: Also, make sure you give yourself enough room to land. If your coming in too fast or whatever, just fly back around and try again.



Nathan said:

@MattL: You're not even in Expert mode yet, wait for that one...
Ahhh, I loved Pilotwings as a child, and still do. I think Stuffgamer1 is just not very good at these Mode 7 style games. But I don't know how he can think it is complicated. The game is fairly basic as a sim. But it may also be the wind factor in other plane levels that have put him and others like him, off.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Nathan: It's true, Mode 7 gameplay isn't really my thing. It makes for some sweet effects in games, like in Actraiser and the like, but I don't really like games where you play in the Mode 7, generally speaking. Then again, aviation isn't really my thing either. I was hoping that Nintendo could convince me otherwise like they have with sports, but no such luck. But for full disclosure, I don't like any of the F-Zero series. Just moves way too fast for me. Same with Wipeout.



bro2dragons said:

i played and enjoyed the N64 one... is this still worth a download for me, or should i wait to see if that one will be released? are they basically the same? way different? better? worse?



Kadaj said:

Pilotwings! This game was so epic back in the day, I shall definitely DL this once I have a few priority purchases out of the way

@Stuffgamer1: F-Zero was too fast for you? Fast racing for the...loss?



President_Leever said:

This was kind of interesting back in the day, but for me the fascination of movement in mode 7 wore off pretty quick. Comes off as a crude tech demo today.



Kid_A said:

Dammit. I wasted my Nintendo points on Super Smash Bros. yesterday. Clearly, this was a poor choice.

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