In November, Nintendo Life received an unexpected – and quite pleasant – shock from a little game called Airport Mania: First Flight. It was a release that flew in from totally off the radar, and immediately became one of our favorite games on the WiiWare service.
It was a deceptively deep, engaging game of time- and resource-management. It was adorable, fun and, above all, utterly addictive.
A DSiWare version, of course, seemed like a no-brainer. It was a great game, and one with a central concept so simple that it almost seemed tailor-made for the tapping of an increasingly-frantic stylus. And while it was difficult for us to pull ourselves away from the WiiWare game as the hours ticked by, its formula seemed perfect for on-the-go gaming as well.
The folks at Reflexive Entertainment, however, decided to give us something other than a direct port for now (though they have told us to expect one before long), and while the result is by no means a bad one, it does fail to instill the same sense of joy as its WiiWare counterpart.
The central goals and gameplay haven't changed from the previous release, and so there's little use in reiterating them here. Therefore it is worth reading our Airport Mania: First Flight review if you haven't already, as it will give you a good idea of whether or not you're interested in this game in the first place. If you are, then read on, and we'll discuss the differences.
Here, the experience is not broken down into self-contained levels taking place at various airports. Everything unfolds on a single airport, and it's up to you to guide an infinite stream of aircraft down, service them and send them up again on their way. The scoring/shopping system is still in place, as is the "mood" of the planes themselves. Earn a large enough score, and you'll find yourself on the (local) high score list. Make five planes grumpy enough to desert you, and the game will end.
Non-Stop Flights is essentially a standalone endless mode, available separately from the level-based experience of First Flight. This is both bad and good. It's good because it uses for its foundation a great game, and gives us a new way to experience it, but it's also bad, because the endless mode on its own is a pretty flimsy experience by comparison. Anybody who enjoys this would likely prefer a more complete experience, or at least some of the achievements or random events that helped keep First Flight feeling so fresh, level after level.
Robbed of those features, Non-Stop Flights can sometimes feel like the beta version of a much better game. It's fun and it's competent, but it's missing that sense of accomplishment and cohesion that better games (including the WiiWare version of this one) have.
Planes still circle the airport, and you still guide them in for landing, boarding and maintenance. You still juggle available lanes and layover spots, and you still upgrade your airport. But beyond that, there's nothing to do apart from aim for a high score. And while this is enjoyable enough to be recommended, it also feels like a big step back for the series.
Further issues are raised by the controls in this version. While the stylus might seem like a natural fit for the game, the small size of the touchscreen means it gets crowded fast, and it's extremely difficult when things get hectic to tap buildings or hangars that are nearly obscured by a plane sitting in front of it. Tapping the wrong thing in the heat of the moment can make all the difference between keeping your chains going and getting an immediate game over, so this is a serious concern. The problem is compounded when you have several planes clustered in a small area (as is bound to happen eventually), and their little thought balloons almost entirely obscure the facilities you need to tap in order to get to move on.
The upper screen is put to some pretty wasteful use, as it just displays the planes circling the airport (which are already clearly enough indicated by icons on the touchscreen) and the irrelevant time of day, but that's more of an observation than a flaw. Also, the game's volume – even when cranked all the way up in the options menu – seemed strangely low, to the point that its quietness was sometimes distracting. Hopefully that will be corrected in a future release.
The game still plays very well, though, and the graphics are still charming and cartoony. Likewise, the great music from the WiiWare version will do its best to keep you calm as your little airport is besieged by grumpy, grumbly fliers who are perfectly happy to land somewhere else entirely if you don't cater quickly enough to their every whim.
Overall, the biggest flaw in this game is that it never stops reminding you of how much better the full release was. It's not at all a bad game, but it certainly does make you wish the complete port was arriving now instead.
For those looking for some quick and challenging action on the go, Non-Stop Flights could definitely fit the bill, but for anybody who wanted a more-complete port of the original... well... it looks like it got lost somewhere in transit. Along with your luggage.
Your first class tickets might have gotten downgraded, but Airport Mania: Non-Stop Flights can still be addictive in its own right. This release feels a bit slight compared to its meatier sibling on WiiWare and that's unfortunate, but for now this is all we've got. The lack of achievements to strive for and levels to conquer and replay do limit this game's appeal for everyone apart from high-score chasers, but those who give it a chance are likely to enjoy whatever time they do choose to spend with it. That bargain pricetag doesn't hurt, either... we just wish it aimed a little higher.