Usually the world of video games takes players to far off fictional lands filled with magic and wonder. I am an Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero Narita (yes, that's its actual name) does not take place in such a location. If one couldn't tell from it's exceedingly long and descriptive title (which is going to be referred to as simply Airport Hero Narita) the newest entry in the world of gaming simulation is set at the actual Narita airport, located in Tokyo, Japan.
Anyone who has flown in or out of Narita will recognize various aspects of the airport that can be seen from above. It may be realistic, but sometimes that is even more interesting than a world of make believe. Spoiler alert: the Pokemon Store on the 4th floor of the 2nd terminal is not included.
In fact Airport Hero Narita, as one would suspect, only takes place outside the airport. Players are in charge of arriving and departing aircraft at one of the largest airports in Japan. For some that may be hard to understand. It in no way means players will be piloting planes. This game is sadly not a Star Fox reskin set in present day Tokyo. Your job as an "airport hero" is to guide planes to the right takeoff and landing points, as well as direct them to the correct gates without smashing them into each other. Airport Hero Narita is a game about safety and precision. If that sounds dull to you, then you're not alone.
While one might think, "Who in their right mind would play such a game?", this writer can assure there are apparently many. The Air Traffic Controller series has been around in Japan since 1998 and has done well enough to spawn dozens of games that cover airports from all around the globe. Heck, in Japan the 3DS has eight of these games. EIGHT! The only other one that has been shared with the rest of the world is the Hawaii iteration, which we covered last year, and it didn't exactly become a best seller.
The main gameplay (if one can call it that) is found under “Operation Mode" and gives players three views of the incoming and outgoing aircraft. As an air traffic controller players can switch views at any point and zoom in and out as they please. Each plane is classified on the touch screen in either the "arriving" or "departure" sections, and when each one is tapped they indicate what actions can be taken. Players can slow down incoming planes, taxi ones on the runway, and inform incoming traffic where to land. The worst part of the whole procedure, though, has to be the waiting. Sometimes there is literally nothing to do but watch planes slowly get closer or further away. It's maddening.
There are multiple different difficulty levels in “Operation Mode", and four stages for each of the three levels. To unlock new stages and difficulty levels players have to complete the stages in a specific order or use the 3DS camera to scan in new content via special QR codes . As players move on they are saddled with handling more and more planes both coming and going from Narita. The depth of the game really just comes from moving to more difficult stages and taking on more responsibility as an air traffic controller. Which… is fun, if you like the concept.
Maybe it's because the average person just isn't used to being an air traffic controller, but even the easier stages can be a tad difficult to understand. The tutorial isn't quite as helpful as one would hope, as it tells players exactly what to do next, but doesn't go into detail about how to handle different situations one may face during actual gameplay. After a few stages players will surely get a better grasp on the controls, though they may still manage to crash a few planes here and there. Speaking of which, if a player does happen to fail their current stage there are no checkpoints to fall back on. If one makes it to the end of a stage (they can last for a good long while) and then makes a mistake they're going to have to start all over again. It's beyond frustrating. This was an issue also noted in our Hawaii review.
The visuals of the airport and various aircraft that players guide are simple, but well done. Everything looks crisp and pops nicely when the 3D slider is pushed to its max. The menus throughout the game are simple and easy to navigate, though there is a bit of broken English here and there. Even the touch screen somehow manages to squish all that airport data into nice neat sections for the player's guiding pleasure.
There's a wonderfully realistic touch thrown in with all the codes and actual dialogue from airplane captains and crew; it actually sounds like a real traffic control tower. The music that plays while players help the planes down from and into the sky is upbeat with a tropical vibe. It's very reminiscent of 2012's 3DS launch title Pilotwings Resort, in that aspect.
If air traffic control sounds enjoyable, or if a player knows it is from past experiences, then some enjoyment is possible with this game. If the thought of telling planes where to go doesn't excite you then don't take your chances on Airport Hero Narita. This game isn't hiding any part of what it offers, and it's a decent simulator. The simulation just isn't something that the average gamer is going to find worthwhile, especially with the high price tag at launch.