A common complaint among Wii U critics is that the platform's primary controller, the GamePad, doesn't get utilized enough to justify its existence. Whether or not you agree with this assessment, one indie developer that's making an effort to assuage these concerns is TACS Games, whose Quadcopter Pilot Challenge puts you behind the remote control of that most beloved of expensive toys, the quadcopter.
You've got a few different modes to choose from when you boot up the game, including a tutorial and free fly option, although the majority of the game's content lies with the flight academy. In this mode you're tasked with completing a number of challenges offered up to you by the helpful instructor on the GamePad. These encompass a range of difficulty modes, from "easy" - where the copter can't take any damage - to "real" - where you must control the copter's flight path using its first-person view on the GamePad.
Unfortunately, this first-person view is a futile exercise in motion sickness: since the quadcopter shifts dramatically when moving, the camera has to follow along with its violent flips and flops, making it well-nigh impossible to see where you're going (and, for this reviewer, bringing on a fair amount of nausea).
There are a few other issues that can really cut back on the fun, chief among them being the wonky controls. While they do feel like an accurate reflection of the unruly chaos that controlling a real quadcopter must be, they make the missions in the campaign unbelievably frustrating. These are tasks that require some degree of precision: flying through rings and shooting targets are two of your most common objectives, and these are maddeningly difficult to accomplish when your poor copter is lurching about like a fish out of water.
To make matters worse, there's no way to restart missions easily if you make a mistake, forcing you to finish every bad start you get off to. It's frustrating to miss a crucial ring right out of the starting gate, only to have to slog through the rest of the mission knowing you missed a perfect run.
[Upload: It is possible restart stages in 'Challenge' mode, though not in the primary mode. It should be acknowledged that it's actually possible to restart in this specific mode, but we'd prefer the option to be there across the whole package]
Beyond that, the game simply doesn't do much with its premise, leaving things feeling understated and lacking in variety. Sure, there are many different mission types, but they all centre on relatively true-to-life things you could accomplish with a real quadcopter, and they all take place on the same stodgy obstacle course in the middle of the desert. This is a video game, after all - why not have the quadcopter navigate some fantastical settings and incorporate the same sort of mission structure with less humble objectives?
[Update: The phrase 'true-to-life' may not be clear, as it suggests that there aren't more playful and fantastical aspects to the challenges, which isn't the case. Ultimately though, we thought keeping things confined to a relatively small area was pretty underwhelming. It's not so much that that the tasks are "too realistic", but rather that they are (in our view) repetitive, slow, and clunky, held back by the difficult (albeit accurate) simulation controls.]
There's a nice little Easter egg that can be found with a little bit of exploration in the free fly mode - a wink to the player that unfortunately highlights the sort of thing that would have made the game a lot more fun. While sticking to a straight simulation is a respectable direction, and it feels accurate, it only serves as a reminder of how much more fun it would be to fly an actual quadcopter.
The presentation here is decent, with the majority of the gameplay represented by simple, functional 3D models and the aforementioned desert environment. It's nothing special, but it runs smoothly and serves its purpose without any problems. The music and sound are similar offerings, including a handful of repetitive tunes and basic effects that - while not bad - don't leave much of an impression.
Quadcopter Pilot Challenge has a good set of ideas, but many of them are executed with realism that strips away the fun - rather like if Pilotwings opted for a simulation approach to make life too difficult. Though it's nice to see the GamePad getting some love, using it as a remote control is incredibly frustrating - you'll be fighting the controls and the camera more often than you'll be working towards the mission objectives. Prioritizing the simulation aspects over all else was an admirable choice, but in the end it's a damaging factor that limits the game to a very niche audience that can endure the inevitable frustrations.
Following some feedback from the developer, some additional context and description was added by the reviewer (in square brackets) on 15th July. The score remained unchanged.