There really is something magical about Pilotwings. There was in the SNES original, there was on the N64, and the tradition has certainly carried over to the 3DS. While there may not be a Mario or Zelda title available at launch, it’s difficult to complain when a game is giving you such a high ‘Nintendo Moment’ count, even if it is somewhat light on content over wise.
While we’ve already seen Wuhu Island (The game’s solitary location) before, simply playing in 3D give it, well, a new dimension- caves you couldn’t access in Wii Sports Resort open up in front of your very eyes and daredevil swoops are more satisfying than ever once given the ability to judge exactly how far away in inches you are from the cliff edge. How much of this praise deserves to go to the game and how much to the system, we’re not yet sure, but if any game is to show you that the 3D is not simply a gimmick, it’s this one. Taking your little bi-plane for a tour of the titular Resort almost single-handedly justifies the £195 purchase. No matter what your views on how it affects Street Fighter IV, trust us, you want to leave the 3D on for this one.
The game starts off by giving you three aircrafts to play around with, although that number steadily works its way up to six, the unlockable three merely more powerful variations on the initial modes of transport. The game is split in half under two modes, Free Flight Mode and Mission Mode, both of which offer different aims, providing ways for all types of gamer to experience the end.
The majority of our play time went to Free Flight Mode, although very little of that was free flying. The game encourages you to hunt out various hidden goods throughout the island, including balloons, Mii statues and golden rings, with each of the three aircraft ‘Classes’ having a collectable of their own. While the game starts off by overwhelming you with hundreds of items, you pretty quickly hoover them up and are left with just a couple of bits and bobs to collect but many hours of trying everywhere to find them. (As we write this, we’ve got all locations and gold rings, 113/120 balloons, 53/60 Mii Trophies, 42/60 gold rings. As you’d imagine, the place has dried up considerably) Worst yet is the lack of reward to find them. Netting every single one of each classes special collectable just gets you something similar to a Smash Bros trophy, only without the text there to try and justify why you just spent the past 3 hours trying to get a 3D model of a Snorlax picking his nose.
Mission Mode is even worse. When you first fire the game up, you’ll see five classes of pilot in front of you (Novice, Bronze, Silver, ect.) but only Novice available. The first two classes contain 6 missions, with the others getting 9 each. While these missions are decent enough (Fly through the rings, collect the balloons and so on), they do occasionally seem to lack the imagination of the older Pilotwings games, a problem that is strife throughout the title.
To make up for it, Nintendo craftily created a score attack system within the mission mode, not only grading you out of 3 stars (A certain number of stars is required to unlock the next rank) but also providing you with a realistic target for a ‘Perfect’ mission. However, once you’ve cleared the level with ‘Perfect’ status (It has inverted commas for a reason) the game asks you to try and better your perfect score with better times, better landings and less fuel consumption. This is almost addictive at first, but we really couldn’t be bothered to clear some of the trickier levels enough times to get the necessary times, although perhaps online leader boards might have changed that- A glaring eviction. The game doesn’t even let you compare your scores to other profile on the same cartridge.
Despite the thoughtfully-added unlockables and excellent design otherwise (The handling feels spot on for all six vehicles.) the sheer laziness of the game makes it a bit hard to recommend, no matter how much fun it is. There’s just one real island, (That’s three less than the SNES original which came out a good 15 years ago.) which even then was open to aerial exploration in Wii Sports Resort, which includes almost 20 other games plus a great dog fight mode. Yes, it’s a lot of fun, and yes, if you want it to, it could last you up to around 15 hours, but we can’t shake the air of laziness that surrounds this game. However, if you’ve just bought your 3DS and are looking for something to really show your new system off, (Provided you’re not too bothered about online) then Wuhu Island really is the place to be.