aka: Dragonfly
Moby ID: 6632

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 80% (based on 30 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 59 ratings with 4 reviews)

Flight Club

The Good
One of the Super Nintendo’s three launch titles, Pilotwings absolutely reeks of SNES. I once heard it referred to as Mode 7: The Game, which I find is actually a pretty appropriate title. Mode 7 was a sprite scaling trick that allowed the SNES to stretch out a sprite layer to look like 3D terrain, and both Pilotwings and another launch title, F-Zero, made extensive use of it in entirely different ways. While F-Zero was a high-speed, futuristic racing game, Pilotwings is a laid-back, recreational flight simulator. At least, most of it is…

There’s not much background given to Pilotwings as you’re thrown into your first lesson. Land a biplane on a runway and skydive onto a bullseye. From there, challenges become slightly more complex, throwing in a hang glider and even a jetpack and having you fly through rings and in high wind. The goal is to do as well as possible in a number of different grading categories to receive your license and advance to the next level. It’s a pretty well done structure, as it forces you to become proficient at each of the various events while allowing a little slack for the odd poor performance. It felt great that even though I was pretty poor at hang gliding, I could make up the points by doing well in the rocket belt stages.

The mode 7 effect is put to good use to render the terrain and provide smooth gameplay. The scaling of the ground makes it easy to see just how close you are to landing and allows for a high degree of precision. Using the rocket belt, you’re also able to swap the camera to an overhead position to get a better view of where you’re landing. There were still moments where I had to utilize the altimeter to tell how close to the ground I was, but I find this to be necessary even in today’s world of 3D polygonal flight simulators.

Pilotwings is a lot more light-hearted and carefree than most flight simulators of the time, focusing on fun rather than accurately depicting flight. The result is a game that’s borderline relaxing, in spite of how challenging it gets in the later stages. I absolutely love the soundtrack, which features buzzy instrumental samples similar to other early SNES games. It’s a calming soundtrack that perfectly underlies the mellow gameplay. Combined with the drone of the plane’s engine or the rush of the wind, the game provides an almost meditative atmosphere.

The Bad
So Pilotwings may not be the most compelling of concepts out there, but the combination of its steady, slow-paced gameplay and smooth, jazzy soundtrack makes for a pretty relaxing experience.

And then…

Suddenly, all your flight instructors are captured by an evil organization and only you have a license grade high enough to fly an attack helicopter on a rescue mission. I’m dead serious; after four sets of licenses, the game throws you this curve ball, completely without warning. What kind of flying club did I sign up for here? I thought I was learning how to skydive and hang glide, not training to be part of an airbourne invasion. Why does this club even have an attack chopper? Why aren’t we calling the military or police force to rescue them?

But no, with no way to opt out of this armed assault, you’re coerced into the helicopter and sent into a nest of anti-aircraft guns. A single hit from any of the super-accurate guns will send you crashing to the ground, ending any dream you may have had of buying your own private plane and skydiving with your friends. It’s brutal. It seems incredibly out of place and jarring to suddenly find yourself going to war. It doesn’t feel like violence belongs in the context of the game. I’m all for variety, but this is just unwelcome.

Since first purchasing this game, I’ve picked it up three or four times and each time given up at this stage. I tried various strategies each time, such as flying at varying altitudes and engaging enemies in a variety of ways, but I’ve seen the burning wreckage of my helicopter too many times to count. I just wanted to go back to the mellow flight lessons that make up the bulk of the game, but I was stuck. I finally finished the mission by flying extremely low; below 25 feet. It was a less than ideal situation, all around. Worse yet is the fact that this mission appears twice, as if once wasn’t punishing enough.

The Bottom Line
Jarring shift of subject matter aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Pilotwings. The relaxing tunes, droning sounds, and stiff but fair challenge results in a pretty calming game. It isn’t a very deep or diverse game, but it ends rather quickly; just before it has a chance to get stale. Few flight simulators are as friendly and welcoming as Pilotwings, and it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more like it. A game that depicts flight in such a whimsical and leisurely manner is tough to come by. Of course, the developers still forced in a combat section for no reason, but if you omit that, Pilotwings is a GOOD game that I recommend to anyone looking for a more calming way to soar.

SNES · by Adzuken (836) · 2015

A novel approach to flight games that is both realistic and fun

The Good
When released in 1990, Pilotwings was a novelty. The game showed what kind of graphical tricks the SNES could produce by making extensive use of Mode 7 scaling effects. Moreover I think it also introduced some new styles of gameplay. Pilotwings is a "sim-lite" that simulates piloting a hangglider, a rocketbelt, free-falling & parachuting and finally the more traditional bi-plane. With these aircrafts you'll have to perform stunts to complete missions. There are not many games like Pilotwings. The only games that come to (my) mind are the sequel Pilotwings 64, Aerowings and Sky Odyssey; but the last two focus only on aeroplanes. Pilotwings let me do stuff I had not done before in almost twenty years of playing computer games, which made the game interesting for me.

The gameplay in Pilotwings is more realistic than I expected it to be. All the aircraft have a certain amount of momentum, when you're flying in one direction you can't just turn on a dime and go in another direction. Both the strength and direction of the wind are also huge factors to take into account when controlling the aircraft. Thus it takes a while and a fair amount of practice before the controls become second nature and you've learned to counter the influences of wind and gravity. It was fun to pilot five completely different types of airplanes (hangglider, light plane, rocketbelt, parachute and the attack chopper in the bonus missions).

Pilotwings doesn't deafen the player with a bombardment of tunes and bleeps. It has calm and relaxing music that somewhat neutralizes the inevitable frustration that arises from the difficult mission objectives. The game's sound effects are excellent; hearing the wind blow past me while free-falling was impressive. The graphics department is decent, Pilotwings looks good for a first generation SNES title. Mode 7 effects are used to convincingly represent different altitudes.

The Bad
Pilotwings is a rather short game, if you'd do everything perfect on your first try you could probably finish it within 45 minutes. But because the game is rather difficult you'll have to train and replay a lot and you'll get many more hours out of Pilotwings. In fact I don't think there ever was a game in which I had to replay missions over and over again as much as with this one. This is mostly due to the fact that you can't save your game after a mission within a lesson. If you've scored very well on hanggliding, skydiving and the rocketbelt, you can still ruin your score with a bad performance with the light plane. This makes Pilotwings frustrating in it's later stages when you need to score a lot of points to advance to the next level / lesson.

It would have been nice if there was some sort of free-form / sandbox mode. After you've completed the eight regular lessons and the two bonus missions there's really no replay value.

The Bottom Line
A good first-generation flight game that strikes the right balance between simulation and fun. Miyamoto manages to turn the usually very serious flight-sim genre into something fun and playable.

SNES · by Roedie (5239) · 2003

What other game at the time (or to date?) can you skydive??!

The Good
This game got to show off the new high-tech capabilities the SNES had. I think it was the 2nd game released for the SNES where I lived, so I had to buy it. It was definitely different than any game I had previously played. Beside from the fact that its kind of a crazy extreme sports obstacle course kinda game, the SNES was new and this game showed off the new abilities such as scaling that the NES couldn't do. The jetpack areas were pretty fun.

The Bad
If you weren't good enough to get a better class license, you couldn't advance to anything new. I wasn't that good so it took quite awhile to finally get to do something else...which wasn't fun.

The Bottom Line
A good game for it's time. Different kind of simulator most others.

SNES · by OlSkool_Gamer (88) · 2004

A lot of fun

The Good
A lot different than any other game I've ever played. The jetpack, the parachute, the fun flying challenges. It was challenging but not impossible to learn in my opinion.

The Bad
I got stuck for awhile at one of the licensing levels, but played it a lot and finally got past that level. I liked the airplane and the parachute, but I wasn't very good at the jetpack.

The Bottom Line
Terrific graphics, a great sense of flying and being in the air, just a lot of fun!

SNES · by r h (13) · 2007

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Alsy, Alaka, vedder, Hello X), Jo ST, Joakim Kihlman, Tim Janssen, RhYnoECfnW, jaXen, sgtcook, SlyDante, Sun King, Patrick Bregger, yenruoj_tsegnol_eht (!!ihsoy), Terok Nor, Big John WV, Paolo Richetti, Jan Geerling, jumpropeman.