Pilotwings, originally released twenty-and-a-bit years ago on the Super Nintendo, challenged players to fly a variety of aircraft through a number of challenging situations, most of which involved little rings or targets in the sky. Compared to other titles of the time, it was a refreshing change from trying to kill things, punching people in the face or generally cruising around causing mayhem.
In twenty years, not much has changed. Yes, it fits in your pocket now (the 3DS, complete with the Pilotwings Resort game cartridge, is smaller than just the cart alone for the original game) and yes, it's in 3D but ultimately the low-pressure* gameplay remains much as it was the first two times around (there was also an N64 version in 1996).
So what do you do? Well, the main "mission" mode sees you take on a series of ever-increasingly-difficult* challenges in one of three aircraft - a light plane, a hang glider, or a jetpack. Each of these has significantly different handling characteristics and controls, which makes each a markedly varied experience. This variety is further backed up by the tasks you are set, which vary in a way that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the vehicle in question.
Initially, these challenges are fairly sedate in pace and challenge, combining a mix of flying through target areas, landing in marked locations or in some other way demonstrating your mastery of the craft you are piloting. Later events, however, assume your knowledge of the controls has transcended mere memory and has instead become instinct. What do I mean by that? That's what those asterisks were about:
* This game gets hard. Perhaps to offset the title's relative brevity, the challenge in achieving a perfect score on the later levels is set at a legendary level - if you're able to perfect every level of this game without having dedicated your life to the goal, you're a better virtual pilot than I.
Visually, like many 3DS games, it's a complex thing to assess. Individually, the components (the sky, the terrain, your vehicles and your "Mii" with which you pilot the aircraft) are fairly basic. As a package, they work well together, complimenting one another and are further accented by well-appointed special effects. The 3D depth, too (I told you it was complicated), works remarkably well here, giving a real sense of height and depth, particularly when tasked with plunging into / through / under something at great speed.
I did find, however, that as my focus was on my objective (the background), my pilot and his flying machine were a blurry mess that got in the way of proceedings. It's far from a disaster but certainly something unexpected.
The sound is present and offers up a decent enough menagerie of whirrs and clicks, but if you're here for the audio:
Ultimately, Pilotwings Resort is true to its forebears - possibly too true, thanks to the generally lower expectations in terms of difficulty that have crept into the gaming conscience in the 15 years or so since we last took a Nintendo aircraft for a spin.
That aside, it's fun to fly around with your digital visage, and free-play mode gives the ability to just cruise about and check out the island (which is lifted straight from Wii Sports Resort). This adds a cool, no pressure option for those moments in which you want to clear your mind and just fly.
In summary, Pilotwings Resort is pretty light on content but it's (nearly) a launch title so it does its job well enough, particularly when it comes to demonstrating the value-add of the 3D depth.
A solid, if slightly underwhelming, experience.