Pilotwings (SNES) Review

Click here to view the Pilotwings description page for screenshots and more information.

Review by The Every Gamer (October 2018)

Score: B

   The 90’s saw quite a paradigm shift in gaming, where home consoles were looking to have much better graphics and Nintendo were doing everything in their power to make the best system out there…I still wish this philosophy was applied to Nintendo nowadays. Oh well, how about a SNES launch title to show you the console’s capabilities.

   Pilotwings (which was developed and published by Nintendo) was released in 1990 in Japan, 1991 in the US, and 1992 in Europe. It was distributed by Bandai in the UK…odd, I know. Shigeru Miyamoto was the producer of this game, working on it at the same time as Super Mario World and F-Zero. The game was used to show the power of Mode 7, a special graphics system that allowed for rotation and scaling, which allow developers to take usually flat graphics and make them look 3D. F-Zero was another game that used this technology too. Now whilst this was fantastic for the time and is still amazing to think that something like this was capable on a 16-bit machine, it does have its…downsides. I’ll explain later.

   The game is described as an “Amateur flight simulation”, where you do training lessons related to flight, not always just flying an aircraft. I think that perfectly sums up Pilotwings. You’re some guy or gal, you join the flight club. The objective is to perform tasks and pass them with flying colours. Each set of objectives you do well in gets you qualified and you earn a license, which also acts as your password should you want to come back to it later. There are four levels to succeed on, each with different objectives, but here are the events you will do in the game:

  • Light Plane: You’ll fly a plane through rings and after doing that, you have to try and land successfully.
  • Skydiving: You fall from a high altitude, trying to fall through rings and landing safely on targets on the ground.
  • Rocket Belt: Ride a jetpack, passing through rings or beams, then after doing that, land safely on targets on the ground.
  • Hang Gliding: You ride on a hang glider, flying on thermal currents to try and fly up a certain altitude. After doing that, land safely on targets on the ground.

   You do these events multiple times, but they get harder each time. The game is all about completing the missions as well as being accurate. The better you are, the more points you get and at the end as you need to have a set amount of points to qualify each level to move on. So how you fly a plane, how many rings you go through, how accurate/fast you can use your jetpack, how well can you ride the hang glider, and the stuff in-between will all factor to the overall points you get at the end. If you mess up during these events and don’t get enough points, you won’t qualify and you’ll have to try the level again.

   It’s all about mastering each event as the game is quite hard, but gets harder over time; there’s barely any room for mistakes so it’s all about practicing these events to get better. You have to know how the altitude works as well as your speed because again, these can also add to your points if successful. Then you have to think about the environment (strong winds, cold weather and such) that adds even more challenge and something else to take into consideration. Trying to perform tasks can be challenging, I remember flying planes and how even turning to get to a ring made me break a sweat because the moment you do that, you’ll need to try to control it right. It gets harder when landing: you need the right angle and correct speed, slow, but not too slow…but at least it’s better than Top Gun on the NES.

   But you know what, with all that nonsense, it makes the game all the more immersive, because that’s exactly what could happen in a real-life scenario. There will be dangers and you have to think up how to solve problems. All these added elements make for an immersive simulator, and on the Super Nintendo no less, but you still have fun doing these events despite its difficulty. With controls that are great yet still require mastery and gameplay that feels like a simulator that you have to strategize to get right each time, it takes ages to be a master at Pilotwings, so you better be prepared for it, especially later in the game.

By the way, there’s a fifth event after you complete the four levels. I won’t spoil it now, but it’s like the game throws a curveball at you…and it’s hard as hell.

   Now for the graphics. The mode 7 graphics give the game a 3D experience, and whilst it does look fantastic, it’s flat, very flat, as in nothing pops out and it looks weird, especially when you get closer to the ground. The level design is perfect for the game it needs to be. The music is quite nice, it’s calm and quite peaceful, something to ease the struggles of the simulation. The composer was Soyo Oka, though Koji Kondo was his superior, as he did the sound programming as well as the helicopter theme…AH! No wonder it was memorable!

Overall, Pilotwings is that game where you want to get better at it for bragging rights, but it never feels annoying to play. It’s fun as well as challenging and only gets better when you master it. For the gameplay, it’s great. Graphic-wise…not so much. But if you can get past that, you’ll enjoy it.

You can get Pilotwings on the SNES, Virtual Console via Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS.