Note - Due to vision issues, I won’t be able to review the 3D capabilities of any 3DS games.
With the exception of some flight mini-games in Wii Sports Resort, the Pilotwings series has been dormant for 14 years. Those mini-games gave fans of the SNES-originated series hope that a full entry would be released, and apparently, they were good enough to convince Nintendo because the series is back. As with the original and N64 follow-up, Pilotwings delivers a satisfying experience at launch. In fact, it’s the main reason I bought the system.
Series vets will find its array of flight-based challenges familiar and appreciate an auto-save feature being available after completing each one, while newcomers will have a bit of a learning curve to get over. The Pilotwings series is known for being difficult, and its many flight-based tests with rocket belts, planes, hang gliders, and even a wacky parachute suit will test your mettle. Things start off simply with getting from point A to B, but things quickly ratchet up as you’ll not only have to do that, but also pass through rings, hit balloons for points, and/or have to shoot targets at the same time.
One thing that surprised me about Resort is just well the series’ “one challenge at a time” structure works for portable play. If you’re in a rush, you can just do one, or if you’ve got more time to spare, you can do several. Being able to progress without having to perfect everything is nice as well. You need to get a certain amount of stars between all the missions on a given set of missions (between zero for just completing it, and three for doing exceptionally well) that way, if you’re really good at one thing, like the rocket belt, you can ace those sections and that’ll give you some leeway on the other ones that you aren’t as good at.
This system is pretty forgiving, but doesn’t make the game easy - you will eventually have to become at least decent at everything to make serious progress. I think it’s a good thing they made things easier though, because before, it was very easy to get frustrated. Now, you’ll still get frustrated, but it doesn’t last nearly as long since you can retry an event as many times as you need. If you truly can’t get the hang of something, like myself with hang glider stages even dating back to the SNES original, you can do a timed free flight and just roam around the island to get used to things without anything on the line beyond finding locations at your own pace. It’s a nice tutorial mode of sorts that also allows you to just take a break after a marathon play session if you so desire.
Pilotwings Resort’s controls are usually pretty spot-on, which is absolutely critical in a game like this where precision is key. The analog pad works wonderfully here to control every craft you’re in with precision. As a whole, the button mapping is largely good, but having shooting mapped to Y is awkward when A accelerates and you won‘t be using B to brake very often in the plane. Aside from that, the controls are solid, but a customization option would’ve helped immensely.
Visually, Pilotwings Resort is a bit of a departure for the series because instead of having its own unique look, everything falls in line with the Wii Sports-style for everything. You use your Mii to play (until you unlock older characters) and that standardized look isn’t for everyone. I think it’s a tad clinical for my liking, but still doesn‘t prevent this from being the best-looking game in the series on a technical level. It’s a fine showcase for just how much better-looking 3DS games can be than regular DS ones. Your Mii looks very crisp - not quite on par with the Wii incarnations, but still good, and the whole game looks like a slightly scaled-down version of the Wii Sports Resort mini-games on the Wii. The colors are very vibrant, textures look pretty solid, and the environments look vast without lacking detail when it counts. The draw distance is also impressive, and unlike the N64 incarnation, you won’t have to worry about trying to beat stages while also combating massive amounts of fog.
Resort’s soundtrack is full of light, cheery music that usually at least okay, but does sometimes wander into the type of stuff you’d hear in a waiting room or elevator. It’s not the worst music, but it’s also a step down compared to the series’ catchier SNES music. The sound effects are also a mixed bag. Some are great - for example, the thrusters for the rocket belt sound exactly as they should, with appropriate changes depending on if you’re using the high or low-speed boost and slamming into the mountainside has some force to it…as long as you don’t fly out of the vehicle - then you get some wacky spring sound effect that just takes you out of the moment and is a far cry from the big thud in the SNES original when you hit the ground.
Pilotwings Resort is a challenging game that is a little rough around the edges in some ways and the audio is a big overall step down from past games. However, the overall experience is a must for anyone who enjoyed prior games in the series, or even the Wii Sports Resort flight mini-games. Newcomers should probably rent it first to see if they like it, but everyone else will certainly get $40 worth of fun out of it.