Nintendo has two kinds of franchises; the ones that get used a couple times a year to maximize sales, and the ones that see such little time in the spotlight that you have to stop and wonder if they'll ever be seen again. Pilotwings is, without a doubt, one of the most underutilized of all. Prior to its unlikely appearance as Nintendo's front-and-center offering on the 3DS launch, it had only appeared twice before, both times in that decade that begins with a "9". Thus, Pilotwings Resort is a long overdue release in 2011, and its place at the forefront of the 3DS launch is a nice treat for players won over by the first two games in the series.
What's it about?
Pilotwings Resort is an extremely straightforward arcade flight game where the object is to simply take control of various light aircraft, be it real or fictional, carry out a series of objectives, and land with as much poise and accuracy as possible. Once you're done, you're given both a score and a rating based on your performance (usually emphasizing how quickly you performed your given task and how softly and accurately you landed), and you move on to another challenge. Your rides in the beginning include a hand glider, a miniplane, and a rocket belt. Other aircraft are unlocked as the game plays out, but they really amount to little more than alternate versions of these first three.
The game takes place on Wuhu Island this time around, which made its debut in Wii Sports Resort, putting the name "Pilotwings Resort" into context. Apart from providing a nice new relaxing setting for what was already a very relaxing game, Wuhu Island is also the perfect place to take Pilotwings for the sake of showing off the visual prowess of the 3DS. Despite being a rather cartoony setting populated by Miis (including your own character this time around), Wuhu Island makes for some very nice eye-candy courtesy of the handheld's stereoscopic 3D visuals.
In addition to the Mission mode, there's also a Free Flight mode, where you explore Wuhu Island more closely in search of various items and extras that become available as you progress through your missions. It does a good job of adding more lasting value to an inherently-short game, though it doesn't do anything so strong as to double down on Mission mode's length. It's a nice departure from the sometimes overly-structured nature of the main game, and gives you a good opportunity to check out Wuhu Island as a whole.
Why should I care?
Every system launch features its designated flagship game intended to push hardware sales and show the system off in the simplest way possible, and Pilotwings Resort is Nintendo's such offering for the 3DS. In many ways, it's a typical first-party launch title reminiscent of Luigi's Mansion and Wii Sports. There's only so much content you can cram onto Wuhu Island, yet Pilotwings Resort is still a thoroughly enjoyable game that also effectively demonstrates the features of your shiny new 3DS quite nicely.
It has played a similar role in the past. In fact, it might very well be the only franchise with multiple installments to appear exclusively as a launch title – not even Ridge Racer can make that claim. It seems as though every time Nintendo makes a deeper step into the third dimension, Pilotwings is there for the ride. It began in 1991 with the Super NES, helping Nintendo debut their then-groundbreaking Mode 7 engine that enabled them to construct 3D environments entirely out of 2D sprites. The second game, Pilotwings 64, has a reputation as having been "the other launch game" on the Nintendo 64, as it was the only game to accompany Super Mario 64 onto store shelves as Nintendo brought forth their first true 3D game console. Knowing that puts a greater significance on Pilotwings Resort and the 3DS as a whole, being the next big step into 3D for Nintendo since 1996.
Getting back to the game itself, the basic truth is that if you've experienced Pilotwings or Pilotwings 64, you probably aren't on the fence one way or the other about whether or not to pick up Pilotwings Resort. You either love it or you don't. Resort does nothing to change the formula of the first two games, and its selection as part of the 3DS launch lineup is clearly because the wide open environment lends itself very well to the 3DS and Nintendo's efforts to drive home the fact that the system really does offer glasses-free 3D visuals. Those who haven't experienced Pilotwings in any form yet probably should, even if just as a rental, as it offers a uniquely fun and relaxing brand of gaming rarely presented in this age of frantic shooters and action titles.
What makes it worth my time and money?
If you aren't a big Pilotwings fan or the type of gamer to pick up whatever might be the front-running title at any system launch, the $39.99 price tag can be a bit of a tough sell for what you get. There's some replay value in there, as getting a "perfect" score on any mission will unlock the ability to get even higher scores on that mission, allowing for the time-honored "I can still do better" dynamic. However, Nintendo missed a couple of big opportunities by leaving out any kind of multiplayer mode and not even using the StreetPass to allow for constantly-merging leaderboards. Instead, you are your only true competition in the quest for the highest possible score. All the same, Pilotwings Resort is at least a solid game, as well as a fun example of what the 3DS can do, and deserves at least a rental to try and hook you into coming back for more.