8-Bit Dreams: Pilotwings 64

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8-Bit Dreams is a semi-regular feature here on Faux, where we take a look back at the undisputed legends of gaming; the console classics that shaped the platforms we know and love today. This time we turn our attentions on undisputed aeronautical classic, Pilotwings 64.

Created as a franchise by Nintendo and a simulations company called Paradigm, there have been two Pilotwings games to date with a third just announced. Intitially published on the Super Nintendo system back in 1990, the second landed in 1996 and was one of the first 3 games on the Nintendo 64 system. A lasting classic, the third is due for release on the Wii system later this year. Both the original and the 64 version we’re looking at were developed to push the system’s limits and show off their graphics. The SNES version was the first game on the console to produce a old school version of 3D, mimicking 3D graphics by rotation and scaling of flat objects (I’m such a geek). Pushing the consoles graphics and new engine to the limits, the 64 release marked the arrival of one of the most graphically appealing games outside of the arcade at the time.

Half simulation, half arcade, Pilotwings 64 was a mix of high score-led action, target based platforming and experience based simulation. It was the perfect way to take the realistic sim genre and inject some bloody life into the poor thing. I never got the appeal of Microsoft’s anally realistic commercial flight simulators or it’s statistic and management based football programs, but throw in some quirky characters, some balloon based challenges and a somewhat kitsch series of photography based challenges and watch me melt onto my sofa.

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The game has four islands for you to navigate each with their own unique sets of challenges, each of which are are fantastically detailed and utterly complete in conception. Each landscape offers hives of activity; intricate details like sail and speed boats coasting across the ocean and groups of hang gliders circling mountain peaks. Each section feels unique and Paradigms previous experience in detailed army and flight sims shows through in both the graphical presentation on each location and the liberating feel of flight.

Whilst it’s both detailed and engaging,  what differentiates Pilotwings 64 from the aforementioned snore-fests that are the Microsoft flight simulators? Mostly a variety of irreverent characters that range from the all-American Goose to an overweight kid and a stunningly annoying army corporal.

Kooky characters are backed up with some equally off the wall flying machines. You dont get lumped with your average plane, no no. Standard machines includes a Handglider, Gyrocopter and Rocketbelt, and after completing challenges you can unlock the bonus Birdman wings.

Pilotwings 64 is a great piece of work and its worth having to put up with the lumpen, star-wing influenced Nintendo 64 pad to play one of the most satisfying games ever. The game is rammed full of charm and wit and also packs in plenty of little easter eggs; secret passages through mountains, Mario heads on Mount Rushmore and tons of neat little moments that will suck you into the world of Pilotwings.

Sometimes nostalgia can be deceptive though, looking back I noticed something brutally irritating that I didn’t notice when I first played the game; the mini music loop on the title screen is about 10 seconds long and doesn’t loop seamlessly, it sounds like a record skipping every 10 seconds… Lazy bastards.