The Definitive 50 SNES Games: #35 Pilotwings

Coming in at 35th place on list of Definitive 50 SNES games is that Nintendo developed flight sim from 1991, Pilotwings.

This is a single-player affair broken up into a series of eight training lessons, with a couple of secret command missions thrown in as well. Each lesson consists of several short flight-based tasks which may be tackled in any order. The player progresses by earning enough points during a training lesson to be awarded a license. Each license comes with a “license number” which doubles as a password, allowing the player to resume his or her progress in the game.

This title features a surprising variety of gameplay, requiring the player to hop between modes like controlling a skydiver, piloting a plane, navigating a hang-glider, and managing a rocketbelt. Each task generally consists of getting the controlled character or vehicle to a specific landing spot, and trying to meet objectives such as steady flight and the interception of green orbs along the way.

As this is a flight simulator, the controls are delicate. Gamers accustomed to the wild world of Nintendo’s other titles may be in for a surprise to find Pilotwings‘ controls are rather stiff, not to mention unforgiving. Precision is key here.

There is no doubt that Pilotwings was developed in large part to demonstrate the Super Nintendo’s impressive Mode-7 sprite rotation technology. The game relies on the system’s ability to make large sprites appear as terrain to be navigated. While this may have wowed gamers in ’91, it comes off as less interesting to those familiar with the SNES’s later accomplishments. Pilotwings‘ gameplay fairs better, however, as it’s challenge and variety still shine.

Among Nintendo’s mega-franchises, Pilotwings is often forgotten. It may not be as dramatic as Zelda or as colourful as Mario, but there should be no doubt that Pilotwings for Super NES kicked off a great series.

Check back next week for entry 34 on the Definitive 50 SNES games.