When the Nintendo 64 launched in England back on 1st March, 1997, there were only three games available.
That’ll seem weird now, but when Super Mario 64 was one of them there was nothing at all to complain about. A system seller right there in one landmark title.
But one of the other games was this strange flying thing. Sure, Pilotwings on the SNES was an enjoyed an obscure time of it. But the N64 outing always felt like an oddity, even though it went on to earn its cult classic status.
A Tribute to Pilotwings 64
Now, you have to understand this thing looked pretty incredible at back in 1997.
But despite its appearance, no one was really talking about Pilotwings 64 at the console’s launch. It was all about Super Mario 64, the revolutionary title that stunned the gaming community.
As such, this innovative effort from Paradigm Simulation, Nintendo EAD, and Nintendo R&D3 didn’t receive a huge amount of attention.
Of course, it launched in Japan first back in June 1996. The collaboration between Nintendo and the (now defunct) American developer produced an unexpectedly relaxing experience.
It’s a 3D flight simulator, the successor to the 1990 SNES title.
Right there you can see the technological advance over half a decade. Makoto Wada directed the N64 game, with industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto producing.
The idea was to go for a realistic and physics-based title to show off the N64’s graphical capabilities.
In terms of gameplay, the idea is to complete missions in a gyrocopter, hang glider, skydiving, rocket pack, or human cannonball mode.
You have to complete objectives to a certain standard to win medals – if you get gold that’s the very best flying, sir or madam, and new stages are opened up.
At the time, the N64’s analog controller opened the game up away from traditional d-pads. There felt like a greater sense of realism, as if you were really flying the things.
Although the hang gliding stages were always bloody tricky.
For us, it felt more like luck whenever we completed one of the things. Especially this one, Chicken Dive, which scared us rigid.
Skydiving was good fun as well, having to perform formation moves above cloud cover with fellow characters.
Through the clouds you then plunge before beginning the rush down to the landing pad.
At this point, you could floor it head first and be heading for one of the worst head injuries of all time… then slam on the parachute and get a perfect 100% landing score.
Whoever said video games are unrealistic?
Whilst there are the more riveting, edge of your seat moments such as that, on the whole Pilotwings 64 provides a relaxing experience.
Although there are only several maps to explore, they’re still (for 1996 standards) beautifully rendered.
Gliding along to a sunset in the background, listening to jazzy music, to this day you can get a sense of calm from that. Which is quite a feat for an N64 launch title, as overshadowed as it was by the mighty Super Mario 64.
For the series, it did receive a 3DS port of Pilotwings 64. But since then Nintendo has let this one be and it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever get another one. There’s just not the demand for it.
When playing the original Pilotwings, I eventually mastered the controls to the point where I would purposely crash the planes and see if I could still get certification. Funnily enough, it is indeed possible. The academy doesn’t care about how well you can fly planes as long as you prove good enough at jumping into a pool wearing a penguin suit or hopping around with artificial wings attached to your arms. It really highlights how desperate the academy gets, though – they’re going to send someone who has crashed four planes on a dangerous mission that involves piloting a helicopter and shooting down anti-aircraft guns. It’s also pretty funny how unsympathetic the instructors are when you mess up, saying things like “It was pretty tough, wasn’t it?” after getting in a serious accident.
Pilotwings 64 is an improvement over the original in most of the ways that matter, though I kind of feel both come across as elaborate tech demos for their respective consoles.
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I never played t’ SNES ‘un. But I did love, and still do, the N64 ‘un.
You sound like a expert on the former. Maybe demonstrate your skills with a YouTube video? All the rage these days. Innit.
But yeah, I see what you mean. They do feel like showboating, which is maybe why the series has now effectively ended.
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