Nintendo has decided not to continue the Pilotwings franchise into the modern console era, but Z-Software has developed Pilot Sports, and it is a true spiritual successor to Pilot Wings. Soaring peacefully above a lush tropical island, the player can complete arcade-style challenges in a variety of aircraft.
All the classic aircraft you would expect in a game like this are here: the biplane, the glider, skydiving with a parachute, the powerful and nimble jetpack, and the majestic but challenging glider. Each aircraft handles very differently, and they all feel unique and handle well. It’s a tossup for me which is my favorite, either the biplane with its variable thrust and responsive turns, or the jetpack where you have to balance forward and vertical thrust, all while keeping an eye on the fuel gauge. Speaking of keeping an eye on gauges, success with the tricky glider is truly dependent on watching your speed and altitude. And if you aren’t watching the altimeter while you’re skydiving…well, you know it won’t end well.
The biggest technical achievement Pilot Sports accomplishes is giving the player four very different feeling aircraft that control very simply. Besides the analog stick for direction, each craft has only one or two buttons for thrust or brake, or in the case of the parachute, dive, and ripcord. On the Switch version I was playing this allows the joycons to be split off, allowing for up to four player couch co-op play. Pilot Sports wisely splits the screen horizontally for two players, giving a very wide viewing angle. 4 player games will obviously have less viewing space per player, but I imagine this contributes to the hilarious chaos of four players racing together.
In multiplayer mode, each player chooses their pilot. I’m partial to the Tom Selleck Magnum PI lookalike myself, but there are 8 quirky characters to choose from. Next you fill up to 10 different slots with different levels. The levels are grouped in three different difficulty groups, and each level includes an aircraft type, and a challenge type. You could theoretically play 4 or 5 levels in a row all with the biplane, but each course and objective could be different. The game scores each player after each level, and so you can play a short one to three course tournament or a longer full ten level tournament. I really like that you can customize the length of each multiplayer session as well as picking the kind of aircraft and challenge everyone enjoys.
For single player mode, you still pick a pilot, but the level format is different. Levels are broken up into 5 level packages of increasing difficulty and are unlocked by accumulating gold medals in individual levels. Again, there is a variety of aircraft pairings with challenges, for a total of 50 different unique levels. You can play just one level, or jump in anywhere in the group of levels and the game will put level after level up for you until you reach the end of the package.
Being able to play just a single level is great when the Switch is on the go in tablet mode, but I prefer playing docked. The graceful soaring in Pilot Sports just seems more majestic on the big screen, and they have created a fun island to fly over. The island has lush jungle trees, hidden canyons and streams, sheer cliffs for the jet pack to soar up, and also features many cool landmarks like lighthouses and temple ruins. The courses are cleverly designed to show very different sides of the island, making every level seem fresh and different.
Pilot Sports is the simple but challenging soar and chill game you’ve been looking for if you have fond memories of the Pilot Wings games of yesterday. Even the younger members of my household who’d never played Pilotwings took a liking to the simple pleasure of soaring above the beautiful tropical island. Even when it gets tough braking around a corner to get to the next ring or trying to keep up your altitude until the next thermal updraft, Pilot Sports is a very chill calming experience, not stressful. All of the aircraft control differently from each other as you’d expect them to, making it a true joy to play. Throw in anytime anywhere 2 player thanks to the portable Switch, and up to four players with spare controllers, and you’ve got a flight that shouldn’t be missed.
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