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Pilotwings 64 – Nintendo 64

Pilotwings 64 – Nintendo 64

961-1Platform: Nintendo 64

Developer: Nintendo/Paradigm Simulation

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date (NA): September 29, 1996

Genre: Flight Simulation

Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed by Flagostomos

The Nintendo 64 launched with a weird lineup of games – only Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Following up on the success of the original Pilotwings for the Super Nintendo, the Pilotwings adventure into new console territory tried to take everything we loved about the original and make it even better. In some ways, Pilotwings 64 did greatly improve upon the original, but somewhere in the mix it lost the charm that made many gamers, like myself, fall in love with the first.

The gameplay is very similar in style to the original for the SNES. You begin by completing the beginner set of flight challenges, culminating in Pilot Class, where all your skills are put to the test. The main three types of flight make a comeback from the original – Rocket Belt, Hang Gliding, and the Light Plane being replaced by the Gyrocopter. Each is broken down as follows:

Rocket Belt – The rocket belt is probably my most favorite vehicle to fly. You use the A or B button for thrust, Z to hover, and the control stick to move. Your objectives usually involve hitting balls or flying through rings and then having to land your character perfectly in a decent amount of time. The challenges start off simple but become vastly more complex as the game progresses.

Hang Gliding – Hang gliding is actually a lot of fun once you get the hang of it (ha! get it?), but beginners will be frustrated by an aircraft that doesn’t control like they would expect. Hang gliding uses air currents for lift, so when you begin to descend, you can’t just pull back on the control stick and expect that you will gain height. It’s all about using slight movements and the air currents to complete the objectives. Objectives usually consist of flying through rings and landing, but sometimes include taking pictures of various items, or even ascending to maximum height.

Gyrocopter – The gyrocopter is an unfortunate vehicle. It takes everything I loved about the light plane courses from the original and screws them up. Your mission objectives usually have to do with flying through rings, and that’s about as fun as it sounds. Think Superman 64, and I personally believe the gyrocopter is worse. It’s not more difficult, but it’s more tedious, and there’s really less room for error. If you so much as miss a ring, you either have to sacrifice your score for that course or go through the painstaking maneuvering of getting turned around and grabbing it again. But guess what? You will waste so much fuel to turn around, your score will drop worse than it would have had you just decided to skip it. There are some levels thrown in where you must blow up targets, and even a fight against a giant robot (with a surprisingly cool easter egg in that level), but the missile targeting is horrible. They tried to combine the helicopter and light plane from the first game and came out with a mechanic that didn’t work well for either situation.

There are also extra bonus games that you can unlock, but they are merely a distraction from the main game. There’s Birdman, where you get to fly around like a bird (which is surprisingly relaxing), a circus act where you shoot out of a cannon and try to hit the center of the target; skydiving makes a return, albeit nowhere near as fun as the first game, and jungle hopping, which is more tedious than fun.

You get the feeling the entire game of “Man, I wish these things existed in real life!” So that’s kinda cool.

pilotwings 64 title screen

Story? N/A – It’s Pilotwings but without even the incentive of having to rescue your instructors when they are captured. It’s basically a cartoony, dumbed-down version of trying to get your pilot’s wings.

The controls range from “doing the job well” to “horrible” sometimes even within the scope of the same mission. It’s hard for me to explain without actually showing you.

For example, the rocket belt actually controls very nicely. You can use the Z button to hover and get your bearings, if necessary. But there’s this one mission where you have to fly and land on a string of platforms, and the controls become almost unplayable. The landing is so stupid, and the amount that you can overshoot a platform with even the smaller burst of energy is ridiculous.

The hang glider suffers the same fate. Some missions you have no problems at all controlling the character, but the first mission that all this goes down the drain is when you essentially suicide dive into a long line of rings. Obviously, the mission was designed to be hard, but this is just almost unplayable.

And as I already mentioned, the gyrocopter is bulky and slow, and not very much fun to fly at all. The cannon side game is almost blind, and the jungle hopper doesn’t make sense in that sometimes you land okay and sometimes you don’t.

The graphics are about as okay as you can expect from a launch N64 title. The textures are really polygonal though, and this is especially the case when you use the fatter characters. When you get in game, the terrain looks almost like a sharper version of the SNES counterpart, leaving you to wonder why they didn’t work harder on the graphics. I mean it’s Pilotwings. Half the draw is the game “feel” and having a beautifully rendered environment to work in greatly adds to said feel.

The audio is fine. The music for the missions fit what you are doing, especially the hang gliding music. It’s very calm and soothing, and you will find yourself whistling the little beebop that plays in the background. The gyrocopter music is very upbeat and gives you the feeling like you’re going to fly a military mission. Other than that, there’s not much to say. The sound effects are okay I guess, but the shrill scream of the six different characters is very off putting.

There’s a lot of room to play this game through and through. Each set of missions can be passed with a low score, however, dedicated players will want to try and 100 percent every category of flight. And being that the challenges get very, very difficult towards the end, this is no small feat to accomplish. There’s plenty to do in Pilotwings 64, the question is, will you want to?

Pilotwings 64 is like many games from my childhood. It holds a spot in my heart because of the nostalgia factor of playing it as a kid with my Dad and Brother. But from a completely objective look, Pilotwings 64 is at best a half-witted attempt at making a decent sequel to what is a great game, Pilotwings on SNES.

Written by Nerd Bacon

Nerd Bacon


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  1. I was 10 years old when the N64 came out. The 3D graphics of this game and Super Mario 64 alone had me in awe! I remember renting this one from the local video store (we didn’t have a Blockbuster’s for quite some time). Helluva good time back then but I probably haven’t played it since 1997!

  2. Wow I barely remember seeing this game on the shelf at the local blockbuster, I can’t believe I never tried it…
    Good review FS

    • Flagostomos says:

      Thanks bro! If you had a 64 at launch you were pretty much forced to play this or SM64.. Though my Dad was a big fan of pilotwings and we played it anyways.


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