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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pilotwings 64 Review (N64)


Game: Pilotwings 64
Developer: Nintendo / Paradigm Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: September 29, 1996
Genre: Flight Simulation
System: Nintendo 64

With 3D console gaming in its infancy in the mid 90s, an already-busy Nintendo needed help developing a follow-up to their 1991 success, Pilotwings. They enlisted the help of a now-defunct military simulation developer, Paradigm Simulation, to help with the graphical aspect of the game. Paradigm had no prior experience in video games, but Nintendo entrusted them to deliver a product consistent with Nintendo's high quality standard. Shigeru Miyamoto was also part of the development of Pilotwings 64. Miyamoto and company were busy readying the world for the launch of the N64 with this title as well as Super Mario 64 that he could not commit full time to the Pilotwings project. Pilotwings 64 seemed to have all the makings of a great game. A bit of technical know-how by a seasoned flight simulator developer, as well as Miyamoto's Midas touch. How did the game turn out?

There are 6 different types of "vehicles" in which you compete in different objectives to get the highest score. These vechicles are the Gyrocopter, a cross between a small plane and a helicopter. It doesn't have the ability of stationary flight like a helicopter, but it can reach pretty low speeds for better cornering. The Rocketbelt, which now has a stabilizer thruster (a feature not present in the first Pilotwings) which makes for easier maneuverability. Hang Glider and Skydiving, which are self-explanatory. The Cannonball is another new edition in which your character is a human cannonball which must be fired at targets. Finally there is the Jumblehopper. The Jumblehoppers are bionic boots, if you will, in which you can jump high and long distances. There is a 7th bonus "vehicle"is the Birdman. Your character can fly like a bird around the map freely to explore and to find hidden secrets.


One major difference besides the obvious is that instead of the flight instructors being the characters, you are now the character. You can choose from 6 different characters. Three male and three females. Each gender has a different weight class and each character is named after a species of bird. Lightweights are Lark and Kiwi. Lark is a kid who resembles Nester of Nintendo Power fame. Kiwi is a female version of Lark. These two are ideal for quick maneuvering and getting in and out of tight places. The Rocket Belt and the Hang glider would be ideal. The middleweights are Goose (Top Gun reference?) and Ibis. Goose looks like the stereotypical American while Ibis is a cool, mysterious woman. They are best suited for the Lastly there is Hawk and Robin. Hawk is a heavy-set man with a mustache and Robin is a large-breasted woman with large thighs. They make up the heavyweights. It's too bad Nintendo of America changed Robin's original snicker-inducing name of "Hooter"


For best results, it is good to get a feel for each weight class and see who is most compatible with
For example, lightweights are great for maneuvering the Gyrocopter and hang glider while they would be ill-fitted for the human cannon due to their venerability to the wind and their lightweight does not take them very far. The middleweights are best for the skydiving and and rocket-belt, but not good for Jumblehopper. The heavyweights are best for the cannonball and worst for skydiving. Mix and match the weight classes to the different events and you'll be sure to maximize your score. There are three different medals awarded: bronze, silver, and gold. Do your best to earn gold across the board. There are 4 different classes, ranging form Beginner's to Pilot class. Work your way through the ranks and earn the highest score of each class to complete the game.You can unlock the Birdman levels if you earn at least all silver in the beginner's class.

In addition to objectives that previously existed in the first Piltowings game such as fly through rings, land on targets, etc there are fun, new ones such as fire missiles onto fixed targets and destroy giant mechs. There are odd ones as well, like take a picture of an oil rig natural gas burn-off flame and return to base. Each objective presents a great challenge. I feel the Jumblehopper is a bit out-of-place in this game, but it is still fun nonetheless.

There are four different islands which the events take place. The most notable island is Little States. Little States Island is a small scale version of the United States. It features major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago as well as national landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty. This is one of the first console games that I played which had such a grand scale and I spent a lot of time exploring the Little States. Exploration pays off as you will well-hidden goodies on each map.


One thing I thought was cool and funny, especially the first time I played, was the Gyrocopter's ability to fire missiles. Here you are flying around an island resort and you're attacking people on yachts with impunity. I always thought it seemed odd on the missions that didn't require missiles. It made the game more fun and a little silly.


Like the first Pilotwings game, this game really gives you a great sense of flight even though they were limited to their console's capabilities. This was something relatively new to console gaming in the 90s and even though Pilotwings 64 was released 6 years after its predecessor, we were not yet spoiled by the countless Mode 7 games that came in previous years. It was still new to us and it gave us gamers a glimpse of what to expect of the new generation of gaming. Not only does the game give a great sense of flight and speed, but a great feeling of freedom. No amount of technology can give you that, it's something that comes from the ingenuity of its creators.

After spending more hours than I care to admit with Pilotwings 64 back in 1996, I awaited eagerly for another Pilotwings game. With the release of the Game Cube, I was almost sure I'd get it. That never came. By the time the Wii was released I had given up all hope of another Pilotwings game. When I heard of another Pilotwings games in development, I was ecstatic. To later hear it was for a new portable from Nintendo, I was a little disappointed because I don't think the great sense of flight and freedom can be felt on a small screen. I hope I am very wrong about that as other portable games were able to completely take me in. This remains to be seen at the end of March. Expect a Pilotwings Resort review soon.



Great 3D environments (for 1996) with a great sense of scale and speed. It really feels you are there flying with your character. There are also unintended comic relief moments (when the player screams in pain). Lots of various events present a great challenge and great re-playability.


The game is not as lengthy as I would like. Perhaps a few more unlockables or secret levels would do the trick. While fun, some 'events' seemed out of place in a Pilotwings game (read: Jumblehopper).

The Verdict: Better than the original. Easily a 9/10 for a game that was released in 1996.

A great game which was used to show off the N64's abilities in the same way the original Pilotwings showed off the SNES's abilities. If you own an N64 I highly recommend this game if you're into the genre. Even if you aren't, give it a shot. It's not one of those flight simulators that takes itself too seriously. It's pure fun a way that only Nintendo of the 90s could deliver. As any sequel should be, this game greatly evolved the series. I hope the third installment of Pilotwings due out this March lives up to the prestige of the first two.


No backups, pirates, or emus, my copy:



  1. hashiriya1, For as long as I can remember, I have loved technology. I grew up with Game Boy, NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), and SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), and still love playing video games to this day. When I was seven or eight years old, my family purchased its first computer (a state-of-the-art 256!). Mom and Dad actually bought the computer to do work, but I used it to play games and learn MS-DOS commands.

    As I got older, my passion for technology grew. The world wide web was still in its infancy, but my high school that was forward-looking enough to offer a course called “internet basics”. In college, I started building computers as a hobby. I would buy random parts in stores, online -- basically anywhere I could find them -- and then spend hours putting PC’s together.

    I've built some really awesome rigs over the years. Mind you, building a computer is not like buying a pre-made one -- you have to install all the software yourself. If something goes wrong, you don't call tech support ... you are tech support. Formatting hard drives, configuring operating systems, drivers, and other software programs are all part of a rather tedious process.

    Exciting times are ahead of us.

  2. This iss the best pilot wing game, very expansive level and the mock up united states is very cool