Nintendo’s Pilotwings franchise has been around for quite some time—since the SNES era, to be exact. It’s fairly well-known by Nintendo fans, but it’s never really been one of the company’s biggest interests. Pilotwings Resort was the last time the IP took to the skies, and that was all the way back in 2011 as a 3DS launch title. There’s no telling if a new one will make its way to the Switch. Thus, indie studio Z-Software GmbH has taken this as an opportunity to create their own rendition of the concept—Pilot Sports. From the name right down to the gameplay, it’s clear to see that Z-Software has no shame about trying to fill the void in Nintendo’s absence. Unfortunately, Pilot Sports falls short of achieving this goal.
Pilot Sports‘ setup is exactly the same as Pilotwings. You select a pilot and then take to the skies across 50 activities, all of which are grouped together in sets of 10 across five level packs. These activities consist of using four aircraft, specifically, a single-engine prop, hang glider, jetpack, and parachute. With these aircraft, your goal is to complete various tasks, such as passing through ring-shaped gates, collecting packages, and also collecting gems to rack up points. All of the levels are time-based, so your score at the end will be determined by how quickly you can complete the set task. Your performance at the end of the level will then be graded, resulting in you being awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal depending on how you do. To unlock all five level packs, you must obtain a certain number of gold medals. Thus, you should always try and go for gold in every activity; otherwise, you’ll make no progress.
The first and second level packs, as well as the first five activities in the third level pack, are relatively easy. However, the remaining 25 activities across the second half of the third level pack and the fourth and fifth level packs are absolutely mad. The difficulty curve ends up being more like a difficulty mountain due to the fact that all of the aforementioned aircraft get an upgrade. They’re a lot faster, and a lot more challenging to control as a result. Add that to the more complex level design, and you have yourself quite an infuriating combination.
Often times, it feels like Pilot Sports demands nothing short of perfection in order to achieve the gold medal, especially in the later levels. I think the biggest obstacle is actually not the level design, but really the controls. The plane especially feels very hard to control, acting more like a flying wild stallion. Somehow, it’s slippery yet stiff at the same time. Considering that just about every level its featured in consists of making tight turns, this quickly became my least favorite aircraft in the game, even more so after flying the upgraded version. The hang glider is easier to fly due to it being the slowest aircraft of all, but it also has its quirks, especially the upgraded version. You need to use the air currents generated by huge fans in order to keep the hang glider in the air. Pitching upward too much will create drag, thus causing the glider to plummet. Pitching down increases speed, thus leading to more distance, but decreases altitude. Thus, it becomes a balance of trying to maintain speed and altitude. Achieving this balance is a lot harder with the upgraded glider, due to it being a lot faster but also harder to keep airborne due to its much-reduced lift.
The jetpack is an all-around machine, with its only real quirk being that it relies on limited fuel. So, you need to complete your task without running out of fuel. There are fuel pads scattered throughout the level, but using them takes away precious seconds. The upgraded jetpack boosts more and thus consumes even more fuel. The parachute is the only aircraft that stays the same throughout the game. Almost all of the activities involving it (minus the later levels) are easy, and getting gold with it is pretty much guaranteed.
Again, all of this emulates Pilotwings to the T, but the execution is what really sets the two games apart. The control in Nintendo’s original feel far more fluid and intuitive, and the level design feels a lot fairer. By comparison, Pilot Sports feels janky and the later levels seem almost absurdly difficult. This is still a game targeted at a general audience after all, yet I can see most casual players quitting (unless they’re really into it).
Even more so than the gameplay, Pilot Sports‘ presentation is also a letdown. The game looks like an average Wii title (if not worse), yet it runs rather poorly. Some levels maintain the 60 fps target, but most of the time the framerate is between 20 and 30 fps. Considering how basic the visuals are, as well as the cartoony art style, it’s surprising that the framerate is so low. But this is likely due to poor optimization on the developer’s part, as the Switch can definitely do far better. The only saving grace of the presentation is the soundtrack. There are a handful of tropical-themed songs that all sound pretty nice. They even seem to use real instruments. However, they do sound more like what you’d hear in a travel commercial rather than a game, thus losing the charm of Pilotwings‘ soundtrack.
Pilot Sports just comes off as a poor man’s attempt at trying to recreate Pilotwings. It simply does not have the same level of polish. Thus, the old saying, “An original is better than a copy,” definitely applies here. If anything, playing this made me want Nintendo to release a new authentic Pilotwings even more than before. But in the meantime, you’re much better off looking at past entries in that franchise rather than playing this. If you absolutely must get a Pilotwings-esque fix on Switch, then I’d certainly consider waiting to see if Pilot Sports gets a price reduction to under $10, because its current $34.99 price tag is simply not justifiable.
A review code was provided by the publisher.