IGN Review of Wing Island
Pilotwings. Ever since Nintendo unveiled the first crop of Wii games and showcased a flight simulator tailor made for the console's innovate remote, players have demanded a Pilotwings sequel. And why not? The classic franchise, which challenged aspiring pilots to fly a variety of craft over and through an assortment of valleys and peaks, seems poised for a next-generation sequel, and coupled with the added functionality of the Wii remote, it could really take off, or fly, or soar, or whatever pun suits you. The first imitator is Wing Island, co-published by Konami and Hudson. It seems to have the right formula. It utilizes the motion-sensory abilities of the Wii remote and it hurls gamers into situations and environments very similar to some of those from the Pilotwings franchise. But Wing Island rarely lives up to its potential and, when all is said and done, proves through a series of puzzling design choices that imitators are seldom as entertaining as the originators.
Wing Island feels and looks like a first-generation PlayStation 2 or GameCube title in both scope and presentation. A very basic and wholly unnecessary storyline provides the backbone for a series of individual flight missions that comprise the gameplay package. Players take on the role of the awkwardly employed Sparrow Wing Jr., a bird-man who, for some unfathomable reason, has chosen to shun his natural wings in favor of mechanical ones. That's like a trout who dons scuba-gear - it's freakish and disturbing; and frankly, we don't trust this bird-man. Sparrow inherits his grandfather's robust business, Wing Inc., and he must use an assortment of planes to pick up and drop cargo, discover and catch animals, unleash bombs, and more in order to keep the money rolling in. The presentation of the storyline is archaic, to be blunt. Hand-drawn stills fade in and out in sequence as indecipherable Banjo-Kazooie-style voice garble subs for real voice work of any kind. Disappointingly, these characters lack the charm of Rare's platformer icons.
The Wii remote seems ideally suited for a flight game because, theoretically, one could simply turn the controller on its side and twist to and fro to effect the steering of the planes. Alternatively, players might hold the Wii remote vertically like a flight stick and perform secondary functions with the nunchuk's analog stick. But for some strange and deeply unfortunate reason, Wing Island ignores both of these potential configurations in favor of one that feels far less intuitive. To fly the planes, players must hold the Wii remote horizontally, its tip pointing toward the television screen. To turn left or right, gamers rotate the controller in the appropriate direction, as they would a key in a door lock. To fly up, one must pull backward on the controller and, worst of all, to dive, the Wii remote must be titled downward. The setup has us scratching our heads because it seems to particularly stupid, especially given all the options. The result is a genuine missed opportunity. Instead of fun, simple controls, gamers are left with a standard which feels inappropriate and ill-researched.
Players who can look past the puzzling control layout will find that the sensitivity is overall still highly responsive and that the planes remain completely flyable. In fact, missions that revolve around a single airplane, as opposed to several in formation, are oftentimes enjoyable, if shallow. Players soar over very plain, uninspired terrains - both low in polygonal structure and textural clarity - which reinforces the previous generation production values of the entire affair. However, the game does run smoothly and supports both 480p and 16:9 display modes. Meanwhile, some of the missions are fun, even if they're oblivious to graphic beauty. Dropping bombs on rocks in order to create a pathway for a boatman, or dragging lumber from point A to point B on a map weigh on the simple side, and yet these challenges remain entertaining. The problem is that after an hour or two, the repetition becomes apparent.
The game's biggest flaw, though, is that the formation flying is not nearly as fun as the single plane-based missions, and yet it is forced upon aspiring pilots every other mission. The clumsy controls definitely don't help the experience, either. Gamers can break from a V formation into a single line by holding the A button and gesturing with the Wii remote. That said, sometimes the game mixes up gestures and accidentally executes an unintended formation. The process of performing a quick 180 turn is similar to some formation gestures, too, and undiscerning players will inevitably mix the two up. On a side note, the developer has chosen to map some craft functions like speed boosts and decreases to forward stabbing and backward pulling motions respectively; these actually work about half as many times as players try them.
Wing Island features a two-player multiplayer mode where gamers can use two Wii remotes or, oddly enough, a single Wii remote and nunchuk to compete against each other. There are balloon popping competitions and other challenges, but these areas share the same inadequacies as the single-player experience and are made even less interesting when playing with a single Wii-mote and nunchuk - an undertaking we don't recommend.
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