There’s bound to be turbulence despite the clear skies.
Pilotwings has been a long standing, albeit lesser represented, Nintendo franchise and with no entries in the series since 2011, fans looking to take flight have been left high and dry. Fortunately, Nintendo flight enthusiasts now have an alternative in the form of Ultrawings, the 2017 PSVR flight simulator. Of course, this version doesn’t feature the most enticing element of the Playstation release, but it still offers beautiful island views as you complete a plethora of aerial challenges. Unfortunately, a number of design decisions and some strange framerate issues that crop up prevent it from being something more than just okay.
When first getting into Ultrawings, you’ll have access to the Ultralight, the first of four unlockable aircrafts. This is the easiest to learn and acts as a nice way to introduce players to how the controls work. You’ll need to go through a license test, which is a series of missions that’s required for each new plane you obtain, and this test teaches the basics of taking off, manueaving, and landing. Controls are fairly straightforward, but mastering the precision for each plane is where the challenge comes in. Once completed, a series of different jobs unlocks for you to tackle. Depending on performance, players will be awarded a bronze, silver, or gold medal alongside a cash payout. Stockpiling money is important as it will be used not only to purchase new aircrafts, but offices on different islands. These offices grant access to a whole slew of new jobs which will have you exploring all the nooks and crannies of the newly-acquired island.
Jobs are the focal point of the gameplay. There is a free flight mode which allows free exploration around the game world, but more often than not you’ll be diving into the different challenges trying to earn gold. With eight different job types, each with multiple missions per island, there is plenty to see and do. The objectives of each job are distinct from one another and play considerably different depending on which aircraft you’re piloting, helping to keep gameplay fresh. Pop jobs entail firing bullets at balloons scattered around the island, but how these play out changes drastically depending on the plane. The Ultralight requires you to pick up a pistol from your dash and manually aim while still controlling the aircraft, while the Glidester, Blade, and Gee Racer have a machine gun attached to the bottom of the aircraft.
Camera jobs require you to photograph certain island landmarks, and while in the Ultralight you’ll once again be manually pointing a tablet at the desired location instead of positioning your plane above it. While most jobs end up being pretty self explanatory, little direction is given for the camera jobs. A small image is shown on the dash or tablet, and that’s it. It’s difficult enough to see on the tv and the problem is only exacerbated in handheld mode. There are indicators to show if you’re close or not, but these turn on only once you activate the camera. When the objective is to take a picture of an area of trees and that’s half the island, it leaves you aimlessly flying around hoping you happen to get lucky. Couple this with a time limit and things can quickly get frustrating. Fortunately, other jobs such as flying through rings, landing on specific spots and racing other pilots tend to depend more on skill rather than luck. The challenges do become increasingly difficult, sometimes to the point of frustration; however, it’s possible to gather enough money to move on without needing to complete each job.
As you unlock new islands, new planes can be purchased. Each plane plays considerably different with the exception of the Gee Racer and Blade, which feel the most similar. While the Ultralight starts off nice and easy, the other planes kick it up a notch in both speed and control style. The Glidester has a big boost which propels it high up into the air and then relies on gliding. It can take time to get used to because the boost isn’t always available, but once I got the hang of it, it actually became one of my favorites. The Gee Racer is a fast plane, as the name eludes to, but I found this to be my least favorite. It’s not nearly as agile as the Blade, another fast plane, so it ends up feeling clunky to control especially since the cockpit view is the most obstructed. This made it difficult to judge distances and fly through small rings for certain jobs. It was actually the only plane I exclusively switched to a third-person view instead of a cockpit view.
Ultrawings takes place around a series of islands that look really great. At first I was worried because the first area seemed a bit generic, but I was pleasantly surprised to see just about every other island has its own unique style. Whether it be the agricultural island full of silos and trackers roaming about or the fancy resort island with a huge statue overlooking a series of hotels, I really enjoyed seeing the differences between them. Unfortunately, some of these extra moving parts in conjunction with the faster planes lead to some heavy framerate drops. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why the game suddenly get so choppy. I ran into the situation with both the Gee Racer and Blade on certain islands, the agricultural island in particular. It only happened a few times, but before I realized rebooting the game fixed the issue, it had been pretty frustrating to overcome.
There also happens to be a pretty big stutter when entering different islands. Ultrawings has an open-world, so you don’t hit a load screen, but the dropped frames are noticeable when the game is loading the new area. And while I can appreciate flying from one island to another, a fast travel option would have been greatly welcomed. Getting to another island can take a while, especially if you’re in one of the slower crafts and with no real need to change course, I found myself positioning my plane in the correct direction and simply waiting for a few minutes to pass so that I could prepare to land. The weather doesn’t change, always offering sunny skies with partial cloud cover, but some different elements like rain would have been a fun way to mix things up as well.
Ultrawings packs a punch in the content department, offering a robust number of challenges spread across four different aircrafts, but unfortunately it encounters some turbulence along the way. Framerate issues crop up, ranging from inconsequential to requiring a restart, but fortunately these are not the norm. While most objectives are straightforward, I couldn’t help but become frustrated on certain mission types that didn’t give much direction outside of a minor clue. This problem was only highlighted further while playing in handheld. Still underneath the issues, there lies a fun flight simulator that takes you on a trip around a series of visually-impressive islands.