I sometimes joke about the uselessness of commercial flight sims. Having cut my teeth on games like Aces of the Pacific and Combat Flight Simulator, the idea of a flying game where you don’t shoot anything down is about as appealing as a Call of Duty where all the guns have been replaced with candy. I mean, I like candy, but that’s hardly the point, is it? Still, there have been two non-combat flight sims that have won me over on the strength of their gameplay and flight modeling. The first is Sky Odyssey and the second is Pilotwings.

When I heard there was a chance to try out the new Pilotwings Resort on Nintendo’s new Gameboy 3DS, there’s not much that could have kept me away. Despite the demo being limited to only two levels, it was still one of the most pleasant of the many surprises found at Nintendo’s booth. The bright and colorful game tasks players with a number of flying challenges, from flying a plane through various rings to using a jetpack to tag huge orange bubbles. The challenges were short, fun, and ideally suited to show off two of the most important features of the new 3DS.

The 3D view offers a perfect sort of feedback for the challenges, giving players a sure sense that they are moving through an actual space filled with actual objects. When you’re trying to maneuver your plane or your jetpack around an obstacle course, perceiving depth is an undeniable advantage. The 3D works better in this game than in any other I tried at Nintendo’s booth, with the possible exception of the Metal Gear Solid trailer. Part of that is down to the simple and colorful graphics which are much clearer in Pilotwings. Compared to the more artistic approach taken in Kingdom Hearts or the visual confusion of Resident Evil, Pilotwings should be praised for being so plain.

The second big advantage the 3DS brings is its analog controls. Flying a plane with an 8-way pad works, but the finesse you can get with the analog pad means you’ll have much greater control over your flights and be better able to hit those sweet spots as you move from one ring or bubble to the next. Considering how the controls could be adapted to Pilotwings‘ other challenges has us eager to see more.

I wasn’t entirely convinced of the 3D potential of the 3DS but Pilotwings changed my opinion very quickly. While it still seems like a moving Magic Eye, the technology actually works and supports the gameplay. It may not seem like quite as much compared to the 3D glories of Gran Turismo or Shaun White, but it’s an encouraging step forward for the handheld market.

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