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Overview

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Pilotwings is a flight simulation game developed and originally published by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Players join an amateur flight school and take on a variety of flight-based challenges in order to complete certifications for a series of graded pilot licenses, with the ultimate goal of earning the highest certification and their golden "pilot wings". The game heavily showcases the Mode 7 graphical capabilities of the SNES, which are used to simulate three-dimensional spaces without relying on more processing-intensive rendering methods such as polygons.

Pilotwings was released within a month of the Super Famicom's November 1990 launch in Japan. It was a launch title for the SNES' North American debut in 1991.

Gameplay

After registering at the "Flight Club," players receive guidance from a number of pilot instructors who present sets of challenges corresponding to each certification grade. Players must earn a minimum number of points in each set of activities in order to progress to the next certification. Points are awarded based on a number of criteria, including accuracy, speed and number of targets reached. In addition to the primary courses, the game also contains a handful of bonus events and two special helicopter missions.

Course Activities

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Pilotwings features four basic activities that make up the bulk of gameplay: light plane, skydiving, rocketbelt and hang-gliding. The helicopter is only used in two "Secret Command" rescue missions.

  • Light Plane: A biplane is used to fly through a series of floating orbs, rings or arches before landing on the flight area's runway. In later Lessons, the biplane begins stationary on the runway, requiring players to take off before completing their objectives.
  • Skydiving: The player is equipped with a steerable parachute and performs a solo jump from a helicopter after climbing to an altitude of 3,800 feet. During their descent, players must use wind resistance to maneuver themselves through a series of rings to earn points. Once the rings are passed, the player can deploy their parachute and attempt to land as close to the center of the target area as possible.
  • Rocketbelt: After strapping on an advanced "rocketbelt," the player jets into the skies to locate and pass through several floating rings or straight beams before landing in the target zone. Wind typically factors heavily into each of the Rocketbelt courses.
  • Hangglider: The hang-glider is towed behind a biplane prior to the beginning of the course. Once released, players are required to ride upward thermal currents to reach a set altitude or pass through one or more floating rings. Landing the glider can be more difficult compared to the other vehicles.
  • Helicopter: Players jump into an attack helicopter during Pilotwings' two "Secret Command" missions, each of which involves assaulting a fortified enemy base to rescue one or more VIPs. Pilots must destroy several anti-aircraft gun emplacements scattered around the base before attempting a landing.

Bonus Stages

Players who manage to successfully land on certain smaller targets during the skydiving, rocket belt or hang-gliding events will automatically receive a perfect score, as well as the opportunity to play a bonus stage for extra credit points towards their next certification.

  • Skydiving Bonus (High Dive): The player dons a penguin suit and attempts to perform a high dive into a large pool of water far below. Sections of the pool are marked out and assigned various point values.
  • Rocketbelt Bonus (Birdman A): The first of two "birdman" events in which the player is given a special suit with artificial wings. In this stage, players must launch themselves from a trampoline in order to hit several switches from above. After the switches, one last trampoline launches the player towards a roped-off section of water with various point values.
  • Hangglider Bonus (Birdman B): In the second birdman stage, players can button-mash to gain altitude before flying towards the open sea for maximum distance and bonus points.

Certifications

Instructors

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Four Flight Club flight instructors provide the various lessons for pilot certification. Each instructor is in charge of a separate flight area containing one or more runways and landing zones. An instructor's expression and comments at the end of each event change depending on the player's performance.

  • Tony: A mild-mannered young trainer who's perfect for beginners.
  • Shirley: She offers words of encouragement to any struggling students.
  • Lance: A mysterious pilot fluent in six different languages. Rumor has it that he served in the Air Force prior to becoming a flight instructor.
  • Big Al: The no-nonsense veteran instructor who supervises the Flight Club's most advanced lessons. Though usually stoic, some claim to have seen his tears.

Flight Lessons

Each standard Flight Lesson consists of between two and four activities presented by one of the four flight instructors. The player must meet the minimum required score across each set of activities to complete a Lesson and earn certification; they will also receive a license number that acts as a password, allowing players to resume their game from that point.

Normal

  • Lesson 1 - Instructor: Tony - Required Score: 120 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving
    • Certification: "A"-Class License
    • License No.: 985206
  • Lesson 2 - Instructor: Shirley - Required Score: 220 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving, Rocketbelt
    • Certification: "B"-Class License
    • License No.: 394391
  • Lesson 3 - Instructor: Lance - Required Score: 220 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Rocketbelt, Hangglider
    • Certification: "Silver" License
    • License No.: 520771
  • Lesson 4 - Instructor: Big Al - Required Score: 300 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving, Rocketbelt, Hangglider
    • Certification: "Gold" License
    • License No.: 108048
  • Secret Command 1
    • Activities: Helicopter
    • Certification: Silver Pilot's Wings
    • License No.: 400718

Expert

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After completing the first four Lessons and the initial Secret Command mission, the game's title screen changes to read "Pilotwings Expert," reflecting the increase in difficulty for the next set of Lessons.

Expert activities take place in the evening or at night and feature several new hazards for flight trainees to cope with, including higher winds and icy weather conditions.

  • Lesson 5 - Instructor: Tony - Required Score: 140 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving
    • Certification: "A"-Class Expert License
    • License No.: 773224
  • Lesson 6 - Instructor: Shirley - Required Score: 240 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving, Rocketbelt
    • Certification: "B"-Class Expert License
    • License No.: 165411
  • Lesson 7 - Instructor: Lance - Required Score: 240 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Rocketbelt, Hangglider
    • Certification: "Silver" Expert License
    • License No.: 760357
  • Lesson 8 - Instructor: Big Al - Required Score: 300 points
    • Activities: Light Plane, Skydiving, Rocketbelt, Hangglider
    • Certification: "Gold" Expert License
    • License No.: 882943
  • Secret Command 2
    • Activities: Helicopter
    • Certification: Golden Pilot's Wings
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