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Wing Island Box Art
Flight Simulator
Hudson / Konami

Wing Island

At E3 2006, Nintendo showed a game labeled Wii Sports: Airplane, which I named as one of my favorites of E3. I compared it to being a kid, running through an open field, arms spread open, tilting and turning with the self made sounds of the propeller. It was unclear what that game would become, but it was the Wii Sports game that received the most attention from my eight hours inside Nintendo's booth. Wing Island is either the culmination of that title, or Hudson's own spin-off. Whatever it is, it is not the airplane game of E3; and it is certainly not the next Pilotwings.


We’ve already come to expect late cycle GameCube graphics on these first cycle Wii titles; but Wing Island is closer to what we saw three years ago, and I can think of a library of GameCube games that look better. The town on Relic Island is passable, but the others lack any character or originality and are too sparse of life to feel like they should. Most of the special effects like fires and water splashes are generic, and the only minor star of the show are the planes. But where other flight simulators entice players to explore the grounds for the hidden visual delights, Wing Island depends too heavily on a fun control experience to carry the play. This is not indicative of what the Wii hardware can do, and it is a shame developers are not yet using the power it has to make a more complete game.


The first time the avian bleeps that pretend to be dialogue hit the speakers, it causes quite the chuckle. The soundtrack is a little melodramatic, but generally well-suited and enjoyable. The propeller sounds are well captured and vary from plane to plane to give a tactile understanding of their differing weights.


Control is one spot that is almost perfectly spot on. I will not deny the sheer fun that can be had when you let go of the criticism, lean back and enjoy the ride. Players can hold the remote in a normal fashion or like a paper airplane as the planes mimic perfectly all the twists and turns of the wrist. A few added maneuvers tied to gestures give some aerial extras and with a little practice, players will cruise the islands like a seasoned pilot. It may not be the most realistic controls -- a plane in the right formation can almost hover in mid-air and execute the tightest of turns -- but it does, however, make the player feel he is holding the actual plane, which was really more of the point. This is not meant to be a realistic flight sim, it's meant to be a fun one.

But when it comes to a game, Wing Island lacks some polish. The almost 30 missions are mostly repackaged versions of levels before: putting out a fire is essentially the same as crop dusting. The best missions are those that are the rarest, like clipping the cargo ropes of rouge air pirates in a game of chase. Most are simple to complete, and the game can be beaten and all the missions unlocked in a couple of hours. After that, it relies on the free flying mode to make it worth the price.

It is there that Wing Island should soar. Free flying mode lets players live that childlike feeling the best, but the environments are so small that it puts a quick limit on what should be a limitless game. The three different islands lack variety. Only the Relic Island offers a truly different look, but it is also one of the least interesting to fly. Instead of racing through buildings, players can mainly just fly over them. For a flight sim to work, the game needs to offer challenges in maneuverability, not just cargo to deliver. So much of every island is dead air. Wing Island should be full of tunnels, corridors, secrets and landmarks. Instead, each has one or two fun elements that grow old before their time. In addition, every level begins with planes already in flight, and they end the same way. It would be nice to actually use a runway from time to time.


Along with the races and a somewhat entertaining balloon popping bonanza, two players can engage in a game of pop the tail on the donkey in a very family-friendly, balloon-bursting, pseudo-dogfight. Unfortunately, players are bound to an imaginary square that is far too small and inexplicably located completely over water. No cavern chases or sharp banks through the bell tower, just obstruction free air over water.

A cool, if generally unnecessary option lets controller-strapped owners partake in multiplayer matches with one remote and one Nunchuck. You have to be at cords length to your opponent, but the Nunchuck performs all the needed twists. At times, the Nunchuck even felt better suited for Wing Island than the remote.


Wing Island is one game that truly misses a level of immersion better visuals could provide. But 360 or PS3 looks would not have made up for what is really a flaw of design. Pilotwings 64 -- a great example of free flying fun -- used N64 visuals to succeed where this title fails. All three islands lack the nuances, breadth and creativity that made purposeless flying the best part of Pilotwings. The controls give promise, and an occasional half-hour of flying may be fun, but Wing Island is mostly Wii’s first great disappointment.

final score 5.1/10

Staff Avatar Dave Magliano
Staff Profile | Email
"Tiger uppercut!!"

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