As one of the Super NES launch titles back in 1991, Pilotwings made a name for itself as one of the early must-own titles of the 16-bit era alongside games like Super Mario World, SimCity, and F-Zero. The flight simulator makes boastful use of the console's Mode 7 capabilities, almost as if daring the competition to try and do better. Nadia Oxford of Retronauts takes a loving look back at the title that challenged players to master landing a light plane, hitting the target safely while skydiving, zooming around with a rocketbelt, and floating freely with a hang glider.
Twenty years after its initial release, Pilotwings' flight physics still feel surprisingly accurate. Not that I've ever been behind the wheel of a plane (planes use wheels, right?), but I would guess that a light plane wouldn't feel as “light” as described. You really do feel like you're in control of a machine that's fighting gravity's deadly pull at every second. With the rocket belt, you must fight inertia and wind resistance. And straying into a thermal at an inopportune time can throw you off the hang gliding course, leaving you to deal with an irate instructor.
Rarely is a game improved by the inclusion of excessive swearing, but I believe Nintendo should have allowed Pilotwings' instructors to call the player a dumbass whenever necessary. Let's face it: no matter how many times you play the game, you're still going to occasionally hold off on opening your parachute until the last second—if you choose to open it at all. Or you might be compelled to test your belief in magic by attempting to land on your wing. You can't die; your instructors will berate you after you screw up, and it's not likely they'd waste their time yelling at a corpse. You're even allowed to try for a passing score again, presumably after spending some time in the trauma ward.
I was never all that great at Pilotwings with one exception: the first rocketbelt challenge. After lots and lots of practice back in the day I learned the proper routine to score a perfect 100 points each and every time on demand. I haven't tried it in years and doubt I can still do it without major refresher courses, but for a while there I was the king of the rocketbelt. Please don't ask about my hang glider skills.