Reviewed: April 16, 2007
Released: March 20, 2007
Those of you looking to explore the dream of flight on the Wii have two choices, the historic combat sim Blazing Angels and the kid-friendly Wing Island. Chances are you’ve heard of the former, but good luck in finding Konami’s flight title. Everybody I tell about this game has never heard of it and no store in my (admittedly podunk) town even carries it. So even though I am about to tell you why you want to play this game, before you even ask – NO, you can’t borrow my copy.
There are going to be the obvious comparisons to Pilot Wings if for no other reason than this game is appearing on a Nintendo system, and to some degree you can make a few valid parallels, but Wing Island manages to carve a nice original niche for itself in the relatively small world of flight action titles.
Wing Island features a wacky cast of characters thrust into unbelievable scenarios and situations, all revolving around aircraft and flying. The fact that these characters are all half-bird half-human genetic abominations is not nearly as disturbing as the incessant sounds that try to pass for speech as you read the story text. Next time, just tell the story using Morse Code and we’ll all be better off.
Sparrow Wing Jr. is our lead pilot who inherited his grandfather’s business and plane. Along with Puffin Chirp, Crane Splendid, Swan Sweet…please, no more bad bird names…Owl Fatman…argh…you’ll engage in all sorts of missions, either solo or as part of a squadron of five planes.
Wing Island definitely makes creative use of the Wii remote for fluid aircraft control even if it does so through a very non-conventional means. Rather than holding the controller like a wing or even upright like a flight stick you point the controller at the screen like a TV remote then mimic the flying motion of your plane with your hand. Parents might remember the old, “here comes the plane into the hangar” trick for feeding your babies. Just replace the spoon with a Wii remote and you’re golden.
You can optionally connect the nunchuk allowing you to change the camera angle with the analog stick, but the game plays perfectly well without doing so. Make sure to fly all of the training missions so you can learn about basic flight skills as well as the unique motion thrusts required to change formations and perform aerobatics.
Once you have your wings you can take part in the lengthy Story mode or test your skills in the Competitive mode where you can play one or two player games like balloon popping and time attack. And once you have unlocked some islands during story mode you can revisit and explore them leisurely in the Free mode.
Each island has numerous challenges and missions ranging from picking up and dropping off supplies to catching lost cattle with nets or putting out forest fires. There are even photo missions where you have to snap pictures of a rare bird or whale. Missions are graded on speed (time left on the clock) and any damage your plane (or squadron) might have took.
You’ll quickly learn that certain missions require certain planes and you’ll unlock new planes and parts as you progress through the story. You can switch planes and customize planes with upgradable parts in the hangar to adjust speed, weight, and turning ability. Some planes are fast but can’t carry much, while others are slow and durable and great for hauling the large loads. You can go back to previous missions with better planes later on and earn higher medals.
I was pleased to see that there is a bit of randomness in the missions as far as object placement, meaning that you can’t memorize the game as quickly as you might expect. The cow capturing mission alone featured at least three or four configurations for the locations of the cows, so just when you think you have plotted your optimum route, cow #5 is now hiding in a cave rather than waiting by the lighthouse.
The challenge missions are lots of fun and include races through midair rings and following strings of balloons that arc through the skies. Often, those balloons will change patterns indicating you need to change formation to collect them all, and since different formations have their own turning radius and speed, knowing when to change and which formation to change to is key to winning a lot of these timed events.
Visually, Wing Island probably doesn’t do anything the GameCube couldn’t have handled and certainly pales to the other next-gen systems, but this is a game focusing on gameplay and not graphics – which is the entire point of the Wii. The static cartoon images of chicken-people were okay and will probably delight kids while teens and adults will rapidly tap whatever buttons it takes to move on to the menus.
Once in the air the game gets a whole lot better with some surprisingly colorful backgrounds for the various islands, nice green pastures and trees and rocky mountains and cliffs and blue oceans with white wave crests and fluffy white clouds. The camera angle works extremely well until you get caught in tight areas like a cave or box canyon and then you’ll find yourself bouncing off the walls as your damage meter shrinks to the left.
The HUD is fantastic with an almost Jules Verne gothic style about it, lots of brass and gold colors with a multi-color speed gauge, colorful top-down radar map, timer, damage indicators for you and your squadron, and any counters for required objectives. It all looks great and doesn’t detract from the main game screen.
The motion of the planes is fantastic and I love switching between all of the formations just to watch the animations. There are also some great specialty moves like the turbo or the quick-reverse or barrel roll complete with white streams coming off the wing edges and blurring effects. The game also supports 480p and widescreen for those playing on HDTV’s.
There is some really majestic flight music for the opening cinematic and that same theme carries over into the gameplay with a few dynamic shifts to emphasize key moments like a triumphant victory theme for completing a mission. There are some generic tunes for the cutscenes but we’ve already decided those are better when skipped…right?
The planes all have their own engine sound based on the type of plane and any upgrades you might have installed and when you are flying as a squadron you get all five planes harmonizing their RPM’s. Engines whine when you dive and labor when you make a steep climb. There are weapons sounds and powerful explosions on missions where weapons are allowed.
It took me about 25 hours to finish Wing Island and that’s not getting a perfect ranking on all missions. If perfection is a must you can probably add another 6-8 hours and if you want to just rush through each mission with a barely passing grade you can probably finish this game in 12-15 hours. Bottom line – you can spend as much time with Wing Island as you want and will be thusly rewarded.
The two-player mode is a nice addition that might add some extra game time. I’d avoid using the tethered nunchuk for player two and go with a separate remote.
I really had a great time with Wing Island. It was a big surprise when it showed up for review as I had never heard of the game and even now, most other people I talk to including stores haven’t heard of it either. It’s a shame because this game would sell pretty well if people could actually find it, especially in my area where crop dusting is an option on career day.
While not pushing the presentation limits of the Wii, Wing Island is the perfect match for the motion control ability of that system and a great time for kids and adults. Who knows… the kids might actually get a kick out of the notion that birds are using planes to fly.