Pilotwings 64 is one of the two North American launch titles for the N64. I never owned this game growing up, but it was a frequent rental from Blockbuster. Revisiting this game evoked a strange feeling, a hazy nostalgia combined with a realization that I never really played Pilotwings 64 “right.”
As a kid I spent almost all of my time in the “Birdman” mode. This bonus mode allows you to explore an island environment without objective or time limit. You just flap your wings and fly. This really captured my imagination as a child.
The main gameplay revolves around various challenges related to hang gliding, jetpacking, and flying gyrocopters. You take your choice of character through obstacles like flying through rings, popping balloons, and landing on targets for points.
As you complete challenges you’ll unlock bonus levels These are fun mini-games that challenge you and manage to meaningfully extend the game’s play-time.
Pilotwings 64 features a heavy dose of elevator music tracks that were prevalent in the 90’s. Today, the songs evoke a vaporwave or futurefunk aesthetic— both finding their influence in the 90’s Japanese “city pop.” These tracks are generally inoffensive, kind of boring, and easily forgettable. There does seem to be an internet consensus that the jazz-inspired “Birdman” track is a stand-out. Personally, I was underwhelmed.
In retrospect, Pilotwings 64 can be seen as a glorified tech demo for what the Nintendo 64 could do. It doesn’t have the same level of depth as the N64’s other launch title, Super Mario 64.
However, in 1996, it must have been impressive to see fully 3D environments with realistic-feeling physics that looked this good. Sega and Sony really could not compete in this regard.
Today, Pilotwings 64 is still a fun experience. Replaying the game for this review was an enjoyable and at times challenging experience. There does not appear to be an active speedrunning community for this game, but it has been featured at speedrunning events before. The current world record has stood for about 5 years at 24m 53s.
As of writing, a copy of Pilotwings 64 can be grabbed for between $10-$15. This probably won’t ever be my first choice of N64 game to play, but it is fun, easy to play in short bursts, and a strong start to the N64’s North American catalog.