Console flight simulators are a rarity, even more so on the WiiU. The development teams of Caipirinha Games, Silent Future and Joindots may have been counting on that dearth of simulators in order to capture a market for themselves, on Nintendo’s console. Unfortunately, the only real reason to pick up Island Flight Simulator is purely because it’s the only option available, it sure isn’t due to its quality.
Right from the off, you’re dropped on to the tarmac of a barely textured runway. Not in a plane yet, just a first person viewpoint, with the view of a small hangar on an island that may well have come from a budget PS2 game, for all the detail it exhibits. These poor visuals continue throughout the entirety of the game too, making it all the more baffling when the framerate barely reaches into double digits most of the time. Back to that first person viewpoint, you have three options in sight: refuelling your plane, selecting a job and getting into your plane. Just walk to whichever option you want.
Selecting a job is the main part of the game, giving you several offers, with differing reward sums and sometimes the option of taking on an illegal job. Illegal jobs offer much greater monetary rewards but only if you’re lucky enough to actually get paid – which is a completely random outcome. It’s an interesting risk/reward situation but without a way to influence the outcome, it feels hollow.
The problem with these jobs is that they only take place on three islands, for an extremely extended period of time. The map itself is home to twelve islands but if you attempt to fly beyond a certain point too early, your plane simply explodes in mid-air. What’s worse is that it will probably take over five or six hours to unlock the ability to fly further afield, meaning that you will find yourself flying the same routes across the same three islands for far, far too long.
There’s no variety in the jobs you receive either, even the illegal ones are simply ‘fly to this island to pick up item X, then deliver it to that other island’. There are no weather effects to contend with, no turbulent air, nothing to make the journeys anything more than a boring slog. The only thing to keep you occupied is constantly having to nudge the right stick forward, as the plane’s default setting is to pitch upwards indefinitely.
The controls are simple enough, with the left stick turning the plane and the right stick pitching up/down and tilting left/right. ZL and ZR deal with engine power and X turns the engine on/off, with A allowing you to exit your plane once it has stopped on a runway. The right stick’s analogue feature is not used at all however, meaning that pitching up/down is full tilt or nothing, hence the constant nudging of the right stick to keep level. The touchscreen is used to select jobs and navigate menus, and although the Gamepad allows for off-screen play on this title, the sound only comes through the TV, making it feel like nothing more than an afterthought on the developers’ part.
Not that there’s much sound to hear. Beyond the main menu there’s no music whatsoever, leaving runways totally silent as the sound of wind only begins once your wheels lift off the tarmac. Other than the sound of your engine constantly looping, there isn’t a single sound available to your ears, not even environmental effects to bring the world to life.
This lifeless approach extends to the visuals, with the lack of detail mentioned earlier, coupled with a draw distance that would embarrass the N64 and framerate drops that leave the game a juddering mess, especially when in nose camera view, where the game becomes unplayable. The best framerate comes from the cockpit view, perhaps because the interior is completely devoid of animation and looks like something from a PS1 game. Due to the pitching issues mentioned earlier though, the cockpit view is unusable because all you end up viewing is the sky. Not that there is anything to note below the skybox, as the water is completely untextured, just a solid block of blue with the odd boat dotted around at random. The islands are colourful and full of trees (once they’ve popped into view, of course) but you can’t explore them in any way, you can only explore the runways of each island, once you leave your plane.
Despite its many, many issues, Island Flight Simulator’s gameplay does have some relaxing qualities and may very well appeal to those wanting a simple flying experience. Its arcade controls and handling belie its title, but the simplicity on offer highlights the potential for a sandbox experience, however limited its scope.
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