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Wing Island (Wii) artwork

Wing Island (Wii) review


"These promising missions and original game concept could have carried Wing Island a long way. To do that, however, the game must first have somewhere to go. From the start of the fifth mission and by the end of the credits, it was clear that the only place Wing Island would visit is oblivion."



There aren’t many guarantees when it comes to console unveilings. Price, release date, and launch games are often a mystery. You can, however, be certain that a legion of tech demos will be on display somewhere in the world.

At the Wii’s unveiling in 2006, Nintendo showcased a promising demo known as Wii Airplane. The line to play the demo was enormous. More than an hour passed before the kiosk became available. When it finally did, a Nintendo rep suggested that I hold the Wii remote like a paper airplane. From that position I could tilt the controller and fly in any direction – seamlessly and brilliantly.

With no official announcement regarding Wii Airplane’s future, I’ve searched the world for a game that could take its place. Wing Island, the first non-combative flight simulator for Wii, appeared to be the game I was looking for. Three islands, five planes and 27 missions were the highlights, with the unique idea of controlling five planes simultaneously. The rustic box art brought back memories of the SNES and N64 eras, while the back slip showed images of aerial maneuvers and balloon-popping action.

“This is it!” I thought. “The closest thing I’ll get to Wii Airplane.”

Before I continue, allow me to quote myself after holding the Wii remote like a paper airplane for more than the length of a three-minute tech demo.

“This sucks.”

My E3 glee did not take the weight of two AA batteries into account. Having them, plus the weight of the remote itself, rested in between your thumb and index finger is a lot less satisfying than you’d expect. In time, it is – and as an advocate for all things Wii, I really hate to admit this – a bit tiring.

The good news is that you don’t have to hold the remote in any particular way to play this game. It can be held as normal, or pointed away from the screen if you’d like. The reason: this game does not use the Wii sensor bar. Its motion-based actions are tied entirely to the remote's internal capabilities.

Wing Island’s concept is very interesting. Five planes are unofficially glued to each other, meaning that every adjustment made causes them to fly in unison. The controls are as anticipated. Tilt the remote in the direction you wish to go. Camera tilts and pans are made with the thumbstick, but you’re better off not using the nunchuck. While the flight portions of Chicken Little: Ace In Action made a respectable attempt at implementing both controller pieces, Wing Island’s implementation is tedious, not intuitive.

Three formations are applied to your fleet: V, line, and cross. V-formation is commonly seen when ducks fly south for the winter: one plane in front, two behind the leader, and two behind them. This is the standard form. Acceleration and turning performance are average.

Line formation is just as it sounds – the planes form a straight line. Acceleration is at a maximum and turning is very difficult.

Cross formation is the best for turning and the worst for acceleration. One plane flies on top, three in the middle, and one underneath.

Wing Island is divided into 27 missions. One to three stars are awarded upon completion with a cash prize that may include bonuses. Money is needed to repair damaged planes, buy new parts, or buy new planes.

Among the missions are three main objectives: item delivery, fire fighting / crop dusting, and ring / balloon popping. The first is the most common. Find and retrieve no fewer than three boxes and drop them off at the appropriate locations. Each drop off point is highlighted with several yellow rings. Fly over that location and press the B button to release your cargo.

Fire fighting and crop dusting work the same way. The difference lies in what you’re pouring, and how much time is available. Fires spread fast. If you don’t quench a particular area fast enough, the fire space will multiply. Your goal is to circle the ship or forest caught ablaze and extinguish it.

Crops, on the other hand, do not spread. I suppose they could if you called up a few friends at Harvest Moon. But in Wing Island they stay put. To ensure they flourish, fly over the area and release the chemicals contained inside your plane. Dust anywhere outside the crops and that area will turn purple, causing harm to the world and (potentially) to your score.

Last we have rings and balloons – the two go together like peanut better and jelly.

Wait a second. You mean to tell me they don’t go together like peanut butter and jelly? Then why do they appear in every flight/aerial stunt game? Could it be because they provide a simple venue for challenge and interactivity?

They do just that for Wing Island. In the balloon stages, all balloons must be popped before the time runs out. Players will have to soar up and around buildings, under bridges, and in between narrow rock formations to accomplish this task.

Rings are little less demanding. The only thing you have to do is fly through them (and pass through the last ring before your opponent). The center plane is all that matters, but you’ll be given a $1,000 bonus if your entire fleet flies through each ring.

These promising missions and original game concept could have carried Wing Island a long way. To do that, however, the game must first have somewhere to go. From the start of the fifth mission and by the end of the credits, it was clear that the only place Wing Island would visit is oblivion.

The controls seemed to work well at first. Fires are extinguished and cargo is delivered – no problems there. Then you get to a stage where the base formation is no longer cutting it. You need to turn sharply, and tap the A button twice (to change formation) with the hope of doing so. The planes adjust, you struggle to turn, and just barely miss crashing into the nearest building.

With the planes soaring in every which way, a disoriented player must find the strength to re-center his fleet. Now you’re dropping speed and must switch to the line formation in order to salvage the gold medal you’re about to lose. Next up – another turn. After that, another formation change.

This goes on to the point where you’re flailing your hand so awkwardly that any witness would believe you’re a professional airline pilot coming from happy hour.

“Get me a martini fellas. I’ve got some medical supplies to deliver.”

Believe it or not, the next-to-intolerable steering is not where Wing Island suffers most. Its most feverish flaw is the lack of speed and excitement applied to the gameplay.

I’m not talking about combat. A game doesn’t need guns and big explosions to be exciting. It does, however, need a blend of thrills and consistency. At top speed, these planes feel like turtles with wings.

Missions are boring, repetitive, and often gimmicky. It’s possible to extinguish certain fires just by holding the remote sideways. Doing so causes your fleet to fly in a perfect circle. No depth. No challenge. No reason to try again when it’s complete.

Rating: 4/10

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (April 02, 2007)

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