It's a testament to how intuitive the controls are in Pilotwings Resort that, after signing up your Mii for flight school, it's very easy to take a plane, a rocket belt, or a hang glider for a test flight over Wuhu Island. Before you even think about attempting a mission, there's a lot of fun to be had flying through tunnels, checking out the inside of a volcano, and gliding high over locales that you might recognize from Wii Sports Resort (which included its own flying minigame). The problem is that after spending a few minutes with each of these vehicles and taking in some of the sights, you've already experienced much of what Pilotwings Resort has to offer. Yes, there are some enjoyable and occasionally varied challenges in Mission Flight mode, but neither the scenery nor the weather ever changes.
There are only two different modes of play in Pilotwings Resort: Free Flight and Mission Flight. In the former, you're given just two minutes to explore Wuhu Island and the surrounding area while keeping an eye out for collectibles. These items vary somewhat, depending on which vehicle you're flying. They include gold rings, Mii trophies, stunt rings, balloons, and location markers. While it's fun to simply fly around Wuhu and its surrounding islands taking in the pleasing scenery for a while, these occasionally well-hidden objects (along with the too-short time limit) encourage you to do so with purpose. For the most part, the challenge in Free Flight mode comes from locating collectibles rather than from figuring out how to reach them, though that can occasionally be tricky as well. For example, flying through gold rings in the glider is made more challenging by the fact that you need to use thermals to gain altitude, and stunt rings can only be collected by performing specific tricks in your plane as you pass through them. The rewards up for grabs in Free Flight are limited to extended time limits for subsequent flights (30 seconds for every 20 balloons collected) and animated dioramas that, if nothing else, serve as an effective demonstration of what Nintendo's new 3D system is capable of.
Mission Flight mode comprises about 40 challenges divided into training, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum categories. You earn a rating of between one and three stars every time you complete a challenge, and you need to obtain a certain number of stars to unlock each category. Training and bronze level challenges are so easy that you're unlikely to have any trouble getting three stars on all of them, but the difficulty ramps up nicely when you reach gold and platinum, to the extent that even two-star scores might take multiple attempts. If you enjoy chasing perfect scores there's plenty of replay value in Mission Flight. That's because when you achieve what the game considers to be a "perfect score," you unlock the ability to beat that score on subsequent plays. How is that possible? You're scored on different aspects of your performance (accuracy, landing, time, fuel), but each of these component scores is capped. After achieving a perfect score, the caps are removed. What's missing, sadly, is a way for you to compare your scores with those of other players--even those with a profile on the same cartridge.
The kind of variety that you might remember from this game's 1996 predecessor, Pilotwings 64, is also missing. Where that game had several thematically different islands for you to explore, Pilotwings Resort has just one (with a few smaller ones close by) that you might have seen before on the Wii. Fifteen years ago, the three main vehicles (hang glider, rocket belt, gyrocopter) were also joined by unlockable extras like the birdman outfit and jumble hopper, but now, the only extra that you get is a flying-squirrel suit that appears in just one mission. It's true that the new game's vehicles each have a superior variant that's unlocked as you progress through Mission Flight mode, but they're far from game-changing additions. The turbo jet is just a faster version of the plane; the super rocket belt is merely a more powerful rocket belt; and the pedal glider is simply a glider on which you can maintain your altitude by rhythmically tapping a button. It's unfortunate that more varied modes of flying (or even falling; Pilotwings 64 also featured skydiving and an option to be fired from a cannon) aren't included in Pilotwings Resort. Some of the individual missions bring some much-needed variety, but shooting at balloons isn't much different from shooting at targets. And, collecting points that are suspended from parachutes isn't wholly unlike collecting points that are suspended from balloons.
Some of the best missions that Pilotwings Resort has to offer are those that stray from the formula of flying from point A to B as quickly as possible while passing through checkpoints en route. A short mission in which you put out fires using a water cannon mounted on your plane is a highlight, as is one in which you shoot at balloons tied to the back of a car while pursuing it at low altitude. Gliding missions in which you earn points for taking photos or crashing through panels at high speeds are similarly successful, as are rocket belt outings in which you have to hit landing pads to refuel. All of the challenges are fun and satisfying to complete, but they're also short. If you don't bother replaying missions to improve upon your initial scores, you could conceivably make it through all of them within a couple of hours.
Taking the controls in Pilotwings Resort is a breeze. Vehicles handle differently, but buttons generally perform similar functions so it's easy to switch between them. The D pad is somewhat awkwardly used to look around, but it's only while using the rocket belt that you're likely to spend much time doing so because you land it vertically. For that reason, while using the rocket belt you can simply tap the right shoulder button to look straight down. Other, mission-specific controls include using the right shoulder button to take photos while gliding and using the Y button to shoot while flying the plane. There are no stylus options whatsoever.
Like a two-hour movie being shown on a 90-minute passenger flight, Pilotwings Resort is initially satisfying but ultimately leaves you wanting more. This is a good-looking game that's easy to pick up and have some fun with, and it does a great job of presenting you with increasingly challenging missions as you progress. It lacks both the variety and the longevity to be recommended without hesitation, though, and--presentation aside--it is inferior to its 15-year-old predecessor in just about every way.