Pilotwings has been painfully absent from our hearts and minds for more than ten years. The last we saw the series was Pilotwings 64, a launch title that was sadly overshadowed by the irrefutable success of Super Mario's ascent into the third dimension. I got both on launch, and though Mario 64 held first place in my heart for years thereafter, I invested an absurd amount of time into Pilotwings 64 long after Mario had been bested.
Flight sims and I have a wacky relationship; they're either too bloody hard with absurdly high learning curves (Flight Simulator X) or too combat oriented (everything else). I like me some flyin'. I like me some crashin' even more, but I also like to be good at it from time to time. Arcade-style (read: unrealistic, fun) flight simulators are few and far between, a genre almost entirely populated with Pilotwings. Almost.
Take heart, lads! There's a perfect game for us Pilotwingsophiles to fill the void until a Wii or DS solution appears on the distant horizon: Sky Odyssey for the PS2. No jetpacks, skydiving, or birdwings with which to sail across a miniturized USA, but the best flight game on the PS2 nonetheless.
Hit the jump for further idiotic adventures in aviation!
Sky Odyssey is a straight-up, balls-out pick-up-and-play flight sim. No bones about it. Even if someone said "airplane" and you thought "banana", you'll have no problem playing it. It's a fast, smooth experience that shrugs off some of the more cumbersome conventions of the genre like "realism" and "good graphics". Who's got time for that crap? I want to crash into the side of a mountain!
This is where Sky Odyssey's appeal truly lies. Instead of focusing on a number of different craft and play styles like Pilotwings and its sequel, Sky Odyssey puts you in the seat of a number of different planes that, though subtly different, play in mostly the same way. The variety, then, is packed tight into the mission styles throughout the game. The first mission, "The Adventure Begins", will have you careening through a tight canyon, looping through checkpoints hovering in mid-air and making close calls with crumbling rock falling a handful of meters in front of your face. It's the sort of "holy crap!" moment that really sets the tone of the game to follow.
From there, the mission goals become more complicated: for example, one mission has you en route to a far-away destination, but guess what, bitch? Your tank done sprung a leak! In a bizarre twist of fortune, however, your course just happens to be set over a speeding train equipped to refuel planes mid-flight; your goal, then, is to follow this train, refueling when necessary, offering your glorious ride the endurance needed to make it to the landing strip. Another mission might have you piloting your way through a flooded, low-ceiling cave, dodging stalagtites along the way to a massive ruin beneath the earth. I can't emphasize this enough: the beauty of Sky Odyssey is in the play, and the game offers you a vast number of ways to play.
The control is smooth and, as I've mentioned previously, completely set apart from the bounds of physical reality. All the better. You'll be making loops, barrel rolls, and close scrapes with terra firma with relative ease, kicking the drama into high gear without killing your gameplay experience. It's a difficult game and offers the opportunity for mastery, so expect to crash into a hail of fire and chunky man-kibble more than once. Sky Odyssey defers frustration with its ease of use and extremely fun style of play; if you died, it's probably because you looped a bit too far, dove a bit too fast, dared to dream just a smidge too much. You won't die without realizing why, and you'll come back with a freshly-tempered resolve every time. No controller-throwing here.
But who needs the freedom of flight when you've got stairs everywhere? That's right, kids: Sky Odyssey is one of the worst cases of relentless aliasing available on the PS2. Simply put, this game ain't going to win many beauty contests nowadays. at the time of its release (late 2000) it might have turned a few heads with its impressive and at times breathtaking landscapes, but get within a few hundred feet of any mountain, patch of dirt, or what have you and you'll see just how low-res Sky Odyssey can be. Just think of it as the most unfortunate one-night stand you've ever had: pretty from a distance, ugly as sin up close.
The sound, however, is righteous. Everything sounds pretty spot-on, and if your PS2 is hitched up to a quality sound system, your efforts will be well rewarded. Little-known fact: Sky Odyssey was scored by Kô Ôtani, composer of none other than the fan-favorite Shadow of the Colossus. It shows, too -- the score is epic, sweeping, and set to match the mood of the moment. Serene skies are set to adventurous music that turns desperate and panicked as you hurl yourself headlong into a tropical storm. Not what you'd expect from a flight simulator, huh?
Despite its flaws, this game goes a long, long way for five bucks. I've owned Sky Odyssey for coming up on five years and I've only beaten it once -- every retread through the main campaign ends up taking so long that I find myself interrupted by one new release or another. And you know what? Ain't nothing wrong with that. Sky Odyssey has missions by buttload after glorious buttload, and it's one of those games that you can set aside for months at a time, but still pick up and play as if you hadn't missed an hour. Couple this with the surprising addition of minigames and time trials and you've got an experience worth fifty bones easy, even in today's next-gen saturated market.
If you see this game, buy it. If you're a flight-sim fan and have never heard of it, steal, maim and murder for a copy. Until Pilotwings hits the Wii, it's the only way to fly.
Next week, Bargain Bin Laden gears up for mobile teenage vandal shenannigans with Jet Set Radio Future. Or maybe we'll be dodging a world of havoc in Disaster Report. First reader to send me a PS3 gets to pick!