Friday, June 22, 2012

Pilotwings (SNES): The Final Push

I was pretty late to the SNES party in the 90's, only getting my hands on one in late 1996 after bugging my parents for years about getting a console. It wasn't exactly the cutting edge of gaming technology at the time, but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway, playing Super Mario World and Killer Instinct, not quite until my fingers bled, but at least until they developed serious blisters. :D Although I managed to wrangle the purchase of an N64 the following Christmas, I didn't just give up on the console I'd dreamed of owning for years, continuing to buy a handful of new SNES games every year up until the early 2000s.

Finally a use for this dumb photo: my entire video game collection circa 1997.

One of these was Pilotwings, which I got via mail order from the UK around Easter '99. I'd seen a bit of coverage of Pilotwings 64 in various gaming mags at the time and although I knew nothing about the SNES original, it was cheap enough to give it a try. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by a challenging, but fun flight game that was quite unlike anything I'd played up to that point. I quickly worked my way up through the various licence classes in the game over the Easter break, finally grabbing the gold licence on the 05/04/99, or so I wrote in the back of the manual. At that, I thought I was done with Pilotwings,  but then I was confronted with something I didn't expect.

I don't know if this makes me better or worse than the kids who wrote stuff in the memo pages.

Achieving the gold licence didn't turn out to be the final challenge in the game after all, far from it in fact, next up was Jungle Strike-like level that threw out the danger-free, point-based challenges of the previous stages and tossed you into an attack helicopter flying through a bloody war zone. The goal of the stage was to fly to a landing pad, avoiding or destroying the anti-aircraft missile launchers and land, rescuing a handful of hostages at the landing pad. It sounded simple enough, but playing through it again and again proved otherwise. The missiles were actually quite difficult to avoid, especially the 15 or so near the landing pad, and taking out all those launchers to enable a safe landing, while avoiding the barrage of missiles coming at you was a monumentally tall order. One that took me four years on and off to finally fulfil.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the game either. Following another four licence classes, this time earned on night time or snowy stages, was another rescue mission, identical to the first apart from taking place at night. Holy shit, these guys get taken hostage more often than Princess freaking Peach. Beating the daytime version of the level was a long, difficult slog, only ended by a moment of pure blind luck, so there was no way I was going to put the same effort into beating it again in 2003, not with the fat stack of games then at my disposal. I gave up and wrote Pilotwings off as a lost cause.

Three weeks ago, after being stuck on it for the last nine years, I finally sat down and beat the damn thing. I'll admit I used an emulator to skip past the section of the level I can play with my eyes closed and just kept re-attempting the final section over and over, but I beat it; I came up with a strategy to systematically take out every bloody missile launcher near the landing pad and I fucking beat it. The landing was wobbly at best, I was kind of in shock at finally clearing the area, but in the end I managed to set that motherfucker down with a thud, finally taking Pilotwings out of my backlog.

Although I tried, sadly I didn't manage to grab that magic moment on video, but a week later I took another run at it to do just that. It's no more neater or skilled than the first time around, and it's ridiculously reckless compared to the other videos I've seen of this, but hey, at least it's a fun watch. Next up, Pilotwings 64?

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