Helicopter pilots aren't allowed to just take the controls of a highly powerful gunship just like that - oh no. Instead, they're sent to the world famous Pilotwings School of Aviating, where their airborne abilities are honed to perfection on all manner of aviating equipment.
Lightplanes, parachutes, and rocketbelts are just some of the modes of transport aspiring helicopter aces are required to master before they're sent on any kind of dangerous mission.
The game is split into eight stages, with each offering different airborne challenges to Pilotwings candidates. Each challenge gives you the opportunity to score lots of points, and the scores of each challenge are added together. If the total score is less than the overall target score for that round, you start the level again. Should you beat it though, you are sent to the next stage of Pilotwings training.
At the end of levels four and eight, a helicopter mission awaits. Complete these missions and you've beaten the game - but each mission is highly dangerous and the chances of getting your airborne steed back to base are minimal to say the least...
The real job begins at the end of levels four and eight. Here you're sent behind enemy lines to rescue some hostages with the aid of your Apache helicopter gunship. The problem is that the enemy landing pad is surrounded by hundreds of gun emplacements - all of them out to put a stop to your rescue attempt.
Some of them have even been hidden in the forest and are thus invisible! Your laser-sighted cannon comes in handy here in order to clear a path to the enemy base.
In your efforts to become a Pilotwings expert, there are each five modes of transport that candidates attempt to master. Here's the Mean Machines guide to each:
1. Lightplane A low-powered single seater, this becomes far more difficult to handle at high speeds - but extra points are up for grabs if you complete the course quickly.
2. Skydiving Freefall through a number of aerial hoops and then land in one piece at the designated target. Simple? Not really - this is probably the most difficult test of skill in the game!
3. Rocketbelt You too can be King of the Rocketman with the aid of this trusty rocketbelt. Probably the easiest mode of transport to control but watch out for high winds on the later levels!
4. Hang-glider Catch the thermals to stay aloft with your hang-glider. Reaching a certain height is your objective, but landing correctly is the most difficult job!
5. Helicopter Very difficult to control and quite unresponsive at high speeds - mastering this baby (and its two in-built cannons) is the aim of the game!
Whilst sky-diving or flying around with your rocketbelt, you might like to try landing on the moving target that runs around the lake surrounding the target area.
A successful landing takes you onto the bonus stage where you may be cast as a man with Icarus-type flying wings or a springboard-diving penguin. Just getting to the bonus stage earns you a mighty 100 points - wow!
Pilotwings offers 3D graphics unparalleled on any other games system outside of the arcades. The effect is truly stunning, with a fully rotating landscape that will astound and amaze. The only problem is, it's a bit flat.
But thankfully, the varied gameplay is enough to make up this slight deficiency. All of the modes of transport offer a completely different challenge and the increasing difficulty level is enough to make the game very challenging.
The sound is great - there's some supermarket-type shopping music playing throughout, with the added bonus of incredibly convincing effects (the helicopter and lightplane noises are perfect!).
My only gripe is that there's not really enough things to shoot and destroy! How about a Pilotwings 2 which combined these graphics will all manner of airborne destruction? Yes please!
Nothing, absolutely nothing on any other home system even touches this for sheer jaw-dropping looks. The graphics are simply astonishing, with beautifully coloured backdrops which fade into the distance - just check out the screenshots!
But what you can't see is that everything moves completely and utterly smoothly. The feeling of "being there" has never been stronger in a flying game. The sound effects help enchance that further, with realistic stereo wind effects and sampled plane and chopper engines adding to the atmosphere.
The game is very challenging, and successfully gaining your licence on the final level is something that makes you feel genuinely product.
If you want to show people just how good the Super Famicom is, make sure you get this. You'll also be buying a superlative game in the process!
Nice intro screens for each mode of transport. Shame about the Japanese text.
3D graphics, the like of which you've never seen before!
Bizarre music coupled with superb effects!
Easy to get to grips with and instantly addictive.
A bit frustrating in the short term - but this game's designed to last!
A highly original, graphically stunning game. Go for it!