Hands-on with the iOS answer to Pilot Wings, Air Mail

First class?

Hands-on with the iOS answer to Pilot Wings, Air Mail
| Air Mail

If there’s one thing that touchscreen gaming has taught me it’s that controls really do make or break a game. Make them too complicated and, however sophisticated the graphical whizz-bangs and plot, the game won’t be much fun to play.

Air Mail initially appears to have the inverse problem. Played using the standard virtual joysticks this peaceful Pilot Wings-esque flying game is a simple affair and a little too easy for this *cough* flying ace.

However, switch the controls to ‘Advanced’ and everything starts to make sense.

High flyer

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Your goal in Air Mail varies depending on whether you’re playing in the Story mode or one of the two spin-off variants, but it mostly involves transporting items, flying through semi-transparent hoops, and discovering golden monkeys hidden around each of the islands.

Each of the game’s seven islands is stylised and built around a specific theme, so in one instance my biplane swooped past angled temples and Buddha statues, while another map was more industrial, complete with docks, freight ships, and factories.

Your deliveries are individually graded in accordance with how close to the item you were when picking them up (and your accuracy when dropping them off).

Likewise, occasionally you’ll be asked to fly through hoops, with bullseye piloting gaining more stars at the end of a mission than scraping one wing through.

Advanced techniques

While all this may be simply a case of pointing your plane in the right direction on the default controls, the Advanced setting sees you navigate using two sliders on each side of the screen - representing the two sides of the plane.

Pulling both up will send the plane into a descent in whichever angle it’s currently pointing, while moving one up (and the other down) turns quickly in the direction of the lower slider.

Needless to say, it’s a tough system to get your head around at first, with my initial attempts at Red Arrows-styled aerobatics resulting in some rather ungracious nosedives into the ocean, clipping my wing against a few buildings on the way down for good measure.

But once it clicked, the controls started to make a lot more sense than virtual joysticks ever did, and they made maneouvres far more satisfying to pull off, too.

Hopefully Air Mail can keep this upward momentum going when the game launches onto the App Store some time in June.

Will Wilson
Will Wilson
Will's obsession with gaming started off with sketching Laser Squad levels on pads of paper, but recently grew into violently shouting "Tango Down!" at random strangers on the street. He now directs that positive energy into his writing (due in no small part to a binding court order).