The game industry has given birth to a lot of amazing experiences over the years. In most cases, new projects are churned out constantly as expected. But, there’s quite a few that never actually see the light of day. Some are announced but never released, but then you have those which go into production and are then later scrapped without even being officially announced. The latter scenario is what happened with Factor5’s open-world PilotWings project which was in development for the Wii a decade ago. The unreleased game was recently exposed to the public thanks to an amazing video from YouTuber Liam Robertson (go and watch it if you haven’t already). After learning about all the details of the game, the only conclusion I can come to is that it would have been pretty amazing to actually play.
Nintendo owns quite a number of franchises. The company has so many that several of them rarely get any real attention. PilotWings is most definitely one of those often overlooked IPs. The series got its start on the SNES, but has only seen two other releases since, coming to the N64 and then the 3DS much later on. But, as already mentioned, there was a project in the works for the Wii.
PilotWings Wii was being developed by Factor5, a third-party studio which had a close relationship with Nintendo during the GameCube era. The team had pitched an idea to Nintendo to reboot the PilotWings franchise with an open-world entry that would fit the Wii’s casual-oriented nature. The project was pretty ambitious.
It incorporated the series’ already established formula of having a variety of different aircraft which are capable of performing different activities. It expanded on that formula by offering an open-world which encompassed real life locales peppered with recognizable landmarks. The open-world was seamless and gradually expanded as player’s explored on their own. It even sported a real-time weather engine that was powered by data gathered from Nintendo’s own Wii Weather Channel service. The icing on the cake was that Factor5 had also incorporated simple VR technology into the game by means of a pair of glasses that had infrared sensors. These glasses would allow the player to control the camera by means of just swiveling their head around like normal. Plans were even underway with Nintendo to mass-produce the headset as a licensed Wii peripheral. Seriously — doesn’t this all sound amazing?!
Here’s a shot from some footage of the game. So close, yet so far…
I’ve been into flying ever since I was a little. My first word was actually “bird”—no joke. Airplanes were basically love at first sight for me and that love grew even more when it merged with my passion for gaming. That was the result of me getting into flight simulators, a hobby which I still actively pursue even today. So, watching Liam’s video about this canceled PilotWings project was definitely bittersweet for me. Looking at that gameplay footage and taking in all the details about what the game was set to offer; by the time the video was finished I was kind of upset. It’s a really sucky feeling to want something you know you can never have.
The Wii had a variety of games, but open-world titles weren’t very plentiful. The only one I owned was Go Vacation, which was developed by Bandai Namco and released in 2011. It’s basically Wii Sports Resort on steroids, featuring dozens of activities and minigames that can be played in any order thanks to the fully explorable open-world island environment. My younger brother and I sunk a ton of hours into this game. No doubt, the same would have most likely proven true had PilotWings Wii seen the light of day.
A number of flight simulators are open-world, but that’s not something you typically see on consoles. So, PilotWings Wii would have definitely been a very unique entry in the system’s library. It played very similarly to the ‘Island Flyover’ mini-game which was featured in Wii Sports Resort. That makes sense considering that the minigame was inspired by the PilotWings formula. Island Flyover was one of the activities I kept coming back to in Wii Sports Resort, but I was always annoyed with it since it has a time limit. When I first played the game, I wondered if there was a secret ‘unlimited flight’ mode of sorts, but there never was. PilotWings Wii would have pretty much been just that, and more.
Nintendo did release a new PilotWings of its own on 3DS in 2011, but it’s not as cool as Factor5’s project.
One of the reasons why PilotWings Wii never released was due to the fact that it didn’t have Nintendo’s full backing. While the company was initially interested, it didn’t fully commit to the project. Even so, Factor5 didn’t want to see the concept go away, so the devs continued working on the game and it was transformed into the unofficial successor to PilotWings and was dubbed under the codename WiiFly (later changed to WeFly). Nintendo wasn’t totally against the game and still contributed to the development to a minor degree. What really led to the project’s demise was that Factor5 was shut down in 2009 before the game’s completion. This is a sight that’s all too common in the industry. But, perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope.
Factor5 resurfaced in March of this year. You know what else happened this past March? The Switch released worldwide. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I’m not trying to get your hopes up or even my own, but I’ll throw this theory out there anyway. The Switch’s Joy-Con controllers have motion control technology just like the Wii Remote. On top of that, they’re much more advanced than the Wii Remotes and offer a traditional button layout, along with dual analogue sticks and digital triggers. So, maybe…just maybe, WeFly could be revived as SwitchFly? The system is leaps and bounds more powerful than the Wii and of course has the unique ability to double as both a home console and portable. I could only imagine how much further the project could be fleshed out with the Switch’s more advanced hardware. I’d buy it in a heartbeat! Having an open-world flight simulator with a bit of casual flare on the go….man, that would be bliss.