Back in my day, the best gaming platform by far was the Commodore Amiga. And the developer responsible for some of its most celebrated titles was Cinemaware. Mention names like Defender of the Crown, Rocket Ranger and SDI to any veteran player and they're likely to get a little misty. These weren't just games; they were thrilling interactive experiences, way ahead of their time.
Needless to say, the arrival of Cinemaware's Wings! Remastered for Android and iOS ($4.99, £3.99, AU$6.49) stirred some heavy nostalgia. I can recall spending hours fighting my way through it, sweaty palms pushing a joystick to its limits. (Oh, grow up. Before touchscreens came along, we used joysticks.) Because I wasn't just looking to beat the game; I needed to see how it ended. The plot that drove the story was so gripping, so poignant, I think I actually wrote the author when it was all over.
At first blush, Wings is little more than a World War I combat sim. You fly three kinds of increasingly difficult missions: first-person dogfights in the cockpit of a biplane; top-down bombing runs; and isometric-view strafing. Pretty simple stuff, and definitely familiar to anyone who ever played arcade games growing up.
But the simplicity was part of the appeal. You didn't have to fight complicated controls; you just had to maneuver and shoot (usually at the same time). It was basic arcade fun, but so thoroughly enriched by the story of the pilot: you. This story unfurls in journal entries displayed before missions, and maybe I'm overstating their impact -- but even at the age of 22, I felt a tug on the ol' heartstrings.
So let's talk about the mobile version of Wings! Remastered (which, incidentally, debuted last fall for PC). I played it on both an iPhone 6 Plus and an iPad; the latter is definitely the better experience, and it would be better still on a big screen via Apple TV.
This is no mere port of the original; the game's graphics, sound effects and music have all been updated, with superb results. You feel like you're playing a classic, but without the distraction (and, let's face it, detriment) of 16-bit graphics. Check out the trailer, which highlights the differences between the original and the update:
As for the controls, you can choose between onscreen and tilt. To my surprise, I found that tilt controls work best, especially for dogfights -- but strafing missions are challenging with either method. What I wouldn't give for a real-world joystick option.
Wings! Remastered includes all 230 (!) original missions, so this isn't something you'll finish in an hour. Rather, it's a game you can return to over weeks. There are a few gameplay omissions from the original -- you can't grapple with the controls to survive a crash-landing, for instance -- but overall it's still a really fun game.
Indeed, while I can't say for sure that Wings! Remastered will appeal to younger players, I certainly enjoyed it. It's a little disheartening that it's been 25 years since I first encountered the game, but the passage of time hasn't diminished my appreciation for it in the slightest.