What is the concept? Following in the contrails of last year’s simulation, a title set against the lush tropical backdrop of Honolulu international Airport, I am an Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero Narita tasks players with the management of both a busy airspace and ground-way. Like its predecessor, Narita doesn’t put players in the role of a solitary air traffic controller employee. Instead, gamers oversee every part of the flight control process, as they strive to avoid collisions and maintain a punctual flight schedule.
The game’s visual output makes good use of the 3DS’s dual screens. The top display can be toggled to show one of three distinct views: a third-person perspective of any aircraft, an overview view of Narita or a panoramic view of the airport that simulates the point-of-view from a controller tower. On the bottom screen, flights are broken down by arrivals and departures, with Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero neatly stacking flight data as each craft makes radio contact with air traffic control.
For arrivals, inbound aircraft are guided by a cycle of six systems, with Approach, Tower, Ground, Delivery, Departure, and Ramp control each issuing instruction before handing over command to the next agency. Managing a single aircraft is problem-free, with players approving planes to enter airspace, clearing landings, selecting runways and taxing routes, before selecting a gate. Naturally, departures are handled in a reverse order, employing the same system of confirmations and optional holds, before handing off duties to the control team. Of course, when multiple birds are on the ground and in the air, Narita turns unbelievably hectic, as the potential of near-miss can bring an hour-long stage to a crashing halt.
What are the game’s strengths? While the game’s tutorials cover the basics of overseeing arrivals and departures, Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero’s collection of twenty stages offer a restrained learning curve, gradually increasing the frequency of flights. As such, the real-time pace of the game allows players to explore Narita’s nuances- allowing gamers to absorb the complex system of take-off and landings. While air traffic control can become both complicated and chaotic when traffic increases, the user interface helps to make the simulation manageable, with color-coded warnings, on-screen overlays, and a command process that’s never more complex than a selection from one of six possible options.
Although there’s plenty of downtime at the start of each stage, as planes travel inbound or begin to make radio contact once they’re filled with passengers (a fast-forward option would have helped here), Narita attempts to makes the most out of these moments. Radio chatter endows the game with a sense of realism as sampled pilot voices fill the frequency for requests and flight attendants can be heard issuing instructions to passengers. Since English is the international language of aviation, stateside players will be able to appreciate the level of detail that went into Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero’s conversations.
Once players have completed the game’s procession of twenty increasing challenging scenarios, the can use their 3DS’ camera to tackle a myriad more. Scanning any QR code creates a random stage with variable weather, times, flights, and scoring conditions. If players want to save the level, they can elect to use in-game currency or any Play Coins gathered through the portable’s pedometer capability. Just like the game’s main levels, players will earn points for each successful commend, ultimately trying to top the stage’s scoring goal. Keeping customers waiting lowers values, making Narita a conflict between speed and safety.
What are the game’s weaknesses? Quite simply, pilot AI is non-existent. Once authorizations are issued, pilots show no autonomy, and will crash their taxing jet right into another craft. Understandably, giving captains independence would have siphoned fun right out Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero, but losing a session due to an obvious and avoidable lapse is equally as frustrating. While pilots can be told to hold their position and routinely stop before continuing, once a command has been issued, there’s no ability to change the order, so even something as simple as switching gates in impossible in Narita. For some, the lack of overlays to show taxing trajectories will be irksome. But alas, the developers want you to earn the title of Airport Hero- so again, liberties were taken.
While Narita’s, jets, setting, and skies look presentable, they’re undermined by the resolution of the 3DS, turning the Chiba-based transformational hub into a bit of a jag-fest. Woefully, this iteration of Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero makes no attempt to replicate the Tokyo skyline, which is puzzling after its predecessor’s rendering of the Honolulu shoreline and Diamond Head. What does work is the game’s weather system, allowing the title to flaunt striking sunsets, majestic clouds, or attractive evening conditions.
But the game’s biggest hurdle might be its niche subject matter and protected execution. Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero is nothing like the frothy fun exhibited by a game like Flight Control. Instead, it’s much closer to staunch simulation, with its hard-boiled execution offering little room for error. Levels can move at a very protracted pace, often with sixty-second stretches where there’s little to do but monitor and strategize. As such, players hoping for a flashy flight management game will have to look elsewhere.
Is it worth the money? At $19.99, I am an Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero Narita is undoubtedly a premium eShop offering, with a purchase price than raises the specter of scrutiny. As such, curious gamers will want to try the demo, which gives an honest vertical slice of Narita’s full campaign. For those, like myself, who are fascinated by transformation-based titles set outside the U.S., Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero’s extended playtime and carefully crafted context might just warrant a twenty-dollar expenditure.
I am an Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero Narita was played on the 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Sonic Powered Co.,Ltd.
Publisher: Sonic Powered Co.,Ltd.
Release date: July 16th, 2015
Price: $19.99 via Nintendo eShop