What is the concept? Following in the contrails of last year’s simulation, a title set on the outskirts of central Tokyo, I Am an Air Traffic Controller Airport Hero: Osaka-KIX tasks players with the management of both a busy airspace and ground-way. Like its predecessor, Osaka 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 Osaka Bay, 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 five systems, with Approach, Tower, Ground, Delivery, and Departure 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, Osaka 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 story-based 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 Osaka’s nuances- allowing gamers to absorb the complex system of take-off and landings, while the game imparts a visual novel-like plot. 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), Osaka 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 increasing challenging scenarios, the can use their 3DS’ camera to tackle a myriad more. Scanning any QR code or landscape 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 objective based mode, players will earn points for each successful commend, ultimately trying to top the stage’s scoring goal. Keeping customers waiting lowers values, making Osaka a tension 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 Osaka. Alas, the developers want you to earn the title of Airport Hero- so again, liberties were taken.
While Osaka’s, jets, setting, and skies look presentable, they’re undermined by the resolution of the 3DS, turning the artificial island-based transportation hub into a bit of a jag-fest. Save for a bit of nondescript shore, most of Osaka-KIX focuses on Kankū, which make for a visually stagnant experience. What does work is the game’s weather system, allowing the title to flaunt striking sunsets, majestic clouds, or attractive evening conditions. Also noteworthy is the title’s attention to detail with approach lighting systems and navigational lights all rendered authentically.
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: Osaka-KIX 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 for previous series entries, which gives an honest vertical slice of Osaka’s full campaign. For those, like myself, who are fascinated by transportation-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: Osaka-KIX 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: June 15th, 2017
Price: $19.99 via Nintendo eShop