Air Mail goes above and beyond simply delivering the mail

Air Mail for iOS is what Nintendo’s Pilotwings series should be like. Younger game players may not remember this, but the original SNES installment of Pilotwings actually has a loose story that links all your flights through the wild blue yonder. That little infusion of narrative—which is missing from the newer Pilotwings games—gave you a sense of progression and purpose. Likewise, Air Mail‘s simple but compelling story really drives you forward in what’s already an incredibly charming flight sim.

Mind, Air Mail is not a hardcore flight simulator, but it doesn’t aim to be one for even a second. You control a light biplane that is actually owned by a young pilot named Scoop, and there’s no on-screen speedometer, no indication of wind speed, and no fuel gauge. Your job is to simply to carry out your appointed tasks via your trusty plane, and to enjoy the scenery en route.

Scoop’s world is composed of several archipelagos, which means light plane pilots are in demand to deliver mail, food, supplies, and more. You begin the game by directing Scoop on a couple of mail runs, but when a corrupt empire imposes a blockade on Scoop’s home island, you’re called in to assist in the war effort and get to the bottom of the empire’s motivations.

Even though Air Mail‘s story revolves around political strife, there aren’t any dogfights. This is actually a welcome revelation, as it makes Air Mail a rare example of a game that’s truly for all audiences. Instead of firing guns, you sabotage the enemies’ plans by cutting their supply lines (literally), scooping up their bombs and disposing of them, putting out fires that they set, and much more.

Air Mail

Your work takes you to a number of different exotic locations, including cities, dig sites, and ancient ruins. The graphics in Air Mail are gorgeous, particularly its blue skies and crimson sunsets, and there’s no trace of slowdown (at least on higher-end iOS devices). The game’s setting is more than a little inspired by the works of master manga-ka and film director Hayao Miyazaki, but that’s certainly not a bad pedigree.

For all its strengths, Air Mail does have a couple of hiccups. You have your choice of tilt controls, a virtual d-pad, or a combination of both, but each control scheme is just a touch imperfect. The tilt controls don’t have a calibration option, and the touch controls are hyper-sensitive, but lack a sensitivity adjuster. As a result, you might find yourself careening into a building or three during the missions that require tight turns, at least until you get used to handling your bird.

Air Mail

Also, the cinema scenes that tell the game’s story lack subtitles. This is unfortunate, because someone who is hard of hearing is going to have a difficult time following what’s going on, even if the story behind Air Mail isn’t exactly anywhere in Da Vinci Code territory.

Otherwise, one playthrough is enough to demonstrate that Air Mail was put together carefully and lovingly. Despite its lack of realism, fans of flight will want to sample it—as will anyone else who’s just in the mood for a whimsical iOS game.