It’s surprising that we don’t see that many flight games on iOS often (just ask the locals), so you repeatedly have to take your chances on them and hope for the best. Air Mail ($2.99) sits on top of the pile, and manages to be fun in ways you may not expect.
In Air Mail, you play as a small child who has his (or her) sights set on being able to fly. To achieve that goal, you have an instructor who helps you learn to fly with small goals, and with voice commands in a stereotypical Asian voice. The instructor is fortunately optional, as he tends to be more annoying than anything providing such useful instructions such as “Fly To The Objective!"
It’s not as if the objectives are particularly stimulating either, as they mostly involve picking up packages, flying through rings (or other objects) or even occasionally dropping off packages. The element of exploration found in these levels is actually not bad, so it would have been nice to see the missions expand more on that. As it is, Explore mode was my mode of choice while playing because it allows you to just fly freely for as long as you wish without restrictions or missions to worry about.
Elaborating on the missions, it’s often difficult to be sure of where you’re supposed to be going in Air Mail because of the poor draw distance. For technical reasons it’s easy to see why you can’t see too far ahead, but you also can’t see your objective unless you’re directly in front of it. The mini-map does serve as a sort of crutch for this issue, it just doesn’t help enough.
The reason for the unfortunate draw distance in the game is because of the great visuals that are your plane and the environments you can fly in. The art is of high quality, with locales that are pretty impressive so long as you can look past the technical downsides. Performance never seems to hitch though, even while playing on an iPhone 4.
A fairly nice amount of attention was paid to the controls in Air Mail because you have three options to choose from, and they all work well enough in their own right. Touch has you swiping sliders across the screen to adjust the accelerator and rudder (works better on iPad than on a smaller screen), while tilting can feel a bit looser until you get the hang of it. Once you’ve mastered those, you can then try the advanced option, which combines the two others into a bit of a mess unless you can master it.
Still, it is nice to see plenty of option for control in this type of game (especially with the variety of devices out now), as just one won’t please everyone. Without a touch option, I would not have touched the game with a ten foot pole, simply because I don’t find the accelerometer to have precise enough input for my liking. The advanced control requires a good bit of practice to get it right, but should eventually be your control of choice.
If there’s an important takeaway from Air Mail, it’s that flight games don’t need to have great objectives to be fun. Being able to just fly without worrying about missions is relaxing, and not what I really expected out of the game, but I’m also not one to complain when having a good time.