Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.
There’s a romance attached to the seaplane. Hayao Miyazaki knew it when he created Porco Rosso, the people at Disney knew it when they transplanted the characters from The Jungle Book into the serialized TaleSpin, and the makers of FX’s Archer knew it when they cast Patrick Warburton as a rugged seaplane captain. The seaplane’s cultural moment seems to last forever. So thank goodness someone has finally had the good sense to make a game that captures our collective imaginings of the glamorous life of a seaplane pilot.
Superficially, Air Mail is a straightforward airplane game. Most missions consist of flying through rings, or picking up objects and delivering said objects elsewhere on the map. It’s a tried-and-true formula that has been banging around at least since Pilotwings on the Super NES. Where Air Mail stands apart, though, is in the charming presentation. The colorful cast of characters keeps the action bright and jubilant, the varied island cities are full of interesting nooks and crannies, and the story moves smoothly from serene island life to the perils of war and back again. It’s rare that a video game sees fit to include a satisfying denouement after its action-packed climax, which makes Air Mail’s main story particularly delightful.
Most of the fun, though, is found beyond the story-based Mission Mode, in the other two play areas. Express Delivery is a challenge mode where players can compete against friends to see who can deliver the most packages, catch the most fish, or fly through the most rings in a limited span of time. Explore Mode has players fly across the game’s several maps, hunting out landmarks and hidden markers much like the island exploration games (that is, the most fun parts) of Nintendo’s Wii Sports Resort and Pilotwings Resort. Air Mail is a fitting game to start the summer—a tropical vacation of errand-running, enemy-dodging, and tropical sightseeing.