Face Pilot Review: The Video Game That Only Plays Well On My Toilet

Just when I was ready to call the first hang-gliding video game that I've ever controlled with my face a modern-day torture rack, I discovered it plays well in the second-most comfortable location of my home.

You are reading the review of a game that only the bravest should buy. Face Pilot: Fly With Your Nintendo DSi Camera! is a game for the hearty and the eternally optimistic. You know how you play a great game thinking "Just one more turn... it'll be so much fun"? The Face Pilot pilot plays this downloadable DSi experiment thinking "Just one more try... maybe this time it will work!"

Using the DSi's front-facing camera, Face Pilot supposedly tracks your head movement (or, if your head stays still, your hand movement of the DSi) in order to let you fly a hang glider over canyons, across islands, collecting balloons and stars as you head to a goal. There are 15 courses involving collection, speed-runs and target-bombing, all controlled by your face. Neat trick... if it worked.

Loved

The Two-Word Theme Song: When you turn on Face Pilot, the theme song begins with people singing the phrase "Face Pilot." Nothing in this game gave me more joy than that. Listen in the trailer below

Hated

Horrible Discomfort: Face Pilot offers two control schemes. With table mode, you set the DS on a table, hover you face over it and lean your head this way and that to control the glider. If you are a pale white man like me and have white ceilings, this mode will seldom work. The DSi can't distinguish pigment from paint.

The game's other control scheme lets you hold the DS. The camera locks onto your face and uses that as a point of reference as you tilt the DS in ways that would steer or tilt your glider. This does not work if you are a pale white man like me and have white walls. Nor does it work while you are riding the subway and the gray metal doors are behind you. Nor does it work (well) when you lie on your navy blue couch, stack pillows above your head and hope that this will provide enough contrast. Why? Well, that worked while I used the game's standard glider, but stopped working when I scored well enough in the game's challenges to unlock a faster glider. The speed of that new glider compelled me to steer more vigorously, which confused the camera. Late last night, after an hour of struggle in various postures in various rooms in my house, I finally found a spot where I could play Face Pilot reliably. Check it out (spoiler: this was prior to the toilet discovery, which I'm getting to):

This Alternative Controller Scam: Face Pilot would be a boring game if you could control it with an analog stick or d-pad or accelerometer. You'd fly through the game's 15 challenges in under an hour and wonder what the point was. Simple courses. Simple challenges. Simple level design. But Face Pilot has a special face-controlled control scheme! That makes it special and lumps it into one of gaming's worst categories: a motion-controlled game that is notable only because it is controlled by motion.

This morning, while I was doing something else, I discovered that the bright lights over my toilet cause enough contrast to enable Face Pilot to work properly. When I bought my Brooklyn apartment I wondered why it had been built with a bright light over the toilet. The builders must have had a vision of Face Pilot!

At E3 in June, I played a couple of game demos on the Nintendo 3DS that used the system's cameras and motion sensor to allow me to see myself in the game and let me feel like I was flying my handheld device toward some sort of augmented-reality victory. One of these demos worked well because it used the 3DS' outward-facing camera to focus on a small patterned coaster that was placed on a table. In one of the 3DS' screens, a dragon appeared to pop out of the coaster. I could walk around the coaster, pointing my 3DS at it, and shoot different sides of the dragon with a virtual blaster. That worked. That was a good idea. Face Pilot does not and is not.

Face Pilot: Fly With Your Nintendo DSi Camera was developed by HAL Laboratories and published by Nintendo as a downloadable-only game for the DSi on July 26. Retails for $5.00 USD. Nintendo points were supplied to us by the publisher. We used them to buy the game. Unlocked two thirds of the game's levels. Wished the darned thing worked. Thought I might need to get a tan.

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