In 2009, we dipped and soared with the Glyder series of games from Glu Mobile. At the time, we raved that the iPhone’s tilt controls and 3D graphics made for a sublime flying experience, but Glyder 1 and 2 are no longer available on the App Store. Fortunately, Chillingo and N-Fusion’s Air Mail fits the gap perfectly, and for the first time in years, we felt the joy of flight on iOS.
There have been other successful flying games on iOS, like the dogfighting sim Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, but nothing available today matches the charm of Air Mail. Air Mail is inspired by lofty anime like Porco Rosso, which combines colorful characters and environments with iconic early 20th century technology like biplanes and zeppelins.
In Air Mail, you play as a young boy or girl who gets a job delivering mail by sea plane, but very few of the game’s levels actually have you picking up and dropping letters. Very quickly, you’ll engage in a series of brief missions (all are around 2 minutes long) that will have you chasing pigeons from rooftops, harvesting fish from the sea, and igniting fireworks to raise the town’s spirits.
Then, war is declared. Instead of placing a couple of machine guns on your plane like in most other flight sims, Air Mail takes a refreshingly unique approach to combat. You’ll sabotage the enemy fleet and help the resistance, but only by stealing ammo from flight decks, or clipping the cables holding their airships together. So without firing a single bullet, you’ll become a war hero through your flying skills alone.
None of this could work without a sensible control scheme, and Air Mail offers three. You can use a virtual joystick, tilt the entire device, or employ a complicated “advanced” mode that lets you pull off extra moves like barrel rolls. We preferred the basic tilt mode, and had no trouble navigating our creaky plane through narrow alleyways and under rocky bridges.
Air Mail is also a delight to look at and listen to. The colorful graphics perfectly match the anime films it’s inspired by, and the music is professional film or TV quality. The voice acting can be a bit grating, especially the wizened Japanese sensei who almost sounds like a caricature, but some of the supporting characters sound genuinely enthusiastic when you perform well in a mission.
In addition to the main story mode (which is punctuated by windowed and poorly animated cutscenes), Air Mail offers a few fun bonuses. There’s exploration mode, where you can kick back without a time limit and search for bonus collectibles, and a few delivery missions that you can replay for a high score. You can also replay each story mission for a five-star rating, but there’s no multiplayer mode to compete against other players.
Despite a few very minor issues– namely, the cutscenes and some of the voice acting– we loved this bright, beautiful flying game. It has a charming story, even if it’s not always well-delivered, and the gameplay is everything you could ask for in a casual flight sim. Whether you’re igniting celebratory fireworks, defending your town from attack, or barreling through a giant dragon skeleton, Air Mail is packed with moments that will put a smile on your face.