reviews I am an Air Traffic Controller - Airport Hero Haneda

Review: I am an Air Traffic Controller – Airport Hero Haneda (Nintendo Switch)

I miss Japan so much...

6 mins read

I often wonder how successful I’d be working as an air traffic controller. It seems like it would be a stressful job, given how quickly air flights can turn deadly, and how busy airports are these days. I also suspect I’d be less-than-good at the job, given how many nightmare accidents I end up “achieving” in I am an Air Traffic Controller – Airport Hero Haneda. Ah well. Perhaps it’s not the wisest idea to start preparing my resume to send to airports, but at least the game is fun.

Broadly speaking, Airport Hero Haneda is a management simulation. You are indeed in control of the airport’s control tower, and your job is to direct the planes coming into and taking out of Haneda airport. You don’t control them directly, but you’re certainly meant to be micromanaging them.

Each plane needs to be taken through several steps, whether it is taking off or landing, Each of these steps is as simple as selecting a command from a menu. However, while it’s easy to learn the processes and have planes flying and landing within the span of two 5-minute tutorials, of course Airport Hero Haneda doesn’t wait long to show its teeth. This game can become very difficult indeed.

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The most straightforward challenge is making sure the planes don’t crash into one another. You’ve only got so many runways to direct planes to (four, to be exact), and then you have to also deal with planes taxing to and from the terminals. The airstrips are all laid out in different directions across the airport, and by the time you’ve got five or six planes to manage at once, if you’re not careful it’s very easy to direct them right into one another simply trying to get them to the place they need to be.

Then you need to start accounting for weather conditions (which might make some runways impossible to use) and planes with special needs (for example, rather than taking off, a plane might need to taxi to a hangar for repairs). You need to do all of this quickly, too. If you leave a plane in the air for too long, or sitting on a runway waiting for other planes to come and go, you’ll earn fewer points. Those points are the clear requirement for each level, and therefore, if you want to get through the levels, you’re going to have to play pretty efficiently at all times.

The end effect of this is a game that exhibits a strange duality. On the one hand, it’s quite calming and almost zen-like in that individual planes move slowly and watching them move around in the air or on the ground is really quite relaxing. On the other hand, the game demands precise timing and decision-making, and it can become intense (and even frustrating on the highest difficulty setting). While it is nominally a simulation-style game, visually and thematically, it’s much closer to a puzzler mechanically, and like any good puzzler, when it’s testing you it can make you feel like an idiot.

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There’s nothing quite like having the airport running like clockwork, however, and Airport Hero is enormously rewarding to learn and master. The game has a simple visual aesthetic, with the city of Tokyo around the airport being rendered in an incredibly primitive way, but the planes and airport facilities have a nice “diorama” look to them. While there are no officially-licensed planes or airlines in the game, plane watchers will have little difficulty figuring out what real-world airline the in-game plane decals are an approximation of, and they’ve done a decent job of rendering all the different makes and models, across both international and domestic aircraft.

There are 16 stages in total, split across three difficulty levels, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually pretty substantial. By the time you hit medium difficulty, getting a flawless “S” rank is by no means guaranteed, encouraging replay value, and most stages take upwards of an hour to complete (assuming you don’t commit a catastrophic mistake and have to start over again). The variety in the stages is nice too – no two stages feel like they’re a retread of the challenges that the previous ones did. It is frustrating that you only unlock stages one at a time (there are a few stages I would rather have come back to than have to clear to make progress), but I guess this is the game’s way of making sure that it keeps testing your full range of management abilities.

There’s not much else to say here. I am an Air Traffic Controller – Airport Hero Haneda is a simple, straightforward and clean simulation game, with a healthy hit of challenge and some delightful presentational qualities for the target audience (people that like airports and plains). It’s an incredible niche game and, without a doubt, most people will look at it and wonder what the appeal is. The tiny audience that will click with it, however, will absolutely love it.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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