App of the Day: Air Mail

Special delivery.

Do the skies really need a postal service? The denizens of Air Mail's towns do not, as a general rule, occupy the world's upper atmosphere. The number of times you're actually delivering packages is minimal, and you don't get much of a taste for actual floating cities until the game is nearly finished. But I guess the more accurate title "Air Errand-Boy-turned-rebel-pilot" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

Nevertheless, there's something to Air Mail's aviation, which is similar to Pilot Wings, with a touch of Miyazaki's Porco Rosso in terms of style. Taking to the air is as easy as pulling back on your iOS device, initiating lift-off in your rickety seaplane. You can use touch controls for a less authentic experience, though this lessens the thrill of soaring among the clouds somewhat.

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Sign me up.

Sure, if you've ever played any sort of arcade flight sim you've basically played Air Mail, which boils down to variations on airborne object collection and retrieval, flying through rings and racing down the clock to avoid horrible calamities. But to its credit, the uses of these designs can be inventive. Your ship is outfitted with various attachments that allow you to light ceremonial torches or snip the wires from bomb-carrying transports.

The smooth controls certainly don't hurt either: your aircraft moves with controlled buoyancy through the sky, able to sharply cut a hard angle past a sudden obstacle or beyond the crown of a city tower in less than a second. These factors are obviously important, yet arguably can't touch the pure aesthetic pleasure gained by simply sailing across Air Mail's vibrant world.

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Don't expect to fly your plane for long at that angle.

Flying high above the game's island cities is what pulls it all together, making your role as skyward adventurer a delight for the eyes. Between levels, quick-loading screens greet you with beautifully drawn concept art, depicting painterly moments of aerial excitement or soothing idylls.

Surprisingly, and in spite of its simplified graphical style, Air Mail's visuals do a wonderful job of reasonably recreating these scenes with wisps of cloud and rainbows spread quietly over the horizon. It may be worth playing just for the subtly wondrous sight of a moonlit, star-dappled sky reflecting like glass on the surface of a still ocean. Clearly the developers were aware of the simple beauty afforded by a brilliant spectrum of colour and a strong artistic vision (both somewhat confusingly missing from the game's overly cartoonish cut-scenes).

Aside from standard mission and time attack modes, you're also free to explore any island you've seen in the campaign to unlock new paintjobs and aircraft. It's only towards the end of the story missions that piloting a defenceless craft becomes cheap, though this happens so late in the game it's almost negligible. Still, the art direction speaks for itself: it may not be a long flight, but Air Mail's skies are friendlier than most.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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