It's worth mentioning that I know Russell Carroll. It's also worth mentioning who Russell Carroll is in relation to this review, because the chance of you knowing already is pretty much next to nothing. Russell Carroll is the man behind Airport Mania: First Flight. Russell Carroll is also the editor of GameTunnel.com, another gaming site that I also write for. So, clearly, I'm pretty stoked that this time around it's my turn to hold sway over a product that he has produced rather than the other way around. However, while it would be much more fun, as a reviewer, to poke holes in Airport Mania, it is, as a title, pretty airtight.
Airport Mania is not a game that's going to shatter any great barriers. Being a casual game to the core, that's not really the point. The point is to deliver solid, accessible gaming to the people. This is a game that delivers on a concept and delivers it well. Style and execution are really what makes a game stand out in the casual gaming world, more than innovation in graphics or gameplay. After all, how many dozens of Luxor clones are there? How many "find the hidden object" games? How many Bejeweled games? And gamers eat them up. Why? Because a good game is a good game. It doesn't matter if you've seen it before; with a fresh coat of paint, a couple small new tricks and solid gameplay, you've got a sale. Airport Mania itself is at its core a "Betty's Beer Bar" clone. However, you're not a waitress at a bar trying to please patrons by queuing up ever increasingly complex series of actions, you're... an airport.
One of the major changes to the standard format in Airport Mania is that you don't control a single entity attempting to please the customer, you control the entire airport. It's your role to direct each plane to the runway, to a gate, to refuel and repair if needed and then get them back off the ground. That's the central conceit for the game, just keep the planes happy. Each plane type (there are 8 in total) has its own look and personality. The bubbly, comic art style for the game makes everything instantly appealing. The planes all start with smiles on their faces and their bushy comic eyebrows hovering over their heads, and you need to keep them that way. The patience level and speed of action for all the plane types differ, based on the supposed number of passengers each has. The bigger a plane is, the faster it will get angry if you're not meeting its needs, with the happiness level being visualized with a series of four bars over each plane. The angrier a plane gets, the more likely it is to leave your airport in a huff, costing you big money.
Speed isn't the only way to please an airplane, however. It's possible to purchase upgrades to your operation in the form of in-flight films or in-flight snacks that will please the passengers on board and keep the planes happy even though things might be getting bogged down in your operations. The upgrade system adds a bit of strategy to the game as well. Each level is passed once you've earned a set amount of funds through your business. The profit from previous stages on the current level will allow you to purchase upgrades ranging from extra parking spaces and gates and runways, to upgraded facilities for boarding and maintenance, to radars and runway de-icers.