With the first proper flight in the tutorial, Balsa Model Flight Sim earns a place in that group of magical videogame moments. Not the very first flight, which is designed to be a botch that will lead you back to the workshop for a bit of tinkering. But the first flight once you have lengthened the fuselage and rebalanced the plane a bit. Pick the plane up, press shift to pull back your arm, and then launch!
Suddenly you are following the plane, soaring over a world whose blue skies and green lawns bring back all the right memories of PilotWings. Back to the workshop to add a few flaps or whatever they’re called, and on your next flight you can actually control things a bit. I turned left over the bay, and then swung right again. I had aimed high, so I had a bit of height to start with. I landed eventually on the roof of an apartment building.
Then? F9. F9 which is quickly becoming the best button in games. F9 brings your balsa plane back from whatever terrible spot you’ve lost it in, back to the ground in front of you, where you can pick it up and throw it again. F9 is magic.
There’s a lot of magic to go around. Balsa Model Flight Sim is from the creator of Kerbal Space Program, so when it feels uncommonly fuss-free to switch pieces of plane in and out, when it feels like a doddle to move between the workshop and the testing area, you have all those Kerbals lost in low orbit to thank for it. Balsa Model Flight Sim is in Early Access, but it already has a great tutorial, a campaign mode which I have largely ignored for the time being, and Free Flight.
I’ve had an afternoon with it, and Free Flight suits me perfectly. Watch trailers and the dream of the game is intoxicating – craft beautiful designs, add wings and propellors and whatnot, give them paint jobs and even mounted guns and then send them soaring over the environment, threading through shipping containers and back through the open doors of the workshop. Connect motors and add chairs and pilots! Craft yourself a little jetliner!
I have done very little of this. But crucially, in my stupid fiddling about I have had enormous fun with my mistakes. My first engine was off-center and made the plane constantly tilt to the right. My memory of what a Cessna looked like turned out to be completely unfit for flight when I actually built it. F9 was bringing my plane back in pieces. My flights got shorter and shorter as my designs got more ambitious. But it was all brilliant.
It was brilliant in the same way it was brilliant when I first played Kerbal Space Program and, unsure how to make rocket stages that detached, I had to create a design that was sufficiently unstable to ensure that the rocket stages shook themselves loose when they were no longer needed. If you’re smart and conscientious, Balsa Model Flight Sim is going to allow you to work wonders. But even if you aren’t, you’re going to have fun with this.
Why? Because the game offers complexity while simultaneously getting out of your way. Which means that a player like me is left to enjoy their bad ideas. F9! F9 forever!