Airport Mania from South Winds Games is a time management sim that drops all the trite settings and food-related themes we've grown tired of in the genre. Instead of serving cake or pizza or sandwiches, your job is to direct airplanes, load passengers, and make sure everything runs smoothly. All of this is accomplished with a simple interface and airplanes that are too cute for their own good. And unlike real airports, you can actually have flights arrive on time or even early!
Planes appear at the top of the screen, flying back and forth until you tell them which runway to land on. After touching down, direct planes to an empty gate where passengers are unloaded and new passengers boarded. Then it's back to the runway to take off once again. Sometimes a plane will need to re-fuel between groups of passengers, in which case you simply direct it to the repair station.
The basic structure of the game is simple and only a few events come along to change things around. Sometimes a plane will be carrying urgent cargo and must take priority over other flights, while other times weather conditions will alter your plans. Between each of the game's 84 levels you'll visit the store where you can buy new structures for your airport or upgrade existing ones to be faster/better.
Once you gain the ability to paint planes, a new level of complexity opens up. Each gate has a color, each plane has a color. Match like-colored crafts to gates and you'll earn a bonus. Painting allows you to change the color, forcing you to decide if a pit-stop is worth the matching bonus or if being on time is a better reward.
Analysis: The most immediate draw to Airport Mania is its visual style. Is "cute" a strong enough word? Not sugary sweet cute, but airplanes with big eyes and goofy smiles certainly qualifies as adorable. They even hum while waiting for passengers. AWWW!!!
Fuzzy wuzzy planes aside, Airport Mania is built around a very simple time management construct and rarely strays from that premise. The shop introduces a few upgrades, but these don't change the experience very dramatically. It's almost as if the game was afraid to veer too far from its established (but highly entertaining) core idea. With a solid interface, excellent visual style, and unique setting, I think the game could have afforded to take a few chances here and there. There's also a low and slow progression of difficulty, allowing you to master the game quickly but offering less challenge until later.
Airport Mania is a breath of fresh air in many ways. The only drawbacks to the experience are minor, and it's an excellent resource management sim that'll capture your afternoon with ease.