Air traffic controllers work in notoriously stressful conditions. At major airports, they are responsible for the flow of hundreds of planes (and thousands of passengers) per day. So is there fun to be found in a game devoted to a profession that's noted as much for its allegedly high suicide rate as its sedentary nature? In the case of Majesco's Air Traffic Chaos, the answer is a resounding yes. It's sometimes stressful and often diabolically difficult, but Air Traffic Chaos also happens to be one of the surprise Nintendo DS games of the year, as well as a must-buy for fans of brain-bending puzzles.
Air Traffic Chaos is a charming, challenging puzzle game centered around one of the toughest jobs imaginable.
As an air traffic controller, you're responsible for guiding the incoming and outgoing traffic at one of the five Japanese airports that are included in the game. Each airport has three progressively more difficult challenges associated with it. At the easiest levels, your job is simple: Make sure the incoming and outgoing planes don't come in contact. And while that most basic of rules is obviously still the goal at the higher difficulty levels, the number of variables that look to complicate your job in the ATC tower increase dramatically.
The primary variable in the game is the individual layouts for each of the airport levels. Your most powerful tool for success in Air Traffic Chaos is your understanding of how each unique airport is organized. For example, the opening level, Fukuoka, is a simple one-runway airport with four gates into which any plane can taxi. By the time you get to the advanced levels, such as Tokyo International or New Chitose, you're dealing with multiple runways that split between civilian and military air traffic. You'll also be dealing with gates that differentiate between domestic and international travel, as well as complicated plane taxi lanes. If you toss wind speed and direction (which affect the runways an incoming pilot will choose to land on) into the mix, as well as a stress meter that fills up as you leave pilots unattended in the air or on the ground for too long, Air Traffic Chaos quickly blossoms from a run of the mill "profession" game into a challenging, addictive puzzler.
You control traffic on the ground and in the air by issuing commands. You'll use either the D pad with the buttons or, preferably, the stylus with the touch screen. To issue a command, you simply tap on the plane you wish to communicate with and then choose from the list of available commands. For planes in the air, commands can range from changing speed to determining which runway to choose for a landing. For planes at the gate, you'll need to run through a list of pre-takeoff rituals, which includes confirming the flight plan, determining the takeoff runway, pushing back from the gate, clearing a plane for taxi, and, eventually, clearing for takeoff.
Timing is most delicate in Air Traffic Chaos. For example, you don't want to bring in a plane too early, only to leave it clogging up the runway while you wait to finish the pre-takeoff routine for a gated plane. Eventually, you'll figure out that you can more or less start a plane's landing routine when you begin another plane's takeoff routine, though, as things ramp up in difficulty, it's rarely that simple for long. It's in that complexity and, thanks to a relatively smooth learning curve, your always-increasing understanding of how a particular airport works that the fun is found.