Chow down and speed up!
Kirby was ready for his first racer on the Nintendo 64, but it was canceled and later put on the Nintendo Gamecube. Now with updated assets, characters, and visuals, Kirby Air Ride aims itself to be a racer for everyone-- both casual gamers and veteran gamers. Is Kirby Air Ride the perfect racer for both gamers, or is this game just full of hot air?
There's three main modes to Kirby Air Ride. There's the titlular Air Ride mode for traditional racing, Top Ride for overhead Off-Road-style racing, and City Trial. There's no story to speak of, so progress in Kirby Air Ride is marked by three checkerboards each with 110 panels each, one for each mode. As you complete in-game tasks such as achieving a record lap or race time or sucking up ten enemies in one race, these panels unlock revealing a green or red square. Red squares are the good ones to get as they unlock content from new air ride machines, characters, colored Kirbies, music, and race options. Each time you unlock a panel, the four surrounding it will reveal what you need to do to unlock those adjacent panels. It's very similar to Super Smash Bros. Brawl's challenges, or should I say Brawl is very similar to Kirby Air Ride's challenges? You can even unlock the ability to open a square or two for free much like Brawl.
Of the three main modes, Air Ride is probably the one that will get the most playtime for most players. There's nine tracks in all spanning from gardens to deserts to beanstalk skyways. Playing Air Ride only involves two inputs-- the control stick and the A button. Some might be put off by the simplicity of the controls, but there's a lot to do with just two inputs. You can swallow enemies, taking their powers for a limited time, gobble up foes and spit them out at rivals, slide around corners to shave precious seconds off your lap time, and hit boost plates to speed up temporarily. Holding the A button at a turn will slow your character down to a crawl allowing you to turn easily. Let go of the A button, and your character will boost out of the corner. There's plenty of powers for Kirby to consume from fire to ice to a speeding tire to a flying bird-- there's plenty of enemies to eat and powers to grab. Races are fun, and the simplicity of the controls means everyone has a chance to play without feeling the game's dumbed down.
The second of the three modes is Top Ride. This is akin to the Super Off-Road series of games. You play on short, small, isolated, and overhead tracks completing laps while avoiding your rivals and obstacles and collecting items dropped. There's two control setups available to use. One is the traditional Off-Road-style controls: left to drive left and right to drive right, regardless of the angle you're driving. The other uses all three-hundred and sixty degrees of the control stick to drive your warp star to the finish. Like Air Ride, there's several tracks to race on each with its own elemental theme from fire to water to metal to light. Each track has its own obstacles to avoid such as spinning floors, lava and magma floor, waterfalls, and much more. This is the true party mode of the game, and it's a heckuva lot of fun. Throw in some items into the mix, and things get even more crazy!
The final mode in Kirby Air Ride is City Trial. This mode has up to four players scouring a city for appropriate vehicles and power-ups as they're timed. The goal of this city excursion is to grab as many helpful power-ups to assist them in the upcoming challenge that occurs once the time limit expires. These challenges range from a series of events. There's a demolition derby where the goal is to eliminate your rivals and score the most points. There's a high jump which is what it sounds like. Also, there's an event where players glide into blocks with different points assigned to them. The best score within two turns is considered the winner. Finally, there's a drag race where speed is key on this linear stretch of track. Each event has numerous different versions offering enough variety for all. City Trial was my least favorite mode as you're forced to at least play around in the city for three minutes before you can try out a new event. This meant just hanging around waiting for a new game to occur. It can get tedious. Thankfully, once you play a new event, you can select it from the stadium menu without having to go through that pesky city ordeal. Regardless, it's still a fun mode to play through with friends or even the competent CPU.
No matter which mode you pick, there's plenty of options to tinker around with from number of laps in a given race to whether items or enemies are on or off. You can change how many CPU opponents there are, their handicap, and how much of a challenge they may or may not be. The Air Ride and Top Ride modes also have Time Attack and Free Run modes. One is the standard time trial whereas the other is a constant race to better your lap times on.
Kirby Air Ride's menus are very much designed and set up like Super Smash Bros. Melee even up to the tutorial videos. It's no surprise as both games were designed by the same developer. The game runs at a smooth framerate with no slowdown or tearing whatsoever. The music isn't what you'd expect from a Kirby soundtrack. That isn't to say it's bad. No, no. Quite the contrary. It's very epic-sounding and good! Just don't expect overly cheery music. Though you can expect some classic Kirby songs from series past thrown in for good measure!
All-in-all, Kirby Air Ride's simplicity does not detract from the overall game. It isn't a dumbed down racer by any means. There's plenty of depth and strategy, options to tinker with, and characters and vehicles to unlock. If you can somehow find a copy of this rare game, don't sit on your hands, pick it up and enjoy this enjoyable game. Kirby Air Ride doesn't quite soar into the stars, but it does come pretty darn close.
[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]