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Kirby Air Ride (GameCube) artwork

Kirby Air Ride (GameCube) review

"Ever since his first appearance on the NES in Kirby's Adventure, Kirby has been seen traveling to distant lands on a flying star known as the "Warp Star." It was a mode of transportation seen regularly in nearly every Kirby title following, but it took over a decade for the idea of a Warp Star to be applied to a racing game. And luckily, the developers who chose to take up the job of creating a racing game based on the Warp Star was Hal Laboratories, the original creators of Kirby. But Hal is..."

Ever since his first appearance on the NES in Kirby's Adventure, Kirby has been seen traveling to distant lands on a flying star known as the "Warp Star." It was a mode of transportation seen regularly in nearly every Kirby title following, but it took over a decade for the idea of a Warp Star to be applied to a racing game. And luckily, the developers who chose to take up the job of creating a racing game based on the Warp Star was Hal Laboratories, the original creators of Kirby. But Hal isn't just famous for their work on the Kirby series. They are perhaps best known for their contributions to a little game known as "Super Smash Bros." And elements of both series are strongly portrayed in Kirby Air Ride.

Though it comes as officially a single game, Air Ride actually consists of three very different games all built around the single theme of Warp Star Racing. The first mode, Air Ride, is a standard race between four different competitors (mostly different colored Kirbys, but King Dedede and Metaknight are also unlockable "vehicles"). Top Ride is a vividly perceived throwback to the arcade-style "Top Down" racers of the early 90s. Lastly is City Trial, a great spin on competitive destruction derby racing.

Air Ride could arguably be considered the game's "Main Mode," (indeed, it is the mode which the game is named for) and possesses arguably the hardest challenges of the three different game modes. It is the most modern of the three racing modes, though it should by no means be considered a traditional racer. Remember, you've got the creators of both Kirby and Smash Bros. at the helm. Each course in Air Ride is dotted with numerous enemies from previous Kirby games. It wouldn't be Kirby without the ability to steal enemy abilities, and luckily this tradition remains very much in tact in both Air Ride and City Trial modes.

Many of the powerups from previous games return, but they are not used in precisely the same way. Obtaining a powerup and using it to defeat enemies will give your Warp Star a brief speed boost. In order to obtain the best speeds, the player must consistently use the powers available to him to defeat the enemies along the course, in addition to using their Warp Star's unique abilities to navigate the varied courses.

Though the Air Ride mode begins with only one Warp Star available (the simply named "Warp Star,") other Stars become available along the way by accomplishing goals. Each Star has different strengths and weaknesses which make each course an entirely different experience. The Winged Star can remain airborne for incredible times, while the Swerve Star can move from 0 to its maximum speed in less then a second, but must come to a complete stop to turn. Though many of the Stars available are useful in their own ways, some of them are just plain useless no matter how well you pilot them (The Bulk Star and the Rex Wheelie both come to mind).

Top Ride mode is a complete departure from Air Ride. Though it too is essentially a race between four separate racers, the courses are very small (the longest course takes about fifteen seconds per lap) and there are no enemies along the way. Instead, the challenge and fun of Top Ride mode stems entirely from mass chaos. It is perhaps Kirby Air Ride's closest comparison to traditional Smash Bros. When the player's opponents aren't hindering the player with items and other attacks, then the absolutely insane courses are. In one course, striking the walls produces berries that litter the course and explode on contact. Another course experiences periodic floods of water. Though it is incredibly simplistic, Top Ride provides a kind of rudimentary fun that persists much longer then Air Ride (not that Air Ride gets boring quickly), and is perhaps the game's best multiplayer mode.

Lastly is City Trial, which is divided into two parts. In the first part of the mode, the player and his competitors begin in a large City on a low-grade Warp Star. As the players zoom around the city, then they can switch to more powerful Stars and upgrade their vehicle with new Patches. Particularly ruthless players can even rob their rivals of their Patches by attacking their enemies. Over the course of the time in the City, various actions can occur which give players the opportunity to accumulate more patches. Hidden entrances may open which lead to particularly large stockpiles of items, or in certain cases the city may even be attacked by Dynablade.

After the time limit in the City ends, then an event is randomly selected and all four players compete in that event. One event may challenge players to travel the furthest distance in a preset amount of time, or to defeat the most opposing racers, or even to defeat more NPC opponents then other racers. Though City Trial is perhaps the most ambitious of the three game modes in Kirby Air Ride, its complexity can drag itself down. It's an excellent choice for single-player, but for whatever reason doesn't work as well as a multiplayer mode.

In all three of Kirby Air Ride's modes, there is a long list of goals known as the "Checklist." Each Checklist contains 100 goals. For the mathematically impaired, that's 300 goals total in all three game modes. Each of the Checklists contain goals which relate to the game mode that they are a part of. For instance, in Air Ride mode players are challenged to finish a lap in a preset amount of time, while Top Ride challenges players to finish a large number of laps. City Trial, meanwhile, challenges players to complete certain tasks in the city or reach milestones in the different game challenges. There are variations, however, ranging from gliding for up to a half hour, or defeating a certain number of enemies with a specific powerup in a single race. Other goals are even more unorthodox. Completing goals on the checklists unlocks all sorts of things, from new Kirby colors, to new items and sound tests, to the highly desirable additional racers.

Each mode offers variations on the game's default ruleset to convenience the checklist. Both Air Ride and Top Ride mode, for instance, have a "Free Ride" mode where players can run as many laps in succession as they wish, or a Time Attack mode where players can run the courses without the interference of opposing racers. Players must master altering the rulesets of each of the game modes to complete the checklists. Some of the goals are downright impossible to complete unless one knows the nuances of the advanced rulesets.

Unfortunately, each game mode is limited to only a handful of courses. Air Ride itself has only nine, while Top Ride has only seven. The seven available courses in Top Ride seem especially odd, given the relative simplicity and size of the courses. Luckily, the courses that are included in Top Ride are fun and varied enough that this the lack of courses seems like minor nitpicking instead of a major issue. Air Ride has a similar rationality. Though the courses are few, they are long and varied enough with great level design, so the lack of courses is a minor issue.

Though Kirby Air Ride is by no means a traditional racing game, perhaps the strangest thing about the game is its odd control setup. It uses what is described as a "Single-Button Control Scheme," where the entire game can be played using the A Button and the Control Stick (or the shoulder buttons, if the player wishes). Warp Stars propel themselves forward, gradually rising to their top speed without any prompting from the player. Pressing the A Button will enter Boost mode, and will also activate any powers that the player may have. As long as the A Button is held, then the Warp Star will begin to slow down (finally stopping), and a power meter will begin to charge, which will propel that player's Warp Star forward. The Charge ability is used primarily to drift around corners and receive a small speed boost on the other end. It's incredibly simplistic, which is the real genius of it. It's so simplistic, in fact, that players experienced in more complex control schemes may be so overwhelmed by its underwhelming-ness, that the game seems much harder then it really is. After a few races, however, the controls become second nature.

Graphically, the game is impressive. With each successive appearance since his first transition to 3-D in the original Smash Bros., Kirby has become more and more spherical. His numerously colored incarnations in Air Ride are perhaps his most round and roly-poly yet. Enemies are equally well detailed, but since they are often flying by at high speeds, on screen icons indicate specially which powers the enemies give. The developers got rather lazy in the backgrounds, however. Instead of fully sculpted environments, most of the courses are literally "hanging in space," with a pre-rendered backdrop in the background. The backdrops are nice, but it would have been nice to see more complete environments included, especially considering it's impossible to even fall off the course in most cases. The City in City Trial mode is a tad bland and simplistic, and seems to make use of a lot of fake 3-d objects (2-d objects that are made to look 3-d), but this is probably done to ensure the framerate remains high. In terms of sound, the game could be improved. The music is barely noticeable, though it does make use of remixed versions of several classic Kirby themes.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Controls: 9 out of 10
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound and Music: 3 out of 5
Extras: 5 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.6 out of 10

The Good: All three modes are lots of fun, and each are different enough from one another that they feel like different games. Completing all three checklists is an extremely challenging and rewarding goal (some of the tasks in Air Ride and City Trial require god-like reflexes), and there are almost two dozen new Warp Stars to unlock, including King Dedede (on a Wheelie Rex) and Metaknight (flying) as alternatives to regular Warp Stars.
The Bad: City Trial is initially the best and most ambitious of the three game modes, but given that gathering Patches in the same environment over and over is the only real activity available, it has the least longevity of the three game modes.
The Ugly: Top Ride, unfortunately, has only two available Warp Stars. Several of the Warp Stars in Air Ride are bad to the point of being worthless and impossible to use, which complicates several Checklist goals which require these Warp Stars be used.

Essentially three very different games built on the same concept and control scheme, Kirby Air Ride has at least one aspect of racing that should appeal to fans. Traditional racers will love Air Ride, while old school gamers will get a big kick out of Top Ride. Players looking for an almost destruction derby type game with varied challenges will truly enjoy City Trial. It's just a shame that this game doesn't get more attention. Though it doesn't have the destructive chaos or mass appeal of Super Smash Bros., you can definitely see its influence in Kirby Air Ride. It's Smash Bros. for Racing Gamers.

mrshotgun's avatar
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)

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