Review by Joon
"The wait was worth it!"
Kirby's Air Ride is a cart racing game developed by HAL. The Mario Kart series contains the only racing games I've ever liked so the prospect of another Nintendo cart title sounded promising. Kirby’s Air Ride has been in production since the early days of the Nintendo 64. Any game that has taken that long in development has to be either very good or very bad. Kirby's Air Ride is most definitely the former! Good things come to those who wait!
Kirby's Air Ride is divided into three main sections: Air Ride mode, Top Ride mode, and City Trial mode. Air Ride mode is your classic cart racing. Kirbies of varying colors hop on their warp stars and ride their hearts out. The tracks vary greatly in design. From bone-strewn sand dunes and hilly grasslands to frozen mountains and lava falls, Kirby's got it all. Each stage has something to call its own. Shortcuts and alternate paths are sure to spring up. Don't be surprised if you come across a flying whale or a lava dragon! Every track is unique in its own way. The tracks are littered with the usual assortment of jumps and boosts as well. Also about the tracks are hordes of enemies. Just like in his other adventures, Kirby can suck up the enemies; some will give him new powers and others will be spit back out as a projectile. There are several enemy abilities, most of which are used offensively against the other racers. A few others could make you speed up, fall asleep, or even help you fly. Yes, fly! It couldn't be Kirby's Air Ride without some riding of air. Throughout the game, Kirby can unlock new vehicles: each with their own properties. Some of which specialize in flying. If you go off of a jump, depending on your vehicle, you can glide over the land. Pulling back will make Kirby go up, possibly towards a higher raceway. Oftentimes, flying is slower than racing on the ground so you may want to drop to the ground. Don't worry about complicated controls because Kirby is the master of simplicity. Everything in the game is controlled by the analog stick or the A button. It may seem like that is a bit limited, but everything works greatly. Each vehicle has a charge meter. If you hold the A button down, Kirby will stop his vehicle (you don't have to press anything to accelerate) and begin to charge it. If Kirby releases when it's fully charged, the vehicle will receive a sudden boost of speed. Each vehicle uses the charge a little differently. Some vehicles can't move without charging first, others will lose a lot of time by stopping to charge and still others can't even turn without charging. The colorful tracks, unique power-up system and controls make Kirby's Air Ride a racing game all its own.
Top Ride mode is another racing mode, but it is very different from Air Ride mode. The tracks of Top Ride mode are very small. Instead of following behind your racer, you get a top-down view of the entire course. There are two carts to choose from in Top Ride mode. Neither has an advantage over the other, they just have different control styles. The enemies that gave Kirby power-ups in Air Ride mode aren't present in Top Ride mode. Instead, there are power-up icons littered over the course. Again, the effects of each vary from speed boosts to offensive moves. Each level has quirks that make it unique as well. Kirby may get smashed by a flaming boulder in one level, have to avoid a sand trap in another and get whisked far ahead of the competition on a rail in another stage. While the goals may be the same, Air Ride and Top Ride modes are two completely different, and great, affairs.
City Trial is a far cry from either Top Ride or Air Ride modes. Kirby is placed in a city, complete with volcanoes, ice caves, forests, beaches, and a lot more. For three to seven minutes, Kirby's goal is to power up his ship. Power-ups are scattered all over the city and hidden in boxes. These power ups are unlike those of the other two modes; these power-ups boost your ship’s stats. The stage also contains all sorts of weapons as well. If you don't feel like finding your own stat boosters, you can blast your friend to make him relinquish his. If you hurt someone enough, their ship may explode out from under them. That doesn't mean that they're dead. Now they have to wander the city on foot until they find a new ride. Most of the game’s vehicles are scattered throughout the city. If you ever want to switch your standard warp star out for something with more speed or defense, you can if you find it first. Hazards can be toggled on or off for City Trial. If they are on, at random points during play, a strange event may occur. These events range from very good (healing pads scattered all over the city) to very bad (the city is bombarded by meteors) to very annoying (all boosters and boxes in the city begin bouncing, making them very hard to grab). If you want to try your luck and spice up the action a bit, the hazards are a great way to do it. After the stage time runs out, you finally get to put your stat boosters to use. You'll play another game right after City Trial mode that could be a versus match, a race, a high flying event or a number of other things. You keep your ride from City Trial mode for this game so all of those boosts will come in handy. After your post City Trial game, your stat boosts are lost. You can play City Trial mode again, but you're back to square one.
All three modes have their own check board. Each check board consists of 120 boxes. Every box is a goal for the specified mode. This check board goal system will certainly seem familiar to those who tried earning the trophies in Super Smash Bros. Melee (for which HAL is also responsible). Both have objectives that range from tremendously easy to annoyingly hard. Some of the goals will reward you with a prize when completed. The prizes range from a new song in the sound test, a new color Kirby or even a new vehicle. The check boards are sure to bring you back time and again.
I don't believe there is a story in Kirby's Air Ride, not that it matters.
The graphics are certainly up to Kirby's standards. All the levels are vibrant and colorful. Even the night levels are always bright enough to see clearly. Much of the game seems to be fairly plain in terms of modeling. The characters and buildings look barely above N64 quality. That's not to say that they look bad or have blurring problems, but they certainly aren't very detailed. However, this can hardly be counted against the game because Kirby has always looked very simple. It's just his style. The sound is the usual Kirby affair. Very cheerful music, Kirby's victory song, and the usual Kirby sound effects (sucking up enemies, using their abilities). Nothing extraordinary but still very nice.
Kirby's Air Ride has tons of replay. The check boards are sure to keep even the best players occupied for weeks. With two different race modes and the always fun City Trial, there's always a reason to come back to Kirby one more time.
Kirby's Air Ride is a definite must buy title. The three different modes offer so much varying game play, replay and most importantly: fun! The check boards offer so much to do and hold a plethora of little surprises. My only complaint against the title is the occasional slowdown in City Trial mode. The buildings in City Trial mode could have looked nicer as well. Those are nit picking though. Kirby's Air Ride is a blast to play and should not be missed!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/28/03, Updated 09/09/03
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