Review by The_Noble_Shade
"In retrospect, bland but enjoyable (somewhat)"
It saddens me to say (though it is necessary) that the Wii has become the toilet of the video game industry, with one terrible game after another draining out like such foul refuse. I have always felt that one of the things that made the Wii slightly better than the other consoles was the fact that it was 100% backwards compatible, meaning that one could play their old Gamecube titles without any hassle, and I have have noticed that the Gamcube never got enough love during its lifespan.. In these times, I think it is important that some used, bottom shelf titles have some value; and are worth picking up over the rubbish Wii titles. I feel that Kirby Air Ride is one of these treasures, even though it has some tarnish.
Overall, the Kirby series has been disappointing. Kirby Super Star on the SNES was the best game of them all, but every subsequent game deviated and/or took away from all the concepts that made it good. With Kirby Air Ride, Kirby once again leaves the world of side-scrolling to venture into the world of racing. Kirby Air Ride is a racing game developed by Nintendo's sister company, HAL Laboratories, the ones responsible for the traditional Kirby games and the Smash Bros. series. Having been in genres of golf, puzzles, and even variants of arcade games (Breakout and Pinball) it seems that HAL Labs was trying to make Kirby seem like his stepbrother Mario by putting him in every type of game possible. Thankfully this particular game is a concept that was not poorly executed, just not executed enough.
Here's the core of the gameplay: you and up to three other opponents play as Kirby and ride on a machine (vehicle). The game has very simple controls, which is one of it's selling points. The control stick is used to steer and the A button is used to boost, which a brake/slide. Holding the button down causes the vehicle to slide and reduce speed, while a meter around the speedometer charges. If the button if released after the meter is fully charged, the vehicle receives a speed boost. The intent of this feature is to slide around corners; if this is attempted on a straightaway, the boost won't make up for the stop that is made.
The games' other boasted selling point is that it is three games in one as if it could say that with a straight face. There are three game modes, all of them with 1-4 players (if you're by yourself, bots will fill the other 1-3 slots), the first of which is Air Ride. It is a general racing mode using the rules and controls I described above, only that there is also an emphasis on combat. Quickly move the stick from left to right (or vice-versa) during a race to execute a quick-spin. This can be used to block certain attacks and to attack other vehicles, causing them to take damage and lose speed; take enough damage and you're out. Kirby also has his signature copy ability in this game. In each race, there are other enemies riding around. Pressing A near one of these will make Kirby inhale it. If it has no ability, Kirby will spit it out a star the will home in on the nearest opponent or enemy. If it has an ability to copy, Kirby will swallow the enemy and acquire it. There are 7 different abilities, all used in different ways, but usually revolve around the A button. The winner of each race is whoever finishes first, or if there is one racer left after everyone else's vehicle has been destroyed. According to a poll on the official website, this is the game mode that is played the most. The main flaws with this mode are that there is only one vehicle available at the start (Kirby's signature Warpstar) and there are only nine tracks (including the unlockable one). It seems that HAL Labs commits this recurring sin of telling people about all the cool stuff in the manual, only to have us find out when we play that we can't have them. After all of them are unlocked, there are about 20 vehicles, each with their own special attributes.
The second game mode is Top Ride which is a mini racing game! Unlike the behind the back, 3D Air Ride mode, this is 2D game from a top-down perspective (like the original Grand Theft Auto games). There are only two vehicles in this mode, but that doesn't matter because they correspond to control style. One is steered from the players' perspective (up to steer northward, down to steer southward), or from the machines perspective (steering it left and right). In this mode, it is all about who finishes first. There is still boosting and quick-spin, but there is no damage. During races, there are items you can run over and pick up. Some boost your speed, some are used automatically to attack, and some require input. Quick-spinning makes you drop your item, but allows you to shove opponents out of your way. There 10 tracks, each of them with unique hazards. Getting hit with other attacks make causes the vehicle to lose speed or stop. There is not much I can complain about this mode; it is exactly what is says it is.
In the Air Ride and Top Ride modes, there are single player Time Trial and Free Run options. In Time Trial, you try a 3-lap run of a track in the fastest time possible; defeating enemies during the run boosts speed a little. In Free Run, the goal is simply try to get the fastest lap possible, with no enemies around to help you or hurt you.
The third mode is City Trial, and I really enjoy this mode. It's not a race, but a free-for-all/scavenger hunt. At the start, all of the players are on a machine and are spawned in a random part of an unnamed city. The goal is to find these patches the power up certain attributes of your vehicle. You can find them lying around, in boxes you attack to break open, or you can attack your opponent to knock some patches out of him. And if there is any moment where the game is paused with the intent to give your friend a beating on the shoulder, it's when he incessantly destroys your vehicle. When your vehicle is destroyed you lose a bunch of patches and have to walk around on foot to find another one, and when you hop on, you lose some more patches. I can't think of any reason why that should happen because it's very frustrating to have to pick up the stuff you drop just because you decided to change vehicles. During the time in the city, certain events may happen, such as the appearances of old Kirby characters Tac and DynaBlade, vision limiting fog, or even your vehicles top-speed going uncontrollably berserk. When the time runs out everyone and their augmented machine takes part in a randomly determined Stadium, which is a minigame using their machine. This could be a one-lap race on an Air Ride track, a free-for-all battle, a flying contest, a drag race, or other minigames designed for a specific vehicle attribute. The problem I have with this mode is that it's to short. Up to 7 minutes are spent roaming around this city only to have the Stadium last 30-90 seconds.
All of the game modes have their own checklist which is a 10x10 grid of in-game challenges. At the start, there is nothing there. But when a challenge is completed (such as completing 3 races), it will be revealed on the grid, and the requirements for other challenges adjacent to that one will appear. Not all the challenges unlock something, but the others unlock things such as Kirby colors, vehicles, and alternate music.
The game looks good. All of the tracks are colorful and varied, and the textures have detail. My favorite track, Checker Nights, is a good showcase. The first half of the track takes place in a winding, floating castle, then its down into a city of lights. Nintendo and HAL Labs have always paid attention to detail, and they didn't slack off here.
Another thing I like about this game is the sense of nostalgia, but it also tortures me with it. The entire game references the Kirby series as a whole, and all of the alternate songs on the levels are taken from past Kirby games (the Revenge of the Meta-Knight theme is a personal favorite of mine).
But it all feels a little lacking, like when you eat a sandwich that doesn't have enough filling. Maybe if there were more Air Ride tracks and longer Stadiums, this wouldn't be such a problem. Another complaint would be the LAN feature. You can link this game to multiple TVs provided you have 2-4 Gamecubes, 2-4 LAN adapters2-4 TVS, and 2-4 copies of the game. This feature was more useful in MarioKart: Double Dash, because it allowed up to 16 players to play. Here, the feature is useless because 1) Gameplay would still be limited to four players and 2) The Wii doesn't support this feature.
Because of the lack of depth, a recommendation for this game comes with a risk. If you have never been a fan of the Kirby series, this game definitely won't change your mind. If you and a friend are desperate to get some use out of your Wii, then this is worth a risk. GameStop sells it for 20 bucks, and you can get it off eBay cheaper. Overall this is not a bad game, but not the best game.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/09
Game Release: Kirby: Air Ride (US, 10/13/03)
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