Review by German Dragon
"A Great Idea, With Poor Execution"
In the past, there have been several great racing game spin-offs for popular game series. At the top of ladder, are games like Diddy Kong Racing, and Super Mario Kart. When Kirby's Air Ride was announced, all of the pieces seemed to be in place. Who wouldn't want to play a racing game featuring everyone's favorite Star Warrior, Kirby? The idea of racing through the world on a warp star, and copying enemies' abilities to use against your opponents sounded great. Unfortunately, the game was disappointing in the end. While not without its good points, the overly simply controls, and poor execution of key features take away from the enjoyment of the game.
The game is divided into three modes of play: Air Ride, Top Ride, and City Trial. These modes are so different from one another, that it almost seems like they were meant to be completely different games. In Air Ride, you'll have large-scale races, complete with enemies to swallow, rails to glide through the air along, and boosters on the ground to speed you up. In Top Ride, you'll be overlooking a small-scale race, with lots of chaos going on. This race contains two-dimensional gameplay, but there are still many elements to the gameplay. Lastly, there is City Trial, which is by far the most enjoyable mode. In that mode, you'll ride around an absolutely gigantic world -- full of buildings, rivers, hidden caves, forests, and even volcanoes -- collecting power-ups. These power-ups increase your speed, power, gliding ability, or give you power-ups that enemies would in the Air Ride mode. Afterward, you'll be launched into a mini-game, using the abilities you collected.
Air Ride mode was obviously the biggest selling point for the game, but it just didn't give me the fun experience I had been waiting for. The controls were simple, and poor. You control your Kirby -- as the other three opponents are merely different colored versions of him -- with the control stick. Everything else, from activating boost pads you ride over, to sucking in enemies you are near, is done by pressing the A button. This makes the game simple to understand for younger players, which may have been the whole point. However slightly older players may feel alienated by the simplicity. There's a lack of a sharp turning feature, which makes controlling your warp star difficult at many times, and that is inexcusable, since nearly all racers since the days of the Super Nintendo, both action or realistic, have had that feature.
The good thing about Air Ride, is that the courses are designed very well. They all look great, and there are many different paths to take in some of them. For example, in one stage you can stay on the "main path", but you can also choose to grind your warp star along one of the vines that spins through the air, or to glide off of a ramp, to reach a separate road hovering above the main one. There are only eight of these courses though. There are different enemies for you to swallow on all of them though, which helps to mix things up. If an enemy has no ability, you'll just spit out a star, which you can attempt to hit an opponent with. If they do have the ability, you'll hold onto it for a short amount of time, and you'll be able to use it with the A button.
Some of the abilities are fun and useful. For example, one ability allows you to toss a giant bomb out in front of you, allowing you to hit opponents. Another, allows you to sprout wings like a bird, and flap through the air, while still another, allows you to blast a microphone, attacking any opponents or enemies who might be near you. There are also a variety of close range attacks -- the Sword, Ice blasts, and Needle attacks all come to mind. That's the problem though; despite looking different, they all act the same. Any opponent or enemy within spitting distance of you will be hurt. Useful as it may be, it's somewhat disappointing to see abilities wasted by being used in the same way as others. Furthermore, more often than not, they don't even affect your opponents. Sure, they will be hit, and spin, but they never stop. Sometimes it even speeds them up, by knocking them forward! This was very poor design.
Top Mode is, as mentioned, the top down racing mode. The courses in this mode are all very tiny, and short, but they have more laps then those in Air Ride mode. In this mode you also move with the control stick, but things are different. You push the control stick in the direction you want to turn, but you'll always be going forward. It's simple, but because the races are so short, it serves as a fun game. However, what the short races also mean, is that the fun is short-lived. There are still features like rocket-booster abilities, moving floors, and various other obstacles to keep things exciting. You can be in the middle of a race, and Kracko, the giant cloud boss, may come and start raining lightning bolts down on the stage. As short as races in this mode may be, they are chaotic, and much more exciting then those found in the Air Ride mode. Unfortunately, there are only seven such races.
In City Trial mode, you'll be given five minutes to glide around a world, and collect power-ups, as I mentioned above. I must stress again though, just how big and interactive it is. You can find ways into caves, onto buildings, and through hidden passage ways, as you look for your power ups. They sure aren't stationary though, random events occur all the time: explosions, for example. In fact, that's the main way of unlocking mini-games and new vehicles to ride. You perform stunts, and events found in the City mode. You'll have no clue where to start at first, but you'll easily discover one or two events by accident, as there are well over 100 of them. After that, you'll be given hints on what to do to unlock more games and vehicles. This is definitely the shining part of the game, and I give it all of the credit it deserves.
The ride itself, is enjoyable too. You'll be able to pick up all of the abilities you can in Air Ride mode -- and more, like the rocket cannon -- as you ride through the city. Then, once it's finished, you'll be tossed into a mini-game chosen at random. These games are usually simple, but they are unconditionally fun. There's an impressive amount to unlock. The goals of them range from gliding off a ramp full of boosters, and trying to hit targets for points, to facing down King DeDeDe, as a group, and seeing who can deal the damage to finish him off, using the abilities in his arena, and the abilities that you collected in the city run. To make things better, you can even replay these games any time you want, by selecting "stadium" under the City Trial menu.
The gameplay, replay value, and fun factor all vary greatly depending on the mode you choose. That being said, this is a Kirby game. Great graphics and sound are something that you are going to get in all modes, end of story. The game's soundtrack mixes many new tunes, with remixes of classic Kirby songs. As always, the graphics are colorful and bright. The one thing that will stand out as a negative though, are that the scenery in City Trial mode has a far more rigid outline to it than that of the other modes. Considering the size of the area, it's easy to excuse, since there is no loading times or foggy draw distances. Other than that, the game looks great.
When this game first came out, there was no question. I was not going to recommend this to anyone. As fun as City Trial and Top Ride are, they don't pack enough substance to be worth a full price-tag purchase on there on; and Air Ride is too simple and watered down to be all that fun in any case. With a lower price tag though, you may want to consider it. It's not going to replace any of your current favorites, but there's still some fun to be had with it.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 12/19/05
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