Review by Sketch Tucker

"A light-hearted racing game with unique twists and turns."

Kirby. For many years I've been playing games starring the pink puff. I've enjoyed a majority of them and have rarely been disappointed. Now Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Kirby and the director of Super Smash Bros, is no longer working at HAL, and I wonder what will happen to Kirby now that he's in different hands.

But he made one last Kirby game before leaving. This game, Kirby Air Ride, shares the name of a discontinued Nintendo 64 project, and could possibly be the finished product. But this is no ordinary racing game. This is possibly one of the most interesting Kirby experiences in history.

Kirby Air Ride is composed of three different modes of play. The main mode of play is known as ''Air Ride,'' taking the view of your modern racing game. You're placed in a gigantic track, riding a vehicle of choice, and you have to ride into first place. Assorted enemies and obstacles are set up to liven things up. The second mode is known as ''Top Ride,'' using the top-down view of earlier racer games like Super Off-Road or Micro Machines. The tracks are smaller, there are two steering configurations, and there are unique sets of items exclusive to this mode. The final mode is known as ''City Trial.'' This is as close to a Grand Theft Auto style game as Nintendo's willing to get. Ride around a city setting, find better rides, improve the stats and beat down the opposition within the time limit, all this to prepare for the main challenge at the end. The challenge can be a single-lap race, a high jump competition, or a demolition derby to defeat the others as many times as you can.

This game stands out from other racing games mainly for one reason: control. Kirby Air Ride Boasts a control configuration of the Control Stick and one button. This isn't really a new concept, but the whole game seems to focus on this style of control just about all the time. Basically, your ride automatically accelerates, and you use the control stick to steer. The button slows your ride to a stop and helps you turn tighter, while building up a boost that will activate once the button is let go. The button does other things too, such as activating boost panels, pressing buttons on the ground, and of course, inhaling baddies that are in your way. Simple, yes? Well, it does take a little time to get used to it if you've played other racing games. Still, it can become second nature after some practice.

So is it really easy to play this game? Well, yes. But the concept's a little deeper than it looks. Depending on the ride you choose, it really affects how you maneuver through the stages. While this is true for just about any racing game, the differences between different rides are different in ways not explored in normal racing games. For example, you can choose to drive a machine that needs charging with a boost every once in a while, or you can choose a ride that goes from zero to top in a millisecond, but won't turn until you use the brakes that go from top to zero in a millisecond. Plus, note that there are rails to grind on that add to your speed, the ability ot get quick speed bursts when enemies are attacked, and the ability to glide through the air to avoid ground obstacles and reach high shortcuts.

Now, usually the big challenge in racing games is to take first place in the races you compete in. This isn't really the hardest thing to do in Kirby's Air Ride. The biggest challenge is in the aptly named Challenge Grid. The grid is composed of assorted challenges that involve some skill (like racing laps for a fast time), some luck (like loading a cannon with three things at once), and a lot of play time (like racing over 300 laps). There are grids for each of the three play modes, and certain challenges unlock secrets, such as new rides, new Kirby colors, and other surprises. The real challenge is clearing every challenge in every mode.

The die-hard Kirby fan is going to enjoy all the nostalgia within the game. The famous Copy abilities make a comeback with special powers that will aid you in the race, such as Sword, Plasma, Fire and the no-brainer: Wheel. Plenty of familiar characters show up as well, like King Dedede, Sir Meta Knight, and Dyna Blade. The environments seem to fit well in the theme of Kirby, and the music does as well. In fact, some secret musics are taken from past Kirby games as well. Through a lot of the interface you might even remember Smash Bros. Melee as well.

The graphics run at a very smooth 60 frames per second all the time, though probably because there isn't as much detail in some of the areas you race in. It's all mostly Smash Bros. Melee quality graphics, not that it's a bad thing. The music is mostly orchestrated stuff, the kind you'd expect in Kirby games. But there's really nothing that'll knock your socks off, though there is a handful of enjoyable tunes (Machine Passage is a favorite of mine). But if you want a solid racing game, you may not want to look here first. This is definitely not a Gran Turismo kind of game. This isn't even a Mario Kart; Kirby Air Ride is a racing game that seems to stand alone. If anything, you may want to rent this game.

Don't pass up the chance to try Kirby Air Ride. Sitting with this game for about five minutes is what will be the deciding point for you. Though if you are a big Kirby fan and are looking for something fresh that will renew your interests in the little puffball, it's advised that you really look into this. Kirby Air Ride isn't too bad a racing game, and it's fun for you and your friends to play!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/17/04

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