Kirby Air Ride
One of Nintendo's most-delayed games ever is finally here on GameCube - we take Kirby for a spin in our review.
Kirby Air Ride has been in development for years, it was originally an N64 launch game but was cancelled shortly after for unknown reasons. I'd like to say that the re-vamp or Air Ride for Gamecube is more the welcomed but to be honest Nintendo couldn't have chose a worse time to release it. Nintendo's two biggest racing franchises F-Zero and Mario Kart are being released at virtually the same time as Air Ride, and in comparison to these two massive games Kirby isn't even going to get a second look...
Kirby Air Ride is made up of three main game modes: Air Ride, Top Ride and City Mode. Air Ride is your basic racing mode, Top Ride is a Micro Machines style frantic top-down racer and City mode is a multiplayer-geared collection of mini-games.
In Air Ride you race through courses against 3 opponents. There are eight tracks to choose from each in the bog standard platform game locations: a desert track, an ice track, a volcano track, a grass track etc. Each player is a different colored Kirby, you can unlock different colors and even different characters later in the game though. When you start a race you choose a star to ride on, each star has different properties like fast acceleration, fast top speed, good air glide etc. This adds strategy to the racing as a star with a high top speed but bad turning will do great on a relatively straight course but terribly on a course with a lot of turns, because of this you'll find yourself changing stars all the time rather than just sticking with the same one for every course.
There's been a lot of controversy over HAL's decision to make the game controlled by just the A button. Kirby accelerates by himself without the push of any button while the A button is used to eat enemies, boost and press switches. I don't see any problem with this, in most racing games you're just holding down the accelerator so why not make it automatic? Kirby can use a small boost by charging up with the A button, this will slow you almost to a holt in the process so it's only useful for drifting around corners and bends. The enemies wondering around the race courses can be eaten by Kirby so that you can use the enemy's abilities.
However a lot of the abilities are useless in any racing mode, fire balls that don't slow enemies down at all and only travel 1 foot in front of you are particularly useless for example. When you use your abilities you slow down slightly because of the boost charge as well, so that makes them even more un-wise to use. The only thing that's going to win you the race is clever Star selection and good use of boosts/shortcuts.
One complaint about racing though: they've made the game a little too easy to play. As well as accelerating automatically the courses are designed so that there are no sharp corners and the curved edges of the track will move the way the star is facing. As a test I setup a race against three computer opponents on the grass course and turned my Wavebird off. I didn't touch the pad once. Not only did I finish all three laps, I came third. Later I was in free-range mode trying to do 50 laps of a course to unlock something, I decided to leave the pad on the side and go and do something else whilst my racer was following the wall along and completing laps. When I came back I had beaten my own personal record on the course. I tried myself and I couldn't beat it! I had beaten my personal best by over three seconds but putting the pad on the floor and walking away. Some of the courses need adjusting.
Top Ride is a frantic top-down race mode. You can choose from two different star types, on which rotates to the direction you press the control stick automatically and one that has to be turned manually. The tracks are fairly small and can be lapped in about 20 seconds but they're also much more interactive than the normal Air Ride tracks, bridges can be collapsed, bombs can be knocked down from trees, waterfalls can be used to trap opponents and much more. Rather than having enemies cluttering the courses power-ups are laid out on the track for you to pick up and they're much more effective than the ones in Air Ride mode, you can pick up a drill to knock your opponents out of the way, there's a jet to make you travel faster, bombs that can be dropped behind you and massive lightning clouds that electrocute your opponents. Don't expect to be playing this much on your own unless you're a big fan of retro top-down racers.
City mode is a bit confusing but fun none the less. You're placed in a huge city hub with your 3 opponents and you must collect various power-ups to win, the person with the most at the end of the round wins. The city is very well designed, it's located in the center on an island surrounded by water, around the city are volcanoes, forests, mountains and all sorts of buildings. You're basically left to do your own thing, you can fly around the huge city and explore all you like. You can even jump off of your star by pressing A and back on the control stick, you can then run and jump around like in Smash Bros. Melee, if you find one of the various stars littered around the place you can jump onto them and fly around again.
If you so wish you can also attack your opponents with some of the various power-ups around the city, you can destroy their star and make them drop the power-ups they've collected so that you can steal them. Randomly, various events occur such as a giant bird attacking the city or asteroids raining down from the sky. After the main city trial round is over (it lasts 5 minutes) you're placed into a mini game before starting another city trial round. The mini games are Smash Bros. style "who can fly the furthest/jump the highest?" type affairs. Lots of multiplayer fun here.
The game is based heavily on unlockables, there's over 120 items to unlock including new characters, new stars, music for the sound test and new Kirby colors. The unlockables are presented in a large grid, whenever you set a new record on a track/mini-game a green square will be placed on the grid revealing gray squares around it which will tell you how to unlock the particular items. Items are unlocked in a similar fashion to Smash Bros. Melee, by beating certain times on time trial mode, racing tracks a certain number of times and completing goals such as doing 50 laps on a track in free-range mode.
HAL salvaged everything they possibly could for Kirby's Air Ride from Super Smash Bros. Melee. Menu sounds, Kirby models, textures and music tracks can all be recognized from Smash Bros. Hell, they even used the same font for the menus! This is more than welcomed however, as Smash Bros Melee was brilliant presented and so is Kirby's Air Ride. The tracks in the game are basically extended Smash Bros. arenas graphics-wise. The Kirby models are perfectly rounded, the worlds are presented in a cartoon style reminiscent of Zelda: The Wind Waker. No complaints here.
The Music is excellent as you'd expect from the developer of Smash Bros. Melee. Lots of old school Kirby tracks in an orchestrated fashion are here for your pleasure, and you guessed it: the sound effects are all the same from Smash Bros Melee. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
If you've got friends with Gamecubes and broadband adaptors you can hook your cubes together with Ethernet cables and play multiplayer each with a full screen. Unfortunately you can still only play with four players max, but the tracks are too small for any more players anyway.
There's not much here in the way of content, as Air Ride only has 8 tracks and only one of those has to be unlocked, the game's very heavily based on replayability and unlockables. The controls are very simple, and the game has obviously been modified so that it can be played by everyone. Rather than hinder the gameplay, this actually moves the focus on to trying to cut a few seconds off of your lap times and beating your best scores. Of course the ease of use also makes this a killer multiplayer title in the style of Super Monkey Ball - and Kirby is definetly geared more towards multiplayer.
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|Kirby Air Ride: If you're in a good mood, watching for this will make you smile after ten seconds and kill yourself after a minute.||1.27m||9.71 MB||MPG|