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October 13, 2003

Kirby Air Ride (import)

Back in the day when we thought the graphics of Donkey Kong Country were as good as it could possibly get, Nintendo stunned the gaming community with the announcement of their revolutionary 3D gaming machine; the Nintendo Ultra 64. Along with the announcement came a few tech demos. We had our Mario, our Zelda, our Star Fox, and the always loveable Kirby. But Kirby wasnít the standard side-scroller weíd all grown accustomed to. He was speeding around Dream Landís 3D terrain in a whole new concept. This peaked interest among pink puff loyalists, but thatís about all the notice the title got for a few years. Then when the Nintendo 64 began to show itís age, the title was born again as a racing game. Again the Kirby fans rejoiced, and weíre once more disappointed when the Nintendo 64 was laid to rest in a slow and damn near embarrassing exit from the gaming scene. Just as the Kirby loyalists were about to give up hope, our favorite pink marshmallow was brought back to life one last time and looking better than ever in a fresh batch of second-generation Gamecube screenshots. He finally had a title and a release date, Kirby Air Ride, to be released in fourth quarter 2003. Well, itís fourth quarter 2003, and it looks like Nintendoís finally given up on teasing us with this one. But is it worth the wait? I had a chance to knock around with this unique racer at E3 and at a local import shop, so let my hands on impressions help you decide.


Hands-on Impressions
To tell you the truth, I was never really looking forward to this title. Itíd just been in development hell for way too long to be considered anything worthwhile. But in my time at the electric freak show better known as E3, I had to give it a whirl. I mean come on, itís Kirby for Godís sake! I pressed my way inside of a dark theater they had set up to showcase the quirky new racer. The screen lit up in a splash of vivid colors and the room filled with the classic Dream Land anthem Iíd grown so close to from my childhood. Now this may have just been the setup, but I couldnít wipe the giddy smile off my face. I was first greeted with an intro video featuring the beautiful environments contained within the game. It was obvious that the developers paid extra close attention to track design and background graphics. On top of that, the audio was amazing on all levels. Kirby Air Ride still stands out in my head as one of the best games, presentation wise, at this yearís E3. So I picked my jaw up off the ground from the demo video and pressed further into Kirbyís Dream Land. It was then that I was brought to a menu where I could select, to my surprise, not only different racers from the Dream Land cast of characters, but also drastically different hover vehicles that not only affected racerís statistics, but the actual control scheme. There was your typical all around Kirby star, a super fast but out of control rocket, and a bulkier craft that maxed out top speed, but was devoid of a steering mechanism! Confused about how you could have a racer where you donít even need to steer? Well thatís where Kirbyís ultra-simplistic controls come in.

Only two buttons are used throughout the whole game; the control stick and the A button. The control stick obviously controls your character's direction, while the A button is context sensitive. If youíre not around any obstacles, you can hold down the A button bring your racer to a screeching halt, charge up his engines, point him in the right direction, and let your colorful little puffball boost off at full speed (this is how you can control the non-turning vehicles). If youíre near an enemy, the A button acts as Kirbyís trademark super move; the ability sucker. Tired of that cute little demon spitting fireballs at you? No problem, suck him up and turn the tables as you fire his red-hot flame powers at your opponents with, you guessed it, the A button. But with simplicity comes complexity (howís that for an oxymoron)? Now I may have just gotten confused due to my short amount of time with the game, but once you absorb an enemies power, thereís no way to get rid of it until it runs out. I found this extremely annoying and it lead me to wonder why they just didnít use the B button 3 millimeters away to take care of this problem. But either way, this is the only (albeit huge) gripe with the title.

From the Horseís Mouth
Kirby is zooming onto the Nintendo GameCube with 3D racing action that is simple to learn and bursting with a variety of fun challenges.

  • Built for Speed

    With the power to inhale enemies and a track record of classic video games, who wouldn't love Kirby? In the hit cartoon series, Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, he is a hero like no other. Now you can hitch a ride on a Warpstar for a racing game that is as unique as lovable ol' Kirby.

    Unlike most racing games, there is no need for an acceleration button. One button does it all. Kirby goes full-throttle from the starting line, but you will use one button to brake, slide and charge up your Warpstar for a huge acceleration boost.

    These out-of-the-ordinary controls are extremely easy to learn, but difficult to master. Sliding through corners while losing minimal speed is the key to fast lap times and players will find that it takes skill and practice.

    You begin with the Warp Star, but as you proceed you will gain access to more than 15 vehicles. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Part of the game's challenge is figuring out which is best for a given course.

  • Pink Streak

    The simple controls let you focus on the outrageous tracks and inhaling enemies to gain unique powers. You will have to make lightning-quick decisions at branching paths, swerve down dips and around huge curves, latch onto twisting rails and leap across enormous gaps.

    Environments include lush greenery, fiery lava and slick ice. Lofty vistas let you see far into the distance of these colorful tracks.

    Classic enemies from the world of Kirby lope around, just waiting to be inhaled. Context-sensitive controls let you copy the abilities of enemies with the press of a button.

    When Kirby takes on characteristics of foes he can launch fireballs, grow protective spikes or even use wings to glide high in the air. Discovering and wisely deploying the many power-ups is a key to victory.

  • Game Modes

    In addition to the main Air Ride mode, the Top Ride and City Trial modes offer an even wider gameplay experience. Each mode is available for as many as four players.

    Two-dimensional top-down racing is the name of the game in Top Ride mode. Like Air Ride, Top Down bristles with power-ups. This mode will be a hit with those looking for old-school racing.

    City Trial offers a new take on the battle mode found in many racing games. Players begin in a bustling city where they collect power-ups in preparation for the upcoming stadium competition.

    During the first phase, you can increase your vehicle's powers or hop in a new ride altogether. The goals vary from one stadium to another so if you build a strong vehicle that's good for battling, you could end up at a disadvantage when you find yourself in a gliding contest.

  • Rewards

    Kirby Air Ride is stuffed like a piŮata with treasures such as hidden courses, secret vehicles and special sound tests.

    Each of the three modes offers a staggering 120 hidden challenges. Achieving certain lap times, defeating a given number of enemies, running an entire race without hitting a wall are a few, but more difficult and unusual challenges await.

    When you fulfill one of these challenges, you will fill in a single block on a giant grid. You will then be able to learn the challenges that need to be met in order to fill in the adjoining blocks. The more you play, the more challenges you will discover.

    Kirby Air Ride is being developed by the same team that is responsible for Super Smash Bros. Melee, which has long been a fan fave for its frantic action and deep gameplay. Hold on tight and get ready to ride!

Kirby Air Rideís a tough title to judge. Itís a blast to play, carries the franchise nicely, and really impressed me with its innovation and presentation. But thereíre just too many racers out there to have this one stand out in the crowd. This is especially true with the recent release of the excellent F-Zero GX. I can say this though, if youíre a Kirby fan or are looking for a breath of fresh air, I can recommend picking this one up on release. Itís also a great title for kids and newcomers to gaming (this is a great one to get your girlfriends into gaming with you, guys) due to its simplicity. But for the majority of you out there, I strongly recommend you either give it a rental first or hold off for our full review coming soon.



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Staff Avatar John Guesnier
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"Life without appreciation is a life not worth living."

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