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Kirby Air Ride Package Art
††HAL Laboratory

Kirby Air Ride

I remember looking forward to Kirby Air Ride seven years ago when it was first announced by Nintendo. At the time it looked like a winner: a non-standard racing game that would hold me over until Mario Kart 64 was finally released. Then something odd happened. The game disappeared. Kirby Air Ride was Missing-In-Action and eventually declared legally dead. Over time people forgot about the game. Then, six years later, Kirby Air Ride reappeared out-of-the-blue on Nintendoís release list. A lot happened in the six years that Kirby Air Ride spent missing and presumed dead. Gamers started to expect a certain degree of car-jacking in their video games. All of Nintendoís mascots, including Kirby, twice got together in historic, comical battles. The Nintendo 64 died a painful death and the Nintendo Gamecube was created to take its place. Now Kirby Air Ride is back with lingering questions about where the game has been and whether or not it can survive in the modern video game world.


Visually Kirby Air Ride looks very much like a Nintendo 64 game; a polished, high resolution Nintendo 64 game that runs in progressive scan, but a Nintendo 64 game nevertheless. If you are more concerned about the gameplay than the graphics, this isnít necessarily a bad thing, but looking at Super Smash Brothers: Melee, HAL is clearly capable of much more. To the gameís credit in the races the action is fast enough that the quality of the graphics will not be overly apparent. The visual look of Kirby Air Ride can be summed up easily: there are simple, brightly colored graphics composed of plain, ugly textures on basic polygonal models. The simplicity is particularly clear in the City Trial mode. Here you will see plain square buildings, trees without form or leaves, texture green that represents grass, and a few nice transparency effects. Thus, the graphics, while crisp, they arenít anywhere near the level of the games that are currently being released on the Gamecube or even some games from near the end of the Nintendo 64 life-cycle.


The audio is either pilfered directly from Super Smash Brothers: Melee or taken from an ancient Game Boy version of Kirby that I somehow missed. It seems like every sound effect was used in HALís big mascot fighting game. The full range of cartoonish noises accompany crashes, attacks, boosts, and menu selections. The music, although fully orchestrated, sounds like the beeps of some ancient audio hardware translated to the modern day. All in all, the music is as irritating and repetitive as the sound effects are derivative.


At its core Kirby Air Ride is a mascot racing game along the lines of Mario Kart series. This doesnít mean that itís a simple clone, however, as there are many elements to the game that keep it from being a cookie cutter racing game.

Most famous is the one button control. The entire game is controlled using the analog joystick and the A or R button. Your racer automatically moves and all you have to do is steer and use the multifunctional action button to absorb enemy abilities, boost, or brake. While this control scheme is easy to learn, it is extremely difficult to use to control your racer. Itís amazing how the simplistic sounding controls can be so difficult to use during the actual races, but somehow HAL managed to create a system that is as basic as it is overly complicated. What happens is you start moving and press left or right steer on the course, easy enough. Then you hit a heavy curve and press the action button to brake, an act that will lead to a boost when you release. This is where the game ceases to make sense. When you push the boost button you drift to a point where you nearly stop. So you go from moving too fast to take a curve to not moving at all. This is further complicated if enemies are floating around the corner at the same time as you because, instead of boosting, you will absorb their power and slam into the wall.

There is something completely unintuitive about a control system that uses the same button to stop and to boost. You might find yourself looking for a boost or a brake in a race, but youíll instead have to settle for both. This confusing control scheme might seem like it actually adds depth to what is otherwise a simple game, but the frantic pace at which the game moves keeps that from happening for two reasons. First of all, there isnít enough time during a race to ever develop skill with the control scheme. You see, even if you start a race and put the controller down you will more than likely finish a race. Even bouncing around the course blindly keeps you moving in the right direction. All and all this makes most races more a matter of luck than skill. Second of all, the absorption and attack function complicates the control scheme. Once you absorb an enemyís ability, you use this attack by pressing the same button that you use to break and boost. So, while you may think you are going to attack the player in first place and take the lead, what you really will do is stop while firing and then boost.

The game includes fifteen Air Rides, which each control differently, in order to add a sense of depth to the game. Unfortunately it would take more time to learn the nuances of the boost system for each ride than any rational human will want to spend playing the game. Also, since you can finish a race without playing all you really need is a fast Air Ride before you can beat the game without looking, making many of the Air Ride options downright worthless. And there will be times when you donít want to look at the screen, as, when you gain a lot of speed, the camera moves around so much that even seasoned roller coaster fans will end up with vertigo. All in all the controls and the variety of Air Rides are an interesting experiment thatís one or two action buttons short of being brilliant.

Thankfully, the game includes more than just the Air Ride race mode. The Top Ride mode is an old-school fixed-perspective 2-D Race that plays like R-C Pro Am. There are a variety of stages here based on a single trait, such as a waterfall or a volcano, which gives this mode more variety than you might expect. I was actually impressed to find out that this mode is enormously entertaining. It might seem like racing around tiny little courses would get old quickly, but this is easily the most fun in multiplayer mode. The controls for this mode are the same as in the Air Ride mode, but they seem much more at home in a simple, over-the-top race than the hyperkinetic 3-D you endure.

The final mode is the City Trial mode which is an event-based mode in which you explore a city for five minutes, gathering power ups for your Air Ride, before facing off in a random Super Monkey Ball-like competition. This can be anything from launching into a target to a competition to see who can defeat the most enemies in one minute. Again, here the control is the same as in Air Ride mode but the open spaces and varied challenges in the stadium make it far more enjoyable. Each mode also features a time trial mode and a free ride mode. The game also has three different checklists, 360 total objectives, 120 for each mode, which can unlock sound tests bonuses, new Air Rides, and additional multiplayer characters. The objectives are varied, but this feature feels tacked on to add depth to what is otherwise a shallow experience. The sheer volume of items on the checklist will probably overwhelm all but the most dedicated players.


The most exciting Multiplayer feature in Kirby Air Ride is the simple fact that itís another game that supports the new LAN system link feature. Unfortunately, I have yet to find another person with Kirby Air Ride and a Broadband adapter and was unable to test out the feature. Overall, however, the inclusion of the mode is a positive step by Nintendo towards online play. The Multiplayer mode is simply a copy of the single player modes. Instead of competing against three computer riders, your flesh-and-blood friends step in. The races themselves get boring quickly, but a few of the stadium mini-games from the City Trial mode are addictive and fun.


Kirby Air Ride is many things: a simple racing game that is relatively easy to pick up and immediately play, a mini-car racing game, a collection of Super Monkey Ball like mini-games, and an event-based adventure game. Unfortunately, much of the game just isnít fun. Even with the three modes, there isnít enough variety to the actual racing game to make it fun. The different vehicles, mini-games, enemy absorbed skills, and the objective checklist add some depth to the game but the basic gameplay isnít enjoyable enough to make these features worthwhile. There is fun to be had here, though, and Kirby Air Ride is certainly worthy of a rental, but save your money for Mario Kart: Double Dash.

final score 5.7/10

Staff Avatar Mark Martinez
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"Unless you're being ironic, turn that off."

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