Kirby Air Ride - GCN Classic Review

Back when the Nintendo 64 first came out, a little game known as "Kirby's Air Ride" was in the works. Nintendo advertised the game as a 3D racing game, and it was going to be released pretty early on in the Nintendo 64's life; however, things didn't quite work out in the end. Before we knew it, Nintendo canceled Kirby's Air Ride, and the project was then shifted over to what we now know as Kirby 64. This isn't the end of the story though. In the early 2000s, Nintendo once again revived the Kirby's Air Ride project for their brand new Nintendo GameCube, and in 2003 they finally released it under the name "Kirby Air Ride."

Kirby Air Ride, just like the original version, is a 3D racing game, but since the initial development the game had undergone quite a lot of changes. While graphically it looked far superior to its original, the game's features have seemed to change quite as well. Although we don't know much about the N64 version, it seems that it was in fact a racer; while its GCN version sort of broke off from that path. So, looking back on Kirby Air Ride now, just how good was the game? Was it worth the long initial wait? And above all else, is it a fun game to play; even by today's standards? Well, lets find out!

Air Ride Mode:

Normally when jumping into a video game review, the first thing I talk about the game's story; however this time around that won't be possible. The thing is that Kirby Air Ride does NOT have a story, and it is completely based on its gameplay. The game features three modes of play, and each one acts like a game on its own. Each mode has their own play styles, challenges to complete, and unlockables to unlock making them basically stand alone experiences.

The first mode in Kirby Air Ride is the Air Ride Mode. This mode is basically what we could have expected to see in the original Kirby's Air Ride, and it is completely based on racing. At the start of each match you get to pick which track you want to race on, you get to pick which color Kirby you want to use, and you get to pick which "Air Ride Machine" you want to use as well. When you first start the game your options are actually quite limited, but as you complete challenges you will unlock more colors and machines to use. These challenges range anywhere from completing a race within a set time, to even special challenges like finding shortcuts in a specific level. Upon completing a challenge the "challenge tile" breaks open, and the requirements for the challenges around it are then shown. Although at the time this challenge system was a completely new idea, now days (as in 2013 +) it is quite the common set up. Later on this system would be adapted into games like Super Smash Bros Brawl, and even Kid Icarus: Uprising.

Once you have picked your Kirby color and Air Ride Machine, it is then time to hit the race. The way races are set up, you will always be moving forward, and it will be up to you to decide just how to tackle the race. Each Air Ride Machine has their own set of stats, and because of that they can make use of different abilities. For example one Air Ride Machine may be able to fly with ease, so it will be up to you to decide if you want to use that to your advantage or not. Sure you may be able to access some other parts of the track, but being off the ground may slow down your speed as well. Since each Air Ride Machine is quite different, you will have to learn to adapt to each one, and learn the best way to race with them. Since each track does have a verity of paths for you to take, learning the best path for your Machine can become quite the challenge.

The other main feature you'll be using in each race is Kirby's copy ability. Although each Machine plays differently, they all still do have the very same actions. You'll be able to press a button (doesn't really matter which you press due to just about every button doing the same thing) to slow Kirby down, slide around corners, and you'll be able to use it to suck up enemies around you as well. As you race you will come across a wide verity of foes from the Kirby series, and some of these will give you a copy change power. For example you can suck up a wheelie bike to get the wheel ability (which will make you go faster), or you can suck up a Sword Knight to get the sword ability. These abilities can be used to attack the other racers, or simply give you an advantage in the race. Although the abilities only last for a limited time, they are quite useful, and they really help change up the gameplay.

Along with the copy change abilities, there is also a small combat system in place as well. By spinning your controller stick around you will cause Kirby to spin his Air Ride Machine, and by doing so you can damage your opponent. While by default this is simply just a way to slow the other racers down, you can go into the game's settings to turn on health bars as well. If your health hits 0 during a race, your Machine will then be destroyed, and you will lose the race. It's a very basic combat system, but it helps make races competitive, and it can be used in some very creative ways. For example you could always set the lap limit in a race to 99, and turn it into a battle royal! This is the type of gameplay Kirby Air Ride encourages in general, so always feel free to make up games as you play with your friends.

While the Air Ride mode is quite fun, it really isn't as deep as the City Trial mode (which I will be discussing later on in this review). The thing is, there are only so many tracks for you to race on, and the racing in general really isn't as solid as some racing fans may expect. It's a nice relaxing mode, and fun to play with friends, but compared to other Nintendo racers (such as Mario Kart), it isn't as deep of a racing experience. Since you are always moving forward the sense of speed can sometimes feel like it has been lost, and your only hope of catching up to other racers all depends on how well you know your Machine and the track's short cuts. Even so, sometimes its just pointless to use a specific Machine due to the fact that it'll "drive" poorly on the specific track you'll be racing on. Some Air Ride Machines just flat out have the advantage, and that can sometimes drain the fun out of the races. Still, worry not because this is only one of the modes, and it isn't even the one most people play Air Ride for!

Top Ride Mode:

Second on the mode selection screen is "Top Ride Mode." While Top Ride is still a racing mode, it puts a spin on things, and returns to a more classic style of racing. Top Ride Mode is basically one of them old school top view racers where you race on a mini track, with racers who control somewhat like tanks. You press left/right to control them (unless you have changed the controls to a direction based style), and you simply try to finish the race before the others. Due to this mode's view, and control style, Top Ride is actually a pretty challenging mode, and it can take quite some time to master. While its tracks aren't as interesting as the ones found in Air Ride, it is a nice call back to the days of old. It's a racing style you just don't see as much these days, and I'm sure this mode will make a lot of people feel nostalgic.

Generally, Top Ride Mode is what a lot of people will consider to be the worst mode of the game. While it is quite a lot more challenging then the other game modes, it just isn't as interesting as Air Ride of City Trial. Most people will go into this game wanting a full 3D experience, and they will find themselves enjoying the crazy action packed tracks in Air Ride Mode. When switching over to Top Ride Mode, players may feel a bit underwhelmed, but then again it really depends on what type of game you like. For some of you, Top Ride Mode will be your favorite; especially if you love them old school racers or "RC" styled racers.

City Trial Mode:

The final mode in Kirby Air Ride is the City Trial Mode. This mode is actually the largest mode in the game, it plays completely different from the rest of the game, and is the mode most players may find themselves mainly playing.

In City Trial Mode you are dropped into an open sandbox styled city, and you are basically sent out to do whatever you want. In the standard game mode you will start out with the weakest Air Ride Machine there is, and it will then be up for you to decide just what to do with how much time the game gives you. The city is divided up into a main area, a golf course, Wispy Woods, a volcano, a housing area, a parking garage, a castle, a beach, underground tunnels, and an underground parking garage, and different things will be constantly happening in each of these areas. Item boxes will fall out of the sky which provide you with power ups for your Air Ride Machine, but other Air Ride Machines will show up as well. In this mode you can actually get off of your Air Ride Machine as well, which will then allow you to freely jump on others as well.

During City Trial Mode, your goal is to basically find an Air Ride Machine that you like, explore the city, find power ups for it, and try and become stronger than the other players (these players can be computers or even your friends). Since City Trial Mode is timed, you will only have a limited amount of time to upgrade your Air Ride, and once the time runs out you will be forced into a mini game. The mini games at the end of City Trial range from a wide verity of gameplay styles, and becomes of that it is always best to try and create a Machine suited for them. While one mini game has you flying at targets, another may have you battling it out in the arena against the other players. If you have a non flying Machine in the target practice game, you'll basically lose by default, and if you end up with a weak Machine in the arena, you'll be destroyed in no time. During the events of City Trial you will be given messages and hints at what the mini game might be, but sometimes it will be a guessing game on what you should be doing.

On top of that, while you're going around the city some events will happen as well. At one point Dynablade from Kirby Super Star may show up to attack, but at the same time a secret room may open up in the castle to provide you with some power ups. Sometimes Air Ride Machines will fly across the city as well, but as you search for them you may be robbed by Tak the Cat. These events help keep City Trial fresh, and because of them you just really never know what is going to happen as you play.

While the main mode of City Trial is a time based game, there is also a Free Mode for you to play around with as well! In Free Mode there is no time limit, and every Air Ride Machine you have unlocked will show up in the parking garage below the main section of the city. In this mode you can just fly around doing whatever you want, but the real fun comes from making up your own games to play. This is an open sandbox for you and your friends to mess around in, and you should really use that to your full advantage. For example with my friends we'd always play a sort of Capture the Flag game with the  Air Ride Machines. We would find our own "hidden bases," and then try to bring back as many machines to them as possible. The goal was to capture as many as possible, or simply hide as many as possible, and whoever was left without a machine was the loser. City Trial Mode is filled with a lot of great hiding spaces, so finding the Air Ride Machines tended to be quite the challenge.

As I said before, City Trial Mode just may be the largest mode in the entire game. It gives you an open city to explore, it has mini games to play, sometimes you'll find yourself racing through stages that were featured in Air Ride Mode, there is a lot more for you to unlock and use (including two City Trial exclusive Air Ride Machines), and it even gives you a free play mode where you can do anything you want. It is a very nice mode to kill time with, and a perfect mode to play with a group of friends. Even if you don't like racing games, City Trial will give you a reason to play Kirby Air Ride.

The Good and the Bad:

Kirby Air Ride is a game that has a lot of pros and cons, but it really depends on what type of game you like to play. While some people may love racing games, others may completely hate them. Some may love the Top Ride Mode, but others may hate it, and some may love City Trial, while others would rather just race and not spend time on non racing modes. You really can't say the game is good or bad because of these features, but you can say that Kirby Air Ride does have something for everyone.

The game is packed full of content, there is a lot to unlock, the tracks are pretty unique, Top Ride is a nice call back to old school gaming, City Trial is a nice original mode that most racing games tend to avoid, the game looks really nice, and it has a great soundtrack. The game is also filled with Kirby fan service, so there is quite a lot to put a smile on Kirby fan's faces. The game also features the ability to use a LAN connection to play with friends, but sadly this was a lesser used feature on the GCN. While it is there to use, good luck on finding others to actually use this feature with. The only real down side to this game is the fact that it is pretty short, and that its racing mechanics aren't as solid as games like Mario Kart; that doesn't stop it from being fun though!

In the end, Kirby Air Ride is just a great game. Even though it has been 10 years since I originally got the game as a Christmas present, I still find it to be a fun game to play, and I still play it from time to time with friends and family. I give Kirby Air Ride for the Nintendo GameCube a 9/10.

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