I never thought i'd have to write this review again... though to be honest the review i did of this game was poor... not to mention the fact that all my backups were on my old PC which recently got burned when it was sent to be serviced >.>.
Anyways, i haven't played this game recently, ususally i would play a game just before reviewing it just to get in the groove but for some reason, Gamecube games tend to be scratched easily and i really don't want to shell out for another copy of this legendary game. Seriously, it would be a crime not to release this gem on Virtual Console. My Super Smash Bros Melee seems to have trouble reading at times and it really gets me anxious so aside from F-ZERO GX (god help me if that game dies) i keep or at least try to keep my Gamecube games tidy... except for the fact that i once lent out my Kirby Air Ride only to find out that the box had been chewed... Oh well at least the disk and manual are there and i can always replace the case at any moment (in fact give me a minute *2 mins later* i've replaced the bitten Kirby Air Ride case with my extreme g's case).
But anyways before i get to the game i'd just like to say... Kirby Air Ride is really fucking expencive. It cost me a whopping £30.00 used and that was years ago, now it goes for something like £40/50 it's ridiculous. I really don't want to play a game and risk damaging it but at the same time i wish i could just pop it in every now and again. If you are looking for this game, i really feel sorry for you, especially if you live over here in the UK.
In any case, lets get to the game. Now how do i sum up Kirby Air Ride... Kirby Air Ride is a game with so much potential despite being a mere spin off title, it is arguably the best of the Kirby series' spin offs and there is definately room for a sequal. Put simply, i would kill for a Kirby Air Ride 2. The first and so far only game has a lot of great features and ideas which have been very well thought out... but their execution could have been a lot better.
Now Kirby Air Ride has 3 modes, 1 of which has a lot of room for improvement, that being Air Ride mode. Now don't get me wrong, Air Ride mode can be fun and has a lot of very well designed tracks but my god is it unbalanced as hell. I think the main issue with Kirby Air Ride is that due to it's simplicity, there is very little depth in the racing, at least in Air Ride. Pretty much every single machine is unbalanced as if they didn't give a shit. Meta Knight is arguably the best machine unless you count the swerve star which has it's own unique style of control which i praise but still, the machines are so unbalanced that it pretty much comes down to using Meta Knight every single race... but that would be boring. To truely enjoy air ride mode, you'll have to race in machines of similar statistics. The Wagon Star for example is great for beginners, has great handling and is just really fun to drive, it's lack of boost doesn't really handicap it much at all as... well the boost in this game is so patheticly useless... at least in Air Ride mode.
Air Ride, great to look at, but can be boring to play...
Now In case you don't get the gist already, Kirby Air Ride is F-ZERO GX with a Kirby paintjob... and that's not necesarrily a bad thing. Despite it's many imbalances in Air Ride mode, Kirby Air Ride is... or used to be my go to racing game for split screen multiplayer because it's jsut so much fun. Air Ride is the mode i played the least though (oh the irony) it's great to look at but playing it can be hit or miss. I mean Air Ride mode can be fun but it's so severely flawed that the gameplay can get repetitive and sometimes just outright unfair. If someone picks Meta Knight, Swerve Star or Rex Wheelie, they win automatically.
You will very rarely find yourself this close to the competition in Air Ride
Now if Air Ride mode was the only thing this game had to offer... i'd probably have traded it in out of disappointment but it turns out that Air Ride mode is merely a fraction of what makes this game, sure i would like to see it improved but what more can i do but rate it as it is. Air Ride feels like a budget racer with not much depth/balance but it has some really great looking tracks and the ability to swallow enemies and take their powers rather than conventional power ups was interesting but not all that useful when the enemy is half a lap ahead of you. It's a mode you have to handicap yourself and the computer/other players to enjoy.
Now on to the two better modes. Top Ride, unlike Air Ride is a lot of fun. Put simply, as the name suggests, it's a top down racer with tiny tracks full of items and obstacles. Top Ride is exactly what an arcade racer is all about, crazy madness. Unlike in Air Ride, you only get a choice of two machines and they both have the same stats but they have differrent control set ups. Theres the free star which fits in with the nature of the top down perspective turning your star in the direction you point the control stick and the steer star which works like controlling vehacles in the original GTA where you steer like you would in a normal racer. It's like the developers recognized that one control method wasn't enough for a game like top ride and they were right, steering is... in my opinion a nightmare and i find it much easier to use the free star as a result. Basically if you enjoy Mario Kart and top down racing games, you will love Top Ride. The tracks also have a lot of interactive features as well as dozens of items to play around with. If you're looking for an arcade racer which is easy to pick up and play with fun multiplayer, you'll find it in Top Ride.
As fun as Top Ride is, it doesn't hold a candle to the final mode available. City Trail mode is an open sandbox where players race around collecting power ups making themselves stronger... or you could attack other racers to steal the power ups... or find new machines to race around in... or to find secrets... or to run around on foot in an open sandbox, yes Kirby Air Ride has done the impossible, it has somehow managed to combine both Kirby, F-ZERO and Grand Theft Auto into one single game. City Trial is pretty mcuh Grand Theft Kirby. Thats all that needs to be said. Of course with all the open world games we see today, it may not seem like much but did we really expect such a backwater spin off kart racing title to have an open sandbox? It's probably one of the few kart racers if not the only kart racer to even try it and by god does it succeed. In fact it makes Air Ride a complete joke in comparison. Nearly every machine is balanced (aside from maybe two secret machines which i will not name but they are really fucking awesome, if you've played Smash Bros Brawl you probably already know one of them, i think i already spoiled it for you with the image above but whatever) and they're all very useful and fun to drive and unlike in Air Ride mode, there are so many other uses for them. Stars such as the Winged Star which were almost completely irrelivant in Air ride are actually quite useful in City Trail and can help you reach great heights. Additionally there is the Stadium mode which comes afterwards to see which player has the best machine. These stadium matches are unpredictable and you might find yourself with a fast star, thinking it would be useful only to find out that the stadium challenge just happends to be Target Test. There are loads of different stadium events, some even bring in Air Ride races allowing you to enjoy Air Ride without ever entering air ride mode. Overall, City Trail is a load of fun.
You can even hop off your star and run around the city at your leisure. Go and see the sights!
Now i will get to the rest of it. The controls are literally A and the control stick, this in my opinion is a flaw since races can often lack depth. The A button acts as both a brake and a boost button, basically you hold it down to slow down your machine as it drifts around a corner and release for a small boost. This is far more useful in Top Ride than it is in Air ride (unless you're using the rocket star which takes a very long time to actually charge up). Now this all sounds great in concept but the problem is that it doesn't act as so much a brake but more of a hand brake. One of the things that gives racing games depth is the differrent kinds of brakes. This is where Kirby Air Ride could have learned a lor from F-ZERO GX which has 3 kinds of brakes, you have the slider which allows for precision handling, drifting which turns corners quickly and the B button which professional players never ever use (but i do on Lightning Half Pipe >.<). Basically your regular emergency brake. There is also MTS too but i won't go into that because i can't seem to pull it off but you get the idea. Kirby Air Ride's lack of complexity makes the unbalance of the machines feel painful. Sure F-ZERO GX has the Great Star (essentially the Street Fighter's Dan of F-ZERO machines) but at least it's possible to win with it whereas the Warp Star is simply outclassed by every other star and Meta Knight dominates all. Put simply, Kirby Air Ride is one of the few games which i would enforce bans and the machines would be strictly limited to a select few. City Trial doesn't have this problem much though.
If they were to make a Kirby Air Ride 2, i'd like to see the x and y button put to use, perhaps drafting and a super boost which propells you further than a regualar one but like in F-ZERO it would burn down your health bar as you use it. You could say i want Kirby Air Ride to be F-ZERO and yes that is true because F-ZERO GX is the best racing game ever and Kirby Air Ride should take a lot of ideas from it, i'm not saying it needs absolutely everything but at least give it a similar boost function, having more racers in the game would be good too, perhaps 12 and maybe a grand prix mode in Air Ride to spice things up.
Now the next thing i would like to cover is the progression. Unlike most racing games, Kirby Air Ride's progression isn't linear, in fact it was one of the first games to have Achievements, in fact you could say it was one of the games to pioneer it. To make progress in Kirby Air Ride, you have to complete the checklist. The checklist is basically a list of achievements, some of which are simple and random, others which can be quite difficult. Some reward you with nothing, others reward you with a new machine. If you get 100 checklist blocks for all 3 modes, you complete the game, i only beat Top Ride though. If you're a completionist, i guarentee you will enjoy this game a lot and even if you aren't the fun multiplayer should be enough. Put simply Kirby Air Ride is an awarding experience and winning isn't always the best way to make progress.
Now onto the music. I love the music in the Kirby series and Kirby Air Ride offers a great, memorable soundtrack as well as a sound test which i spent a lot of time listening to. Pretty much every track in both top ride and Air ride have a classic kirby tune attatched to them which can be unlocked via the checklist, they also come with their own original themes too. My favourite has to go to Magma flows which just happends to be an epic remix of the Gourmet Race theme from Kirby Super Star, later known as the Fountain Of Dreams theme in Super Smash Bros Melee. Of course they do bring back some good old classics too including my favourite song from Kirby 64, Rock Star so all in all, the soundtrack is simply put a nostalgia fest.
The art design is just what you expect from a Kirby game but in this game it really stands out. Kirby Air Ride is the only 3D Kirby game without side scrolling and despite this there are some amazing looking tracks and City Trail in itself is spectacular. Everything is bright colourful and well designed, so much it gets me entranced every time i play it. I think the art design is definitely one of this game's strong points and i have a lot of nostalgia for it, that and the soundtrack, it's just amazing.
Overall, Kirby Air Ride has a lot of room for improvement but my god do i want to see a sequal. This game is a great game on it's own but with a little work it could be fantastic. This game just screams potential for a sequal. Hopefully Sakurai can spare at least 1 more game to go back to, forget Smash 4, give me Kirby Air Ride. I mean just look at smash run, it's obvious that he hasn't forgotten the masterpiece he had made with this game. Either that or HAL labs are going to have to take the formula from the first game and line the rest of the Kirby Series, don't fuck it up... yet don't be afraid to add something new. Reccommending this game is difficult at it's current price but it's definitely a fun game to try and ultimately if you're willing to shell out the cash, i don't see any reason why you should hesitate.
This review was written back in 2014 and was accidentally bumped up to 2016 due to the new cblog editor. It was written between October and November.