Review: Kirby’s Air Ride (Nintendo Gamecube)

Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Category: Racing
Developer: HAL Laboratories
Publisher: Nintendo
The Down-Lo: Bebito tries not to kill himself after playing the worst Nintendo published game in quite a while.

Ugh. The things we do for you people. Reviewing these crappy games. Look… You don’t really need to read this review. If you trust Big Daddy Cool like you should, then scroll down to the bottom, look at the score, read the little 411 box with my comments that sound so disgusted you’d think I just got hit on by Chuck Platt and then let that be that. Heck, if you think about it, that’s the equivalent of what’d you’d read in most standard gaming magazines right there anyway.

But. For those who actually like to know WHY a game is, as Lucard likes to say, a gigantic pile of fecal matter, well that’s why we torture ourselves and do these reviews. If that’s the case, sit back and enjoy my agony.

Sigh. Kirby’s GameCube debut, as the game’s title implies, has you racing through the Kirby universe on a variety of star-like floating machines. Not much to it other than that, but the execution of this simple concept leaves much to be desired. Playing Kirby Air Ride is like sitting in a room with a rotting Woolly Mammoth… It stinks. The problem lies, in part, with how blatantly boring gameplay is. However even more damaging than that is the lack of depth and general feeling of incompleteness this game gives off. Added up it equates to one small yet unique package of sub par-ness.



LET’S REVIEW
10-Point Reviewing Scale Technology: “It’s why we’re just better.”

STORY: Story? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Story…

They didn’t even bother. No story mode. No explanation of the world or characters. Nothing at all. And come to think of it, debatably there’s really only ONE character in the entire game.

Kirby and… well, other colored Kirbys race around random tracks with no rhyme or reason as to why. You’re not even given a quickie explanation stuffed in the instruction manual as an afterthought. Double Dash!! at least did that. Just the fact no effort was put into creating any sort of excuse for gameplay is very telling as to what you have in store here…

Story mode rating: N/A

GRAPHICS:

Kirby Air Ride’s cartoony pastel colored world may have good variety and an overall clean look, but this wasn’t anything that couldn’t have been accomplished on a N64. This game’s graphics simply scream first generation. Or perhaps they just scream complacency. Because depending on what mode and track you’re racing on you’ll go back and forth from inspired, dynamic and detailed to barely textured, simplistic and clichE. One moment I was riding down lava flowing rivers inside the inner sanctum of chaotic volcanic backdrops, marveling at stunning Fire Dragons dancing ahead of me; and the next I was riding through monotone colored corridors with less detail than you’d see in the original shareware version of Doom. It’s like they cared one minute and said screw it the next. Scratch that. It’s like they cared one minute and said screw it for like the next ten. More often than not it’s one bland, simplistic, box or oval, checker colored looking of a level after another.


Look! It’s a round pink ball! They’re pushing the GameCube to its limits!!

Two points of praise, however. First, the soon to be talked about 2D Top Ride mode of Kirby Air Ride looks quite impressive. Unlike the rest of the game, Top Ride mode contains 2D gameplay with 3D graphics, and it appears the developers spent a great deal of time making each stage distinct, vibrant, and lively, ultimately sporting the best graphics in the game which is a shame because this mode was intentioned as more of a mini-game than anything else prominent.

Second, while at first it may not seem like it, this game is fast. Blazingly fast. Aside from some minor slowdown here and there, it puts Mario Kart: Double Dash!! to complete shame, and nearly gives F-Zero GX a run for its money. Ok, not really with F-Zero, but the sense of speed easily eclipses most ‘Plain Jane’ mascot racers out today.

Other than that, we’re back to being unimpressed. Some glimmers of graphic sweetness shine through here and there courtesy of when HAL Labs decided to give a crap, but they’re few and far between and countered by equally lackluster and dare I say lazy visuals.

Graphics rating (for a GameCube game): 5/10

SOUND: It Just Lacks The “IT” Factor.

Eh. It’s decent. All the basic groundwork of what you’d need for a videogame is here. The buzz of the Air Ride machines hums in the background. The all too cute noises of slashing, bashing, and crashing when enemies and racers come into contact with one another is represented just fine. Heavily saturated with trumpets and horns, the music isn’t very memorable but it’s light, simple, well orchestrated, and functional.

But. I don’t know. It all just left me feeling like, “So what?” Where’s the personality? Where’s the… ‘umph’? Particularly for the music, I found myself having to turn the game back on while writing this to even remember what half of it sounded like. In a day and age where games are literally brimming with charm emanating from their soundtracks, Air Ride seemed to do just enough to get the job done so that they could say there’s something there. It was simply put… bland. Not bad. Just… bland. Outside the distinguishing noise of Kirby swallowing his enemies, the sound and one-dimensional music could potentially belong to any generic videogame. That gets you an average in my book.

Sound rating: 5/10

CONTROL:

Everybody plays as Kirby. He’s Kirby. She’s Kirby. Everybody’s Kirby. Everybody has the exact same blob looking character and abilities. Isn’t that a load of crap great?

Kirby Air Ride only requires two buttons. The Control Stick to maneuver & the (A) Button to do just about everything else. Neither of these is necessary for acceleration. Vehicles accelerate forward on their own regardless if you press anything.

The analog Control Stick is used for just that, controlling your ride. Maneuvers like drifting behind riders to increase speed and wiggling the Control Stick from side to side to perform spinning attacks are the order of the day here. And vehicles are called Air Rides for a reason. 90% of them continuously hover above the ground. So you can imagine what happens when you hit a ramp, or ascend up a hill. SWOOSH. Your vehicle glides above the track allowing you to keep your airborne craft level by pressing up and down on the Control Stick, hence maintaining less traction and a higher speed.

Ok. My first gripe with the controls? They feel very detached. It’s almost like the game is playing itself. Or playing you even. Your craft moves forward no matter what. You’re merely steering its direction. To be successful, rarely are you required to perform any intricate maneuvers at all outside navigation itself. Just for kicks, I ignored using anything else besides the Control Stick for one entire race and I still came out in Second place. Thus the techniques I’m about to explain utilizing the (A) Button are nearly rendered useless, and sometimes detrimental even.

Pressing (A) charges your turbo. When charging, your machine drastically decreases in speed the longer you hold it down. Thus randomly and rapidly pressing turbo yields little to no positive results. Turbo boots are best served while going around tight turns then releasing on the way out of the curve to burst forward. And wow, there’s a huge learning curve for that. You could easily kill yourself during a race if you use the turbo boost improperly. Conversely the benefits to using it appropriately (with the exception of Top Ride mode) aren’t quite as generous. Big penalties, small gains.

The (A) Button is also used to swallow enemies. Littered throughout each track is a host of baddies that would otherwise try to hinder your progress. Get right in front of them though, tap the (A) Button, and Kirby will swallow them up as he’s famous for doing. Depending on the type of foe swallowed, Kirby either spits them out as a Star to knock rival riders off balance or if they’re a special enemy, he steals their particular ability. Kirby can then use his stolen powers to attack or get an upper leg on the other racers for a limited amount of time. Depending on the Copy Ability type it either takes effect automatically, or can be executed by again pressing (A). Copy Abilities include Wing (Giving the power to glide longer distances), Freeze (Kirby dresses up in his “Ice Climber” gear and can shoot Wintery blasts at other riders), and Sword (Geared up in his “Link” outfit, Kirby slashes his hero sword at all obstacles) among others. This is the most interesting gameplay device implemented, as without it this racer would be seriously dull.

Ok, so even WITH it this racer feels dull. The hand on heart honest truth is the majority of the small amount of things you’re allowed to do in this game simply aren’t needed to be effective. Never have I won a race because of some special ability Kirby obtained to knock out a rival racer. It’s not like Mario Kart where the player in second still has a chance to take the lead if he gets that Red Shell or Star on the last lap. The extras here don’t have that kind of effect on gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is wrong with the controls. Everything is responsive and simple enough to pull off once getting over the hump. But it’s how unpractical and futile taking the time to execute the majority of Kirby’s moves is, that’s the problem.

This is Kirby Air Ride’s second biggest flaw. So little effort is needed to be successful at playing the game, that it ultimately feels boring. Add to that the general feeling of detachment mentioned before, and you have one humdrum of a racer on your hands.

Control Rating: 5/10

REPLAYABILITY: Lot’s To Try, Little To Redo

You’d think with 3 separate modes of gameplay, this game would excel in replay value. Well, you’d have thought wrong. Yes, they shoved a lot in; or rather they shoved a lot of ideas in. But none of them are fleshed out. None have enough substance to stand alone, or even together, so as to feel like a complete game. Therein lays Kirby’s biggest and most glaring flaw, in it feeling more like an expanded mini-game than a complete experience. Take a look…

Air Ride mode …Your standard 3D racing game. Air Ride mode is the bare bones equivalent of ‘Exhibition’ for most other racers. There are no goals to complete. No circuits to enter or rivals to defeat. No sense of accomplishment at all. Just racing. And that wouldn’t be all that bad, except THIS is the main centerpiece of the game. It’s not like there’s an “Air Ride mode”, and then you’ve got a “Tournament Air Ride mode”, and then a “Story Air Ride Mode”. No. You pick a stage and you race. THAT’S IT. The tracks don’t even go in order. Once you’re done with the race, you’re thrown back to the stage select menu to choose again or exit the game. Words can’t convey my shock at the Herculean amount of non-effort put forth here.

Top Ride mode …A 2D top down view racing mode. Here at least they’re immediately honest and tell you this was intentioned as a mini-game, although it feels nearly as deep as Air Ride mode, if not moreso, and was probably only labeled as such because it’s 2D. Best explained as RC Pro-Am meets Powerstone, Top Ride’s tracks are very interactive. There aren’t enemies to swallow, but Copy Ability boxes popup on the course here and there giving you the same corresponding powers. Earthquakes occur changing the track’s terrain, killer plants spring up hoping to swallow your craft, momentary short cuts activate on special track hot spots… there’s a lot going on in each race. And unlike Air Ride mode it’s mildly entertaining, if not a bit monotonous. Had more incentive for replay in the form of race types and such been added in, this could have been a highlight. Sadly, since this is a “mini-game” there are no other varieties in play mechanics…, which is funny because that also holds true of everything else in this game.

City Trial mode …Ah, now this could have actually been something special had they expanded on it. It’s a race around a moderately big 3D city, collecting items and powering up your machine to then battle in various competitions after the time limit is up. You start out with the crappiest machine there is, with vehicle power-ups literally laying all around you throughout the city ripe for the picking. It’s your decision to either take your current clunker or, more preferably, discard it in lieu of the other more versatile machines lying around, and then power that baby on up! Besides upgrading your vehicle like a madman, you’ll want to attack your competitors, also in the City, to impede their upgrading process. After the time limit is up the game shows all competitors their stats, at which point you’re then thrown into an arena challenge which could be anything from seeing whose machine can travel the farthest distance gliding off a cliff to fighting Mario Kart melee style on a confined battlefield. Cool premise for sure. The problem is each challenge is random. And many are very short. So after all that powering up, the actual challenge depending on what it is, may comparatively last only ¼ the amount of time it took to prepare for it. When that happens, it makes all the work put forth for the preparation feel like a waste and lowers the desire to go through it again. Especially when you keep encountering the same challenge over and over again, which happens a lot before you unlock more of them.

Every one of the above modes is for 1 on up to 4 players. LAN play has been included as well. Sadly again, there aren’t any attempts at creating variety within the multiplayer experiences, LAN or not.

Can you change you the difficulty settings? Oh yes, heh. Yes you can. But scroll down to Balance and find out why even THAT provision falls flat in creating a lasting experience.

Now Kirby Air Ride does try to provide some incentive for replay besides tons of uncompleted miscellaneous modes with little cohesion. There are secret tracks to open up for both Air Ride mode and Top Ride mode. You can also open up extra battle challenges for City Ride mode. And then of course are the vehicles. Plenty of those to unlock. Most of these extras are opened up by completing some predetermined task like “Clear 100 Laps On A Track”, or “Complete A Lap Under 2 Minutes”, etc. You have an accessible Checklist full of random crap like that to perform. None of it is fulfilling or particularly challenging and most of them have to do with simply beating faster race times. A lot of stuff I opened up without even looking at the Checklist, just doing things that I’d normally do in a racing game. The developers throwing in random tasks for unlocking secrets is probably a symptom of not having anything within the main game to really achieve here to begin with.

Admittedly, getting the Legendary Machines is a different matter. These special super-powered, souped-up vehicles are in pieces hidden throughout City Ride mode, and must be gathered together to build them. And it’s worth the modest amount of time to find them, because the LMs are simply awesome. Unfortunately, this is the only true goal to accomplish in the entire game.

Hmf. It’s weird. So much is here, but with so little reason to keep playing it. For me this score was the hardest to gauge, because the potential was there to keep the player busy for quite some time, but it’s never truly realized. Had they given you the fundamentals inherent to most racers (i.e. more variety within the modes; Circuits, Time Attack, etc.) then we’d be onto something. As is, this is a whole bunch of stuff with very little substance.

Replayability rating: 5/10

BALANCE:

Air Ride mode is incredibly easy. Ludicrously easy in fact. Easier than tricking Pankonin into believing that a Wonderswan is really a Kitchen Aid home appliance. And it didn’t have to be that way either, but the vehicles are so imbalanced that it forces the game into that mold.

Vehicles range from unstoppable to practically useless. During initial gaming sessions in Air Ride mode, I was mildly competitive against the computer-controlled drivers while using the standard Star racer. Sometimes I’d win; sometimes I’d come in second or third. After a fair amount of practice I’d even begin winning consistently, but races were still reasonably close. Early on, though, I unlocked the extremely fast and agile Swerve Star and things changed drastically. I haven’t lost since. And all my races have been blowouts. And when I say blowouts, I mean coming close to lapping the poor shmuck in 4th place, humiliating the computer to the point that it’d curl up into the fetal position and cry if it had feelings, kind of blowouts. And yes, you’re allowed to pump up the CPU’s difficulty, which I did, and I STILL waxed everyone’s behind. It’s a given that some vehicles like the “Legendary Machines” are supposed to be powerhouse speed demons worthy of causing major carnage. But it takes a fair amount of time to unlock those, and I received a machine within the first ten minutes of gameplay that allowed me to breeze through that entire portion of the game undefeated. What the blood clot, people? What the blood clot…

City Trial mode isn’t any less of an unbalanced mess. You can spend tons of time collecting every power-up in the book, but since the challenges are random you’ll never know if your vehicle is upgraded enough in a specific area to handle the task at hand. Even that would be forgivable. But some vehicles are so much better suited to handle certain challenges, that it won’t matter how much powering up you do if you don’t have the right vehicle to begin with. Now that really pissed me off, as it renders the entire process pointless.

Things get a little better for Top Ride mode, seeing as it’s a level playing field due to everyone using the same machine. And when turning the difficulty up on the CPU racers, this time it creates some sadistically hard fun.


Why couldn’t the whole game be as good as this?

But out of 3 different gameplay styles, it’s a shame that only 1 presents a consistently fair challenge. Booooo…

Balance rating: 3/10

ORIGINALITY: Well it can’t all be bad, right? Right??

Wow! A mascot racer? How innovative and cutting edge!

Seriously, this is Kirby Air Ride’s strongest area. It may stink, but it stinks different than any other game out within the genre. This holds true of the game’s Top Ride and City Trial modes. Yes, the implementation of them may have been indolent. But you’d be hard pressed to find anything like them in your standard racer nowadays, mascot or not. City Trial mode, especially, is such an original idea that it breaks my heart it had to show up in a game that wouldn’t exploit it to it’s full potential. Do YOU know of any other racers that allow you to swap and power-up your vehicles while sabotaging your opponents’ in a giant 3D city with a 5-minute time limit right before you all battle it out in gladiator style arena challenges? I thought not. Just because the execution of said concepts isn’t up to par, it doesn’t mean the ideas presented aren’t original.

Originality rating: 7/10

ADDICTIVENESS:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Wow… what’s the opposite of addicted? Hold on; let me use my Microsoft Word Thesaurus. Hmm. “Apathetic”…? Oh no, it’s a much more powerful feeling than that. Try, “Disgusted”.

Bella and I like to make a thing of our gameplaying time together. We cuddle up in bed, she has her Cherry Pepsi, I have my Bacardi Silver 03. She looks through the instruction manual, while I pop us some popcorn. We pull out mini-Nestle crunch bars, dip them in Cool Whip, and dunk them in jimmies. Even the cat curls up on the bed finding a comfortable spot to enjoy the tranquility. Well, I swear to god after only 10 minutes of game time Bella pulled the covers over head screaming “Turn This Crap Off!” and the cat started twitching, jumped off the bed and threw up on the GameCube. Bella immediately banned both the Cube and Kirby Air Ride from the bedroom never to be turned on in her presence again. Then the cat pissed on my leg. Don’t let this happen to you, people!! I had no idea, but all of you have been warned. Don’t even bring this thing into your homes, let alone attempt to play it. See what it did to my household? Do you see? I mean geez, people. Do you have any idea what Cool Whip covered Nestle Crunch bars with jimmies do to Bella?? I was SOO in there. The game cock-blocked me! Kirby Air Ride actually prevented the obtaining of ——–. Now what would you do to one of your friends that does that, hmm? Hmm?? That’s right, you SHOOT THEM.* I don’t know how else to further explain my abhorrence at ever touching this game again after only one gaming session.

Look. Aside from friends and family hating this game… If I felt like I was actually progressing towards something. If I felt like I was accomplishing something with this game, then ya, MAYBE I would have continued playing even despite the lackluster gameplay. But no effort was put forth to make you want to keep playing. Everything’s just sort of there and you can either play it or not play it. It’s almost like the game itself could care less whether you continue on. Thus you ultimately feel the same.

*Ashisidro, Bebito Jackson, 411mania, and their affiliates do not condone the “shooting” of human beings for any reason whatsoever, including cock-blocking. Maybe a little whack to the head or some sodomizing, but no shootings.

Addictiveness rating: 2/10

APPEAL FACTOR:

Kids like Kirby. Kids like racing games. But for some reason, kids don’t like boring pieces of crap that make their eyes bleed. Go fig? That doesn’t bode well for Air Ride.

For a second, let’s forget about the fact that Air Ride is competing with the Holy Grail of mascot racers on its own system, in that of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Let’s forget about the fact that this game is probably too cute looking for the majority of mainstream gamers. Let’s forget about the fact that there’s very little content here to begin with to even try to appeal to anyone. Let’s forget about the fact that Nintendo wants you to forget about the fact that they released the game (as seen from barely there advertising campaign). When it’s all said and done, this game sucks.

That’s right. I said it. It sucks. Hard. So hard in fact that after hours laboring over the matter I’ve comprised a list of only 15 activities that are less appealing than playing Kirby Air Ride:

15. Female circumcision.

14. A nice hot shower….. before someone flushed the toilet.

13. Sex with Star Jones.

12. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside… and then feeling that your bed is wet

11. Falling in Love… and then finding out they’re gay. Unless you’re gay too, in which case, happy trails.

10. Running through sprinklers… in the winter time.

9. Keeping Pankonin under the illusion he’s the one in charge of 411 Games. Full time job there.

8. Laughing at yourself… and then finding out that everyone else is too.

7. Pretending I’m not really Kevin Nash

6. Pretending Lucard isn’t really HBK.

5. Working for Widro.

4. Deleting Pop-Up Ads From 411mania.

3. Reading The Down-Lo.

2. Making eye contact with someone cute… and then finding out they’re your cousin.

1. Playing Final Fantasy VIII.

Playing Kirby Air Ride clocks in at #16, and that’s me being generous. Trust me when I say that only diehard Kirby fans will be attracted to this game. And after playing it, even THEY may have second thoughts…

Appeal Factor rating: 3/10

MISCELLANEOUS: Wait? This isn’t the beta copy??

Tons of vehicles. Dozens of tracks. 3 unique modes of gameplay. And none of it feels fine tuned, complete, or cohesive in the slightest. Kirby Air Ride fails in the most important area possible: Feeling like a finished game. This is more akin to playing a lengthened unimpressive tech demo, than any type of full experience. Ok, a bit of an exaggeration for sure, but so much more depth to just about everything would have breathed a second air of life into this one. I expected much more from the developers of the Smash Bros. series. I really did.

Miscellaneous rating: 3/10


Short Attention Span Summary
Run away. Run far, far away. There’s absolutely no reason to even think about maybe possibly touching this mess pretending to be a videogame. Well, all right, that may be a little harsh. Man… with each mediocre game I review I feel myself slowly becoming more jaded than the entire cast of GameFAN combined. Fine. To be fair, the game isn’t truly bad. Just lacking, in execution and most importantly, in fun. There merely wasn’t enough depth to gameplay. But it’s not broken. It’s not like it’s in the Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness territory of appallingly terrible. But wow, very few times have I so eagerly wanted to tear out my left testicle and feed it to my Rumor Monkey rather than play a videogame. Alas, Air Ride did it. If you have a collection of brain dead toddlers at home who worship Kirby with all of fanatical devotion, then by all means… RENT this game for them. It’ll be enough of a diversion for a good half hour as they button mash their heads off until the sedatives you slipped in their Alphabets cereal finally take effect. All other purposes for this game outside sedating diehard Kirby fans or tranquilizing small children should be avoided at all costs. Poor.