Retro Review: Kirby Air Ride (Game Cube)

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Years ago, I first played Kirby Air Ride, and had a good time with it. Around the same time, I remember that this game was critically panned. I was surprised by this, as I enjoyed the game very much. Today, I wanted to look back and see if the critics were right and if I am only seeing this game through nostalgia goggles, or if the game actually is higher quality than the original reviews claimed it was.

First things first, Kirby Air Ride is a racing game. It features very simple controls, as all modes require just the left joystick and the A button. The stick is for steering, obviously, and the A button is used to drift, boost, and use Kirby’s inhaling or copy power abilities from other Kirby games. The vehicle you are using accelerates automatically. Also of note, if your racing vehicle hits a bump, or otherwise goes airborne, you can briefly glide through the air. The gliding leads to moments of pure bliss, and adds another layer of mastery to learn from the game.

KirbyARrace
A quick look at racing in Kirby Air Ride.

Now, even though the game has simple controls, I found that there is still a learning curve to get over. Steering around corners often requires you to hit the A button while turning, and enables you to boost once you are facing the right direction. This is a little awkward at first, but is something most players can adjust to after a race or two.

An odd thing about this game is that it starts with only the warp star. You have to accomplish certain tasks to get the rest, and not all of them are intuitive to acquire. On the note of alternate vehicles, the learning curve is steeper with certain vehicles, as some require boosting to move at all, and others steer in an awkward manner. Some vehicles glide better, while others just jump for a bit instead. Usually, the faster vehicles are harder to use.

Another thing to note is that there are three modes of play: Air Ride, City Trial, and Top Ride. In Air Ride, you do the basic racing. There are only 8 courses, with the 9th being unlockable. There isn’t any Grand Prix mode, so you just take your pick of one course, and see if you win. Luckily, there are a bunch of settings, including number of laps, enemies, or if players have a health setting (if health hits zero, you’re out of the race). The CPU racers have 9 difficulty settings to choose from, and they can be alarmingly smart even on the lower settings. The computer can even use tricky vehicles with more ease than they should.

City Trial mode is the most original mode here. In it, you are given a limited amount of time to roam the city to gather upgrades for your vehicle, and can even pick up a new ride while playing. At the end, you compete with the other players to accomplish a specific goal, such as jumping the highest, gliding the furthest, race each other, or even battle the other players for supremacy. City Trial’s challenges are randomized, so it offers the most surprises and variety.

KirbyARcityTrial
The City Trial mode in Kirby Air Ride. Notice the pickups that enhance your ride.

Finally, there is Top Ride mode. This mode feels off from the rest of the game. The view is top-down, and you don’t have any choice for vehicles. You only choose the control type, and that is it for riding options. There are random pickups that appear during a race, but you don’t have any of the other vehicles from other modes to ride. Ultimately, Top Ride feels like a mini-game offered in Kirby Air Ride, and doesn’t feel like a full mode of play like the other two modes.

KirbyARtopRide
Top Ride mode offers a different perspective, but less variety.

I should also mention there are three checklists, one for each mode. These checklists do grant you some rewards, but many accomplishments do not. Interestingly, clearing a challenge on the checklist will notify you what else is near that accomplishment, but won’t tell you if you get anything for completing these nearby challenges. Many of these challenges are surprisingly tricky, and sometimes weird. I think there is one that required you to be hit by a specific stage hazard, while others require scoring a specific time or better. The checklist would have felt better if you were rewarded for each accomplishment, but I guess the designers were going for more of an achievement system at the time.

All in all Kirby Air Ride is a fun but simple racing game. It does seem to run faster than Mario Kart, but lacks slightly less polish than its more famous counterpart. This game was overlooked by other racers at the time, but can still be fun if you don’t take it too seriously.

Here’s a few recommendations for the game:

  • Play this game as much or as little as you like. There is no end game, so just play till you are bored with the game.
  • You may want to gather every vehicle in Air Ride mode and to try them out at least once. You might need a guide to figure out how to do so, though.
  • Play a few rounds of City Trial mode, till you can decide if you like it. It does offer the most variety so you may be back to see more.
  • Top Ride is odd. Try a few rounds, but don’t be surprised if you aren’t committed to playing this mode.
  • Play with friends if at all possible. Be sure to give them a few rounds to get used to the game. If they like it, some good rivalries could come of it.
  • Other than unlocking most of the fun things, clearing the checklists isn’t mandatory. Completing all three doesn’t reward you, unfortunately.

Now let’s look at the Pro’s and Con’s:

Pro’s:

  • Gliding while racing can be blissful.
  • The basic controls are easy to learn.
  • There is room to enjoy multiplayer to enhance the game’s staying power.
  • City Trial offers a lot of variety, and plenty of surprises.

Con’s:

  • The game needs more stages in all modes.
  • A Grand Prix mode would be appreciated.
  • Slight tweaks to the controls would be nice, there are enough buttons on the controller to separate the functions in the game.
  • Some vehicles are impossible to master.
  • The checklist doesn’t always reward you
  • Game needs more content in general.
  • Top Ride feels like a distraction, and not a main course.

So, what is the final verdict?

7.9/10: A fun, underrated game, but needs some refinement.

Kirby Air Ride can be a lot of fun to play for a bit. It isn’t quite Mario Kart, but it isn’t as bad as many reviewers at the time said it was. If you are looking for an alternative racing game, this is a good pick.


And that is what I thought of Kirby Air Ride. Did you play this game? What do you think of it? Would you seek it out to play it now? What other alternatives to Mario Kart do you like? Let me know all this in the comments below!

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