When people think of Nintendo racing games, there’s no doubt that Mario Kart comes to mind, and maybe even F-Zero for older fans. But there’s another game that often gets forgotten, buried underneath the discussion. That game is Kirby Air Ride, and it’s quite different from anything else. This game came out on the Nintendo GameCube way back in 2003, and was designed by none other than Masahiro Sakurai himself, the man behind the Super Smash Bros. series as well as Kid Icarus: Uprising, and original creator of the Kirby character.
This game may have fallen by the wayside at the time of its release, but to those who’ve played it, Kirby Air Ride really is something special. In this game, there are three main modes:
Air Ride – the standard racing on various courses, each with varied features and hidden shortcuts. The game’s different vehicles can be selected for use as they become unlocked.
Top Ride – Races from a top-down perspective with access to quirky items exclusive to this mode. Two vehicles are available here, and there are seven tracks unique to this mode on which to race, each designed around a specific elemental theme: Water, Sand, Fire, Sky, etc.
City Trial – this is the most massive mode, providing a ton of replay value through its random diversity. Up to four players are dropped into a sizable city, and then have an allotted time to explore, to collect upgrades, items, and to find new rideable machines, in preparation of a random event at the end. These events can range from drag races, to destruction derbies, to even competing on tracks from the Air Ride mode, and many more. On top of all that, the time players spend in the city is no simple stroll in the park, so to speak; players can interfere with each other in the city, damaging the vehicles of their opponents and snatching up items before they can reach them are several strategies that can be employed here. Certain events within the city itself may transpire at random as well, including boss characters showing up, items having altered properties for a short time, and even a massive alien spacecraft coming into contact!
So, how does one play Kirby Air Ride? The truth is, it may very well be the most simple, intuitive, and accessible racing game ever conceived. All of Kirby’s actions are mapped to the “A” button, and the player steers with the control stick. Acceleration is automatic, with the “A” button functioning as the break, coupled with a boost meter that charges while holding said button. A short boost is created upon releasing the button, and courses are designed with many turns of varying degrees with this mechanic in mind. Players must time boosts to get around the turns in an optimal way. Additionally, there are enemies scattered throughout the tracks, and pressing “A” while in close proximity will cause Kirby to inhale them, allowing for the integration of Kirby’s signature copy abilities into the race. Attacking with a copy ability is done with “A” as well.
One aspect of Kirby Air Ride that often won’t get enough praise from critics is how it handles achievements and the way it rewards the player with new unlockable content. This game is packed to the brim with things to unlock. Each mode has its own 12×10 grid of achievements, things to do, and stuff to unlock. What makes this achievement grid so appealing is that the player can be rewarded for doing just about anything, and each time a block on the grid is checked off, the adjacent blocks light up slightly, and the player can then see what needs to be done to unlock whatever may be concealed behind the block. There is an enormous amount of content to collect across each of the three modes; they may take the form of cosmetic things, like different colored Kirby to play as, or they may be more substantial, like secret characters or new soundtracks. The conditions of unlocking content vary wildly as well, from expected things such as finishing a certain course within a specific time, or accumulating a certain number of victories, to more precise endeavours, like attacking a specific enemy with a certain power up, or knocking out one vehicle with another. This system can keep players coming back and is an incentive for them to try new things for a really long time. It proved so good in fact, that Sakurai would later implement it into the Super Smash Bros. games.
Kirby Air Ride is a really fun racing/party game with a plethora of content to enjoy, and it really stands the test of time. If you’re a fan of the little pink puffball, love Mario Kart, or just curious about this often-forgotten GameCube classic, Kirby Air Ride really is worth it. The game may not appeal to everyone due to its lack of intense difficulty, but for those who want something to play on the good old purple lunchbox, Kirby Air Ride provides hours of fun, especially with friends.
Written By: BeNjamyn Upshaw-Ruffner