For my next blog in the "talking about a specific game" category, I'd like to talk about the only Kirby game released for the GameCube: Kirby Air Ride.
Much like the GameCube itself, Kirby Air Ride is pretty good but unfortunately is also underrated and has been subject to lots of criticism. The main reason for it being criticized is because it is different: it is mostly a racing game (though there is one mode in the game that has more than that), not a traditional side-scrolling action/adventure game like most other games in the series. However, "different" doesn't mean "bad." And this isn't the only game in the series that is different.
Long before Kirby Air Ride was even released, several Kirby spin-off's were already released for other Nintendo systems: Kirby's Pinball Land, Kirby's Block Ball, and Kirby's Star Stacker for the original Game Boy, Kirby's Avalanche (based on Puyo Puyo Pop) and Kirby's Dream Course for the SNES, and Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble for the Game Boy Color. And you know what? Even though these games were also very different, they received good ratings and I don't remember there being lots of complaints about them. I suspect another reason for some people hating on and making fun of Kirby Air Ride is because it is for GameCube, a console that several still bash these days even though it isn't that bad of a console (in fact, it actually was and still is a pretty good console). While some people do like the game, the game was considered mediocre to several critics when it was released in 2003.
It is worth noting that Kirby Air Ride was announced in 1995 and was originally intended for the N64. It was shown briefly on the Nintendo 64 VHS tape from 1996 that was sent to Nintendo Power subscribers. And, of course, there were screenshots shown in Nintendo Power and on the Internet. It was originally titled "Kirby's Air Ride", though the Japanese release of the GameCube version retains the original title. The canceled N64 version looked promising, featuring familiar characters and a multiplayer mode, but ran at a very slow framerate. It was canceled in 1998, following the announcement of Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Air Ride returned in 2002 when it was announced in Japan for the GameCube and it was finally released in late 2003. The souped-up GameCube version was redone with vastly improved visuals and a much faster framerate running at a (mostly) smooth 60 frames per second.
I present to you, the readers, this blog about why I believe Kirby Air Ride is actually a good game and didn't deserve the low ratings it received from critics in 2003.
Why Kirby Air Ride is Awesome
It has three modes
Air Ride, Top Ride, and City Trial are the three main modes included in the game.
Air Ride is the game's standard racing mode. Several machines, each with different speed and handling, can be selected. King Dedede and Meta Knight are also unlockable characters. As in most other Kirby games, Kirby can copy the abilities of several enemies. These abilities can not only be used on other enemies, but also other player's or computer-controlled opponents.
Top Ride has an overhead view and features miniature race tracks. The tracks may be small, but a lot can happen. Various items can be collected that work as weapons, and increase or decrease your speed. Some boss characters from past Kirby games, such as Kracko, occasionally appear. The action can be intense. While other modes have several machines to choose from, Top Ride mode has two machines that have different controls than the ones in Air Ride mode. There's no split-screen when multiple players play the Top Ride mode. The camera zooms out so all players can see their characters, and zooms in when everyone is near each other.
City Trial mode could almost be considered a separate game, as it has far more than just racing. More about this mode below.
All three modes can be played with up to four players. In addition, each mode has 120 tasks to complete for a total of 360 tasks. This certainly adds to the game's replay value.
City Trial mode is almost like an extra game
I'd like to talk about City Trial in more detail, because it is the best mode in the game and it is also very different than the other two modes. In fact, it is almost like a separate game that was included as an extra.
In this mode, you're in a City that is filled with breakable boxes containing weapons and power-ups. The point of being in this City is to upgrade your machine, increasing its strength, defense, turning, weight, etc.
This is the only mode in the game where Kirby can jump off his machine, and roam around freely on foot. This means Kirby Air Ride was not only the first fully 3D Kirby game, but technically it was also the first Kirby game to allow the player to roam around freely (this would later be expanded upon with a main entry Kirby game in 2022: Kirby and the Forgotten Land for Switch). While on foot, Kirby can run, jump, fly (briefly), and swim like in traditional Kirby games. However there's a time limit, and the main reason for getting off your machine is to get onto another one. All of the machines from Air Ride mode are available, and are scattered throughout the City (some are underground, while others are on roofs). It's worth mentioning, though, that the game has a "Free Run" option, allowing you to explore the City on a machine or on foot without a time limit.
A random event can occur in the City while you're upgrading your machine. One of the events features Dyna Blade, a boss character who originally appeared in Kirby Super Star for the SNES. There is an event that covers the entire City in dense fog. Another causes your machine to temporarily move so fast, that it breaks the sound barrier (even Sonic and Captain Falcon from F-Zero would be impressed) and becomes very difficult to control. There is also an event where several giant Meteors fall down to the City, which are so strong they can destroy your machine and send Kirby flying to another part of the City. All kinds of cool things can happen. Each of these events also has different music, with some of the music being original and others being remixes of music from other Kirby games (the music that plays when Dyna Blade appears, for example, is an orchestra of the Castle Lololo level music from the original Kirby's Dream Land for Game Boy).
Some of the boxes in the City contain parts. There are two "Legendary Machines" in the game that are far more advanced than any of the other machines: Hydra and Dragoon. Collecting three parts replaces your current machine with one of the Legendary Machines.
If you're riding one of the Legendary Machines, you're almost guaranteed to win the game that follows when you're finished upgrading your machine in the City.
After upgrading your machine, a screen appears that shows your machine's stats. Were you able to upgrade it significantly while you were in the City?
I like the calm music that plays on this screen. It's like the game is telling you that you can relax for a bit, but you've still got an intense battle ahead.
You then go to the Stadium and enter a random battle, race, etc. (a message appears while you're in the City that hints at what you'll do in the Stadium). There are Destruction Derby's, Drag Races, regular races on the tracks from Air Ride mode, Air Gliding, Melee's, etc. There are multiple unlockable tracks and arenas for the Drag Racing, Destruction Derby's, and Melee's.
Before starting City Trial, there's also an option to go directly to the Stadium and play any battle game you've unlocked. If you go straight to the Stadium, you can pick whatever machine you want but it won't be upgraded and it'll just be the same as it is in the Air Ride mode. Also, you'll enter some of the games, like Air Glider, alone (unless other player's are playing) without any computer-controlled opponents.
The game has lots of customization
While Kirby Air Ride is a different type of game, it is similar to Super Smash Bros. Melee in many ways. Just like Melee, almost every option you can imagine can be changed to your liking. In Air Ride mode, these include number of laps, time, an automatic speed boost if you fall behind, and even the game's speed. There's an option to have the game randomly select a track for you, like how Melee has an option for that game to pick a random arena.
For the Top Ride mode, there are options for adjusting the camera to stay in a fixed position as well as multiple angles. There's also an option to change the types of items that appear on the tracks.
In City Trial mode, you can turn the events on or off and choose the type of game you play when you go to the Stadium.
It has simple controls
Something unique about Kirby Air Ride that wasn't common in 3D games is its controls. You press the A button to perform all of Kirby's actions, and move the Control Stick to steer. That's it (all except one of the machines move automatically). Kirby can inhale enemies, use their abilities, throw certain items, slow down, and boost all with the press of a button. It's simple and effective. And it makes sense too that all of the actions are assigned to just one button, because the A button on the GameCube's Controller is bigger than most of its other buttons. There are some other games on the console that make use of other buttons but still assign most of the actions to the A button, like Resident Evil 4.
It has tons of unlockables
As I mentioned above, each mode has various tasks to complete. Some of the tasks unlock extra features. Like Super Smash Bros. Melee, Kirby Air Ride has quite a few unlockable features. You can unlock videos, Kirby colors, machines, two characters, music, one track in Air Ride mode, endings for each mode, some options/rules, and games in the City Trial Stadium. There's also an unlockable chart that appears when you pause the game in the City Trial mode (normally you have to wait until time runs out to see your machine's stats). Just about everything a Kirby and Super Smash Bros. fan would want.
I think all that's missing is unlocking a classic Kirby game, like Kirby's Adventure, which would've been nice since Animal Crossing, Metroid Prime, and Zelda: Collector's Edition all have NES games. But maybe including a classic Kirby game would've been too much. Besides, the Game Boy Advance got a remake of Kirby's Adventure only a year before Kirby Air Ride was released (Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land) which can be played on the GameCube with a Game Boy Player.
It has an orchestrated soundtrack
Kirby Air Ride was the first Kirby game to have orchestrated music. The GameCube uses discs and Kirby Air Ride was made by much of the same teams that worked on Super Smash Bros. Melee, so it makes sense that they would make use of the technology and make Kirby Air Ride the first Kirby game to have an orchestrated soundtrack. Some of the music is synthesized, like Melee, but most of the regular music for the Air Ride tracks and the music in City Trial mode are orchestrated. If you pick a music track in the Sound Test then leave the Options screen, the music track you picked continues to play on the other menus (this is yet another feature from Melee). Also I recommend hanging out on the Results screen in the Air Ride and City Trial modes for a bit, because the music is longer than you might expect.
The game has a LAN Option
Like Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Kirby Air Ride is compatible with the GameCube's Broadband Adapter and has a LAN option. In fact, it was the first game on the console to have LAN support (for a spin-off that didn't get much respect from critics Air Ride sure has a lot of firsts, all of which are good features). Normally the screen has to split into smaller screens when multiple players play. In addition, the graphics are usually downgraded a little when multiple players play so that the game maintains a fast framerate. When using the LAN option, every player has their own TV and GameCube. You don't have to put up with split-screen, and the graphics look about the same quality as when just one player plays. The LAN feature is available for the Air Ride and City Trial modes. The reason why it's not available for Top Ride mode is because that mode has an overhead view and doesn't have split-screen. As when playing the Air Ride and City Trial modes normally, up to four players can play when using the LAN option.
The game doesn't forget about or overlook other Kirby games
It may not be a traditional side-scrolling action/adventure game, but Kirby Air Ride is still very much a Kirby game. It has plenty of characters and features that have been in the series since the first Kirby game on Game Boy, and reminders of the past. Here are some examples.
Kirby still inhales enemies and spits them out, as he's done since his debut. He also still copies some enemies' abilities, which is a feature that was introduced in Kirby's Adventure for the NES.
One of the most iconic and recurring boss characters in the Kirby series, Whispy Woods, appears in the City Trial mode. You can bump into him, which makes him sad. You can also attack him a few times (only while you're on your machine), which makes him shed a tear like in other Kirby games.
Kracko occasionally appears in the Sky track in Top Ride mode. As mentioned above, Dyna Blade from Kirby Super Star appears in City Trial mode during an Event. If you get onto a roof in City Trial, you can glide into Dyna Blade's face (necessary to complete one of City Trial's tasks).
I also mentioned above that City Trial mode is the only mode in the game where Kirby can get off his machine. By doing this, he can run, jump, fly, and swim like in other Kirby games.
The Maxim Tomato, an item that restores Kirby's energy and has been in the series since the first Kirby game, is in Kirby Air Ride.
Kirby's long-time nemesis, King Dedede, is a boss in the City Trial mode's finale.
As in Super Smash Bros. Melee, most of the stages/courses in the game have alternate music tracks that can be unlocked. Also like Melee, these are music tracks from past games and some are the original versions while others are remixed. These can be heard by holding the X or Y button when you choose a track. But even if you don't hold down one of those buttons, the alternate music tracks will still play on occasion (Melee does the same thing). The Celestial Valley track in Air Ride mode, for example, has a remix of the forest level music from Kirby's Adventure. The Sand track in Top Ride mode has the original version of the "Rock Star" music as heard in Kirby 64. Melee's version of the "Green Greens" music from Kirby's Dream Land for Game Boy can be heard on the Checker Knights track in Air Ride mode. Even the City in City Trial mode has an alternate music track (an alternate main theme, not the music tracks that play during events).
It was featured in other media
For a short time in 2003, Kirby Air Ride was featured in other media.
Two episodes of the Kirby: Right Back at Ya! anime, which was being aired on Fox at the time, are loosely based on Kirby Air Ride and feature some of the machines from the game. These episodes, along with some others, were combined to create a Kirby "movie" on the Kirby: Fright to the Finish DVD.
A strategy video for Kirby Air Ride is included on one of the Kirby: Right Back at Ya! DVD's.
A Kirby Air Ride comic is included in the Dec. 2003 issue of Nintendo Power, which is an adaptation of one of the Air Ride episodes from the anime.
A Kirby Air Ride commercial was shown on Fox in 2003 and is included on the Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Bonus Disc, which also advertises the Kirby: Right Back at Ya! anime. The same commercial is also included on one of the KIrby: Right Back at Ya! DVD's, along with a video of Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land for Game Boy Advance.
Hori, a Japanese company that has released many licensed accessories for Nintendo systems over the years, released a Kirby Memory Card for GameCube after Kirby Air Ride was released. It has 251 blocks of memory.
The game hasn't been forgotten
Some of the music from Kirby Air Ride is included on the soundtrack CD that is included with Kirby's Dream Collection for Wii. Some of Air Ride's music is also included in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch (the latter also has some updated versions of some of Air Ride's music tracks). The "Smash Run" mode that is included in Super Smash Bros. For 3DS was actually inspired by the City Trial mode in Kirby Air Ride, and has a similar system of collecting power-ups to increase character's strength and defense before a battle.
Kirby Air Ride has also been mentioned/referenced in some of the more recent Kirby spin-offs. Like Kirby's Dream Buffet for Switch, which has treats with pictures of the machines from Kirby Air Ride (including the Legendary Machines).
That about wraps up my 16th blog here on VGS. If you haven't played Kirby Air Ride before and are a Kirby fan, I suggest giving the game a chance. If you have played it before but don't play it anymore, it's worth coming back to. Also, check out the video above. There's some beta content still on the disc, like some test tracks.
Since this is a community of collectors, some of whom have multiple GameCube's (such as myself), it also might be worth getting some Broadband Adapters and making use of the LAN options in both this game and Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. I have, and they only make both games even more fun than they already are.
Kirby Air Ride and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Bonus Disc screenshots captured from a GameCube, not a Wii or an Emulator.
Edited by MegaMan52
Fixed typos and added pictures and videos