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Video Game / Kirby Air Ride

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Kirby's one and only title on the Nintendo GameCube, Kirby Air Ride (or Kirby's Airride in Japanese) is a multiplayer Mascot Racer that supports up to 4 players. It was developed by HAL Laboratory, directed by Masahiro Sakurai and released in 2003. It was the last Kirby game Sakurai worked on before his departure from HAL (and, for a while, Nintendo as a whole).

Kirby Air Ride is somewhat similar to Mario Kart, Nintendo's main Mascot Racer series, being a racing game that allows players to attack one another to impede their rivals' progress. However, unlike Mario Kart, you do so in the traditional Kirby way: utilizing various Copy Abilities that are obtained by swallowing the enemies that litter most tracks. The controls are also very simple; acceleration is automatic, leaving the A button and control stick to be used as the only methods of input for all actions.

The game has three different modes:

  • Air Ride: Your standard third-person racing mode (with some mooks running around to steal Copy Abilities from) — just complete the laps and get first place. Alternatively, turn on the optional HP meter and knock out the competition before they can complete the race. Also includes a Time Attack.
  • Top Ride: A mode that uses a top-down camera instead of a third-person perspective. You race on very small tracks that require completing a large number of laps, there are only two machine types that are only differentiated by their control schemes instead of stats, and items are used instead of Copy Abilities. Like Air Ride, it has a Time Attack.
  • City Trial: A unique mode with two stages. In the first stage, players are given a time limit to explore a large city where they need to find upgrades or replacements for their vehicle. When time's up, they are taken to the second stage: a randomly selected final event that can involve an Air Ride race or some other contest, the outcome of which is used to determine the winner. Strange things may happen in the city during the first stage that can help or hinder progress, and unlike Air Ride mode, the HP meter is not optional (though dying during the first stage doesn't disqualify you; it just results in losing your machine (and a lot of power-ups)).

Kirby Air Ride was notably the last game in the Kirby series that Sakurai worked on before departing from HAL Laboratories a month after the Japanese release, having been hit with Artist Disillusionment over constant pressure to continue making Kirby sequels. Sakurai would be involved with the series one last time after his departure, acting as an advisor to the Kirby & the Amazing Mirror developers, but would never return to any position of involvement again, much less the director's seat.

Kirby Air Ride has no sequels or follow-ups, though it's had some influence on other Nintendo games that Sakurai worked on. Its version of an Achievement System is used in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, the menu layout and aesthetics are the basis for the ones used in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and the Smash Run mode in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS is a Spiritual Successor to City Trial.

Kirby Air Ride contains examples of:

  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: The Japanese box art has Kirby smiling, showing how he's clearly enjoying himself and exuding a cutesy look. The international box art removes the smile and gives him Angry Eyebrows for a more intense image. See here for a comparison.
  • Arbitrary Mission Restriction: Some Tasks require using certain machines while also winning races within a specific time limit.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Hydra is by far the strongest and fastest Air Ride machine. Sadly, it comes with its fair share of drawbacks. For starters, it's only available in City Trial, even as an unlockable machine. It also has the second-slowest charge time,note  which sucks because it's similar to the Bulk Star in this regard, meaning you're a sitting duck and/or stuck at the starting line until you can get a full charge. It's totally impractical against most minigames save for Drag Race, Single Race, and maybe Destruction Derby.note 
  • Blow You Away: Tornado lets Kirby execute a more effective version of the spin attack by powering it up with wind.
  • Boring, but Practical: The Swerve Star. Its gimmick is having no turning ability whatsoever while in motion on the ground, coming to a dead stop while the A button is held, having the ability to quickly pivot while stopped, and instantly accelerating to top speed when the A button is released. While it's unable to utilize boost panels and it has mediocre durability and gliding ability, its acceleration is utterly unrivaled, its fast-or-stopped nature makes it incredibly precise, and its top speed is among the highest in the game, beaten only by even more gimmicky or specialized (to the point of Awesome, but Impractical) vehicles like the Formula Star, Turbo Star, Bulk Star, and Hydra (and the Dragoon, but that's a flat-out Game-Breaker). Once one gets used to how the Swerve Star handles, it becomes a very strong contender for the most reliable (and controllable) machine in the game.
  • Charge Attack: Plasma will unleash stronger and larger shots if you charge it up before firing.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • In City Trial, the stat-boosting power-ups are each uniquely colored, making them easier to tell apart from afar. Gray ones decrease your stats.
    • Within the same mode, the item-containing boxes are colored to show what kind of item will be found within them.
  • Collision Damage: Dealing damage normally requires spinning, an item like the cannon, or a Copy Ability, but playing in City Trial's Free Run or main game allows players to deal damage by ramming other players.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Kirby Air Ride was the first game to exhibit many of the personal touches Sakurai has been known for in his post-HAL career, such as a checklist page that unlocks things as you fill it out and the stylized menus filled with odd shapes.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Many of the machines suffer from being too specialized in a certain stat or gimmick. For instance, the Rocket Star has the best boosting power in the game and the Formula Star has the third-best top speed (beaten only by the Dragoon and Hydra), but they suffer so much in almost every other category that it often becomes a moot point.
  • Death Mountain: Celestial Valley in Air Ride mode is set on mountainous rocky terrain with raging waterfalls.
  • Disk One Nuke: Downplayed Trope. The Wagon Star is one of the first machines you can unlock in Air Ride mode, and stat-wise, it's one of the better stars in the game. However, it's still beatable with the default Warp Star.
  • Eternal Engine: Machine Passage in Air Ride mode and Metal in Top Ride Mode are mechanically-themed locations.
  • Flying Saucer: One of City Trial's many random events has a gigantic UFO fly overhead ominously. What does it do? It rewards any player able to get on top of it with many power-ups, including the normally rare All-Up.
  • Foreshadowing: During City Trial, there will often be a prediction made about the event that will follow.
  • Green Hill Zone: Fantasy Meadows in Air Ride mode and Grass in Top Ride mode are the simplest tracks that run through flat green plains.
  • Grind Boots: Some tracks have grind rails that you can hop onto with your machine. They automatically take you forward at a fixed speed (depending on what star you're using) and occasionally lead to alternate routes.
  • Inconsistent Dub: Gordo suffers some Engrish, being mistranslated as "Gold", and Dyna Blade, well established as being a mother, is erroneously called a "he", likely due to the lack of gendered pronouns in Japanese.
  • Invisible Wall: The main area in City Trial and each of the races in Air Ride are surrounded with these to prevent escaping or cheating, although if you have enough flying power, you can make it over the wall. Some stages do have a way of getting off the track, but doing so results in Kirby falling into a Bottomless Pit (and either reappearing on the track Mario Kart-style (possibly at minimal health) or being flat-out retired from the race, depending on what game mode is being played and whether or not finite HP is turned on).
  • Jack of All Stats: The Warp Star doesn't really excel in any one area, but it also doesn't have any huge flaws. It's got okay speed and acceleration, decent health, passable gliding ability, a good charge speed, middle-of-the-road weight so it can drift (but not too much), and controls well.
  • Journey to the Sky: This is actually quite easy to do: in City Trial mode, there are a few ramps- and a volcano- that will launch you straight to a transparent, circular object in the sky that you can climb on top of. Despite not looking much like a garden, it's referred to in-universe as "the garden in the sky". The first time you do it, you'll unlock an achievement.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Magma Flows in Air Ride mode and Fire in Top Ride are tracks that run through volcanoes.
  • Level in the Clouds: Beanstalk Park in Air Ride mode and Sky in Top Ride mode are both located in the sky.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Hydra is the single fastest machine in the game (its top speed is literally the game's speed cap), has the highest health, is among the better machines at gliding, and does huge amounts of damage to other machines just by colliding with them (and by "huge amounts of damage", we mean "one-shots anything less durable than a Wagon Star (which is everything except for the Wagon Star and Hydra)"). It does take over eight seconds to start moving without stat boosts, but once it does, it accelerates very quickly (only the Swerve Star accelerates faster, and its top speed is roughly a fifth as high as the Hydra's), so it should easily catch up to the other racers if the race isn't already over.
  • Mighty Glacier: Dedede in the City Trial event doesn't move very fast, but get hit even once by his hammer, and your machine may very well be forfeit.
  • Not Completely Useless: The Formula Star is often worthless despite its high top speed, as it has horrible acceleration, poor turning, and is terrible at gliding. Some final events in City Trial are races on tracks that are just a straight line, which is perfect for the Formula Star's design.
  • One-Hit Kill: If Hydra collides with another machine, it will usually destroy the target instantly. A subversion of this is the Shadow Star, which can bust many machines with a single, well-placed spin attack.
  • Palette Swap: In each mode you can play as either Pink, Yellow, Blue, or Red. By completing specific objectives, Green, Brown, Purple, and White become selectable colors in the mode they were unlocked in.
  • Palmtree Panic: Water in Top Ride mode is a track filled with waterfalls next to a coastal area.
  • Patchwork Map: The map of City Trial is made up of a volcano, a forest, a river, an icy cavern (found inside the volcano), several multistory buildings, and the sea all quite close to one another.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Many of the music tracks are reused from either the Japanese version of Kirby: Right Back at Ya! or previous games.
  • Secret Character: Meta Knight and King Dedede can both be unlocked for use in Air Ride and City Trial's free mode.note  Meta Knight acts like a permanent combination of Wing and Sword, while Dedede acts like Sword (using his hammer instead of a blade) on the Wheelie Bike.
  • Secret Underground Passage: City Trial has a few examples of this.
    • There's a passage underneath the forest accessed by breaking through from above in a couple specific spots or by breaking through a wall in one of the other underground sections.
    • There is also an icy cavern underneath the volcano reached by breaking one of the rock walls around its base or riding a rail straight into its center.
  • Sentient Vehicle: The Air Ride Machines display some levels of sentience in City Trial, such as when they take off on their own or fly around in formation together during the Air Ride Formation event. The Wheelie vehicles also qualify for this.
  • Shifting Sand Land: Sky Sands in Air Ride mode and Sand in Top Ride are tracks located in a desert.
  • Shout-Out: The menus are clearly inspired by Super Smash Bros. Melee. In fact, it seems that Brawl's menu designs were inspired by this game.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: Frozen Hillside in Air Ride mode is a snowy landscape with beautiful aurora skies.
  • Snowy Sleigh Bells: Frozen Hillside's track has a sleigh bell ring three times in the background before a Beat, followed by the bell ringing three more times.
  • Space Zone: Nebula Belt in Air Ride mode and Light in Top Ride mode are both set in deep space.
  • Spectacular Spinning: Flicking the Control Stick left and right allows Kirby to execute a Quick Spin, allowing you to attack nearby enemies. Tornado and Wing increase the attack's effectiveness.
  • Starter Equipment:
    • In Air Ride mode, you start off only being able to use the Warp Star (the Jack of All Stats machine) and need to unlock the rest.
    • The Compact Star is the ride you start with in City Trial. While it's not the best choice for actual competition (outside of facing against low-level AI with low handicaps), it boasts a surprisingly good combination of charge, turning, and gliding ability, which makes it good for collecting a lot of patches before switching to a more suitable ride for the event.
  • Super-Scream: The Mike Copy Ability has Kirby scream into a microphone to damage surrounding enemies. Unlike other Copy Abilities, it immediately activates once received.
  • The Unfought: Meta Knight isn't unlocked by fighting or racing him. Instead, you have to stay airborne for a collective total of thirty minutes or more in the Air Ride mode.
  • Video Game 3D Leap: This is the first game that allowed players to fully control Kirby in a 3D space. Beyond racing and battling on Air Ride machines, the City Trial mode also allowed you to dismount your vehicle and freely run and float around — although just like in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, your jumps are limited.
  • Windmill Scenery: Fantasy Meadows has a windmill in the background (to enhance the "Meadows" part of its name), and it has sails made out of dragonfly wings (and there is the "Fantasy" part alright).
  • Wintry Auroral Sky: Frozen Hillside, the game's resident icy racetrack, has green, blue and pink auroras high up in the purple skies.
  • Your Size May Vary: In his City Trial event, King Dedede is enormous. When you're actually playing as him, he's barely bigger than Kirby.