Holding down the A button to charge the boost gauge, I wait in anticipation for the race to start. The timer counts down. Three. My boost gauge is slowly filling. Two. Will it be enough? One. Will I release my boost at the right time? Go!
This is a common occurrence in the beginning of all three styles of play: Air Ride, Top Ride, and City Trial. While the start is not as important as the race itself, every little bit helps against tough foes or challenges. With each mode, there are a range of rules, goals, options, and courses, in addition to 120 achievements for grabs. Whether you prefer playing alone or with friends, there is plenty to unlock and accomplish in Kirby Air Ride. Despite the fact that I dislike playing racing games, including Mario Kart, I still managed to sink in hundreds of hours easily.
The first mode of play is over the shoulder racing, Air Ride. You start limited to a few simple, more balanced vehicles, but as you play and beat challenges, you will get rides built with more extreme flaws and benefits. Each race circuit revolves around a single theme, a few of them with secret passages or tricks. The course is also littered with creatures to eat or inhale for powers that might help speed you up, slow opponents down, or break the opponents' rides. Air Ride can be broken down into smaller sections: racing laps, racing distance, time attack, and free run. There is also a plethora of options to change, such as enemies on/off, ride health on/off, slow motion, help for players falling behind, and AI handicap and difficulty.
After Air Ride is Top Ride or top down mode. This consists of tiny circuits that fit in the whole screen. If you thought Air Ride was chaotic, Top Ride crams a lot of items, traps, triggers, and mayhem in one small area. The themes are similar to Air Ride, but the maps are very different. Races can be anywhere from 1 lap to 99 laps, depending on the settings. Laps are fairly short and last only a few seconds if you really try.
Last but not least, City Trial. You get 5-7 minutes to cruise around looking for a vehicle you like, pick up power-ups, and maybe even bust up the competition's vehicles for power-ups. Occasionally you may even have an event or two happen, giving both buffs and debuffs. After time runs out, the real challenge starts. You compete against the other riders in a random contest of skill and the winner is decided from there. Something that excited me about this mode was the ability to hop off your vehicle and walk around on foot to places the vehicles can't reach. Free Play is definitely better to play with friends, as there are a large range of things to do to keep you busy.
The game has great music playing for each course, unique and well made. Unfortunately, not all the sounds are pleasant as the temporary defense pickup hurt my ears while it was active. Graphics are surprisingly good in some places, but other places, like City Trial, have map elements that are simply boxes that were textured. The controls are fairly simple and in Top Ride you get to choose between two control styles. The game does have some bugs in City Trial, but you have to look very hard for the bugs and none of them are game breaking. In addition, some rides and maps are completely broken in terms of balance. I'm looking at you Swerve Star on Nebula Belt.
Despite most issues I mention being in City Trial, it was actually my favorite game mode. I remember taking turns playing golf in Free Play. One player rode the vehicle and the other was the golf ball. We let physics handle the rest. Kirby isn't the only playable character; Meta Knight and King Dedede are playable in Air Ride and City Trial Free Run. If you manage to beat all the challenges in a single gamemode, your grid turns a nice, shiny gold. If you use purple boxes to skip challenges, you may be disappointed to find that they stay purple until you beat them. An extra challenge for people who want to 100%.
The main moral issues with this game would be all the mild cartoon violence, and one of the creatures Kirby can eat has a witch hat and broom. Eating the witch creature gives Kirby no powers; Kirby will simply spit it back out. Kirby's eating is fairly non-violent; he simply sucks in air like a vacuum and swallows the creature in one big gulp. When Kirby's ride breaks, he flies up, does a few somersaults, and falls face first into the pavement. If this happens in Air Ride, Kirby will be able to do nothing except twitch slowly across the pavement. The player controlling a fainted Kirby can do nothing except slowly aim the direction of which way Kirby should twitch, on road or off-road, until the other players complete the race. If twitching Kirby gets run over again, Kirby is sent flying, somersaulting, and hitting the pavement again. Please keep in mind that this is unrealistic cartoon violence.
Overall a good game, fun and definitely time consuming if you are a completionist. If you aren't motivated by achievements or real-life friends, this game may not be for you. As for moral warnings, again, mild cartoon violence and a witch looking creature.