DSiWare | Qubic Games | 1 Player / 2-6 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now | (EU) 500 Nintendo Points / (NA) 800 Nintendo Points
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18th May 2010; By KnucklesSonic8
The game comes stocked with 6 different modes of play: Championship, Multiplayer, Single Race, Time Race, Bonus and Training. Championship is the main career mode where players complete trophy cups and earn prizes for their achievements. Multiplayer allows you to begin or search for a wireless multiplayer session for up to 6 players. Single Race will allow you to choose any of the tracks you've unlocked in Championship and play them to your heart's content. Time Race removes the distractions of the computer opponents and allows you to just focus on aiming for an impressive time. Bonus mode will allow you to play any of the bonus stages you've encountered in the career, and improve your best records. And, of course, for those who are playing for the first time, Training offers a Tutorial of sorts that will get you acquainted with how to play the game.
Entering the single-player career, you can select from a variety of aerial planes, and gradually work at building up each vehicle's stats. Each plane has different attributes that fall under three categories: Top Speed, Maneuverability, and Shield. After choosing your race class, you have the ability to enter the 'Hangar' where all of the planes are stored. From here, you can use credits to purchase one that will serve as your starter until you accumulate more credits to purchase new models. The 'Upgrade' area will allow you to make improvements to the engine, the wings, the shield or even the paint job. Doing so will improve your plane's overall stats, in terms of acceleration and even resistance. Credits are awarded based on placement during races and overall cups so be sure to do your best while you're out on the track.
There are multiple cups to go through for each of the three race classes. The great thing about the Championship is that you can always quit after you complete a race, and continue it at a later point. This serves as a handy feature for those who may only have a few minutes to spare for a quick session. You also have the ability to Retire from the cup entirely and start from the beginning, at no extra cost to you. The game initially sets you on Rookie difficulty, but after a while, you may find the game to be a bit on the easy side. You can simply change this under Options from the Main Menu by choosing one of three other difficulty settings: Pilot, Veteran and Ace. Be sure to experiment with them and observe the AI patterns to determine which one is right to challenge you.
The main layout used during gameplay is easy to follow, and yet, it doesn't crowd the screen with unnecessary details. The top screen will display information such as your current time, your best lap record, current position, speed and lap number. There's also a bar on the right side of the screen which represents your position (i.e., the middle line) in relation to everyone else. The touch screen is even easier to comprehend thanks to a setup that resembles a control panel. The blue gauge on the left represents your fuel levels; when this depletes, your speed will drop rapidly. The orange gauge on the right is used to measure your plane's shields, or health. Every hit against a wall or obstacle you sustain will cause this to drop. But if you go for periods with smooth sailing, it'll restore itself automatically. Of course, sometimes you'll suffer instant death like when if you're zooming at a really fast speed and crash head-on into a wall or times when you get hit by certain attacks.
Finally, the giant circle in the middle of the screen acts as your map and your item holder. When playing normally, you'll get a good view of where you are via the map, but passing through a floating item area will cause a roulette to display, with images corresponding to different items. You can stop it early with the press of the L or R Trigger, and press the same button to activate it. If the hit is a success, you'll earn bonus points at the results screen. The game features a great selection of items including both typical staples and some unique power-ups as well. Slow down missiles, boosts, the off-switch item, and even a Random option, a grab bag of different possibilities including inversed controls, and oil spills. When an attack is sent your way by an enemy from behind, a meter will appear on the top screen for a brief amount of time. You'll need to tap one of the triggers at the right time to avoid impact, by stopping the slider square in the green zone. Although you'll need to be quite fast, it's great that you have the ability to dodge incoming attacks, especially as your opponents become more ruthless.
With touch screen controls, the giant circle area will also serve as the venue to take control of your plane. You begin with holding your stylus in the center of the circle, and depending on where you move the stylus, your plane will follow-through with the same movement. So to ascend, you drag and hold the stylus towards the top of the circle, and if you'd like to descend, simply drag towards the bottom. You also have the option of inversing controls to match real-life RC planes if you're more comfortable this way. Holding down will slow down your plane, allowing you to get through more difficult areas. And holding up on the D-Pad will cause your plane to accelerate or, alternatively, you can choose "Auto-Accelerate" under the Options menu. You can also rotate your plane 90 degrees by holding left or right, which proves to be a helpful ability for getting through tight areas. Stylus controls work especially great, offering a good level of precision and quick control. If you prefer, you can also map movement to the D-Pad and these controls work good as well.
Just like in other racing games, much replay value comes just from learning each track's layout and experimenting to find the fastest routes. Some stages feature hidden pathways that can be uncovered with the use of missiles. When you get close, a target reticule will appear and if you have an item in your possession, you'll be able to open up this passage. More than likely, though, you won't have an item at the right moment, so players will need to memorize these spots for later plays. In specific areas, you'll encounter green-coloured square targets and if you pass through all of them in succession, you'll earn bonus points. Initially, activating a boost item in a confined space can be rather intimidating but as you play more, you'll not only feel more comfortable, but you'll also be aware of where to use them for the best results. As a result, it can be said that AiRace even delivers in terms of personal progression.
Players will be pleased to find a good sense of variety in the tracks as well. You'll find stages that are based off such typical race themes as ice, jungle, city, and canyon. Each of them also have a reversed version, amounting to a total of 12 stages included in the package. It might have been nice to see some more out there locations, such as in a volcano, or in outer space. But the ones they've included feature some pretty good track designs, and quite a few are quite challenging to maneuver through. At the conclusion of some races in Championship, you'll encounter Bonus events which allow you to garner even more points. Players try fly through a series of rings without crashing or going out of order. Once you've completed these, you'll be able to play these individually via the 'Bonus' option from the Main Menu, and improve your best records.
The visuals in this game are pretty good: tracks full of detail and good-looking plane models. Probably one of the more impressive aspects is the fact that the loading screens are fast! Hopefully developers like Gameloft will take notice of this. The music does a good job at conveying the tense race feel, and since there are a couple songs included, you'll hear them rather frequently. At least the developers didn't resort to just having one song for all races, as has been the case with quite a few DSiWare titles.
Even for the solo player, AiRace is very replayable. It'll take you some time to earn gold trophies on all cups, not to mention unlocking and maximizing the stats for all the available planes. Players can also set records for each track and work towards improving their best stats. And with up to 3 different profile saves, you can always compare stats with friends and family (even if there's no direct option to do this in-game). Of course, the game also includes wireless multiplayer for up to 6 persons who each own a copy of the game on their DSi. Mind you, Download Play would have made this even stronger, and if they had the resources to do so, online could've been a lot of fun. But at the very least, it does have multiplayer capabilities.
The team at Qubic Games have worked hard to create something that's fun, yet accessible. The package as a whole is quite fun and the gameplay mechanics verge on addicting. AiRace is a game you can take out many times even if you're just playing against CPU's, but for those who personally know people who have a copy of this game, multiplayer is a lot of fun. And if you have DSi-owning friends and family members, urge them to get it. For European gamers, it's a definite purchase for only $5 and even at $8 in North America, it still comes highly recommended.
27/30 - Excellent
Gameplay 9/10 - Good selection of items/planes, touch screen/D-Pad controls are well-done, ability to block incoming attacks, good track design
Presentation 9/10 - Music builds tension, great number of tracks, courses use expected themes, good setup, fast loading screens, arcade feel, nice models
Enjoyment 4/5 - Multiplayer can be both fun and enraging, single-player enjoyable on the right difficulty, would've been stronger with Download Play
Extra Content 5/5 - Assorted vehicles to purchase and maximize, set records on all tracks, trophies, Wireless multiplayer, great buy for only 500/800 Points
Equivalent to a score of 90% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)