Admittedly when I first played AiRace Speed I began to wonder why it was called AiRace when you’re not racing against anything…okay maybe you can say you’re racing against time, but when I think of racing I think of racing against other people or AI opponents. Well, I have no experience with the prior games in the series and didn’t even know they existed until I did some research on the side, but it does make sense in a way. The first game, AiRace Tunnel, was more like a side game or DLC as it consisted of several stages in which you basically flew through tunnels while trying to get the best time, or in a couple cases the farthest distance. The next game, just called AiRace, was more like a traditional racing game where you raced against opponents as opposed to just flying through a tunnel in a Time Trial-like setting. So what’s this game going to be like? Well, let’s find out.
AiRace Speed is more akin to the first game in the series, AiRace Tunnel. The goal of most of the eighteen tracks is to get from start to finish in the shortest amount of time possible. The tracks begin as pretty straight forward with only a couple of obstacles in your way here and there, but the later tracks get trickier. While the first couple of tracks only have one or two laps, most of the others will have three laps to complete. A couple of tracks are more like endurance runs through an endless tunnel filled with obstacles where you have “stages” to complete after every few miles you fly without crashing. If you crash in the normal tracks you’ll go back to the previous checkpoint and can proceed, whereas in the endurance tracks a crash will take you back to the start of the stage and you’ll lose a life. You only have three lives in the endurance runs so you’ll have to take things a little slower until you know the layout of the level.
Completing a stage fast enough can earn you a bronze, silver, or gold medal. In a lot of games, these can symbolize your ranking on that track or make you want to keep trying the track to achieve a faster time. Here though they serve as a way to unlock later tracks. It’s common in this game that you must complete a track to unlock the next at all, but there’s more to it than that. In the early stages, a bronze star is required to open the following stage, and early on this is rather simple. To earn a bronze star on the first couple tracks, all you have to do is complete the track. After that, you’ll have to actually get through the tracks in a certain amount of time to even earn a bronze star. Once you get past the first set of six tracks, things get harder. Now you’ll have to work on getting silver stars to unlock tracks, as each track requires a certain number of silver stars to unlock. The final three tracks will require gold stars to unlock, which really becomes a test of skill.
There are two ways you can control your ships: the buttons and the stylus. If you’re using the buttons you’ll use the circle pad or D-pad to steer the ship. Between the two, the circle pad is the better option as you can easily steer the ship as little or as much as you want. As for stylus controls, they take some real getting used to, but it pretty much makes for a whole new experience. You’ll have free range of movement so to speak, but it feels kind of sluggish. For me it felt like using the circle pad but never moving it too far away from the center, making my movements slow. As with any game it’s best to use whatever you’re comfortable with. If you can get used to the stylus controls, more power to you. As for me, I feel like they could have tightened them up a bit.
The tracks themselves, as mentioned earlier, start out simple but get progressively harder as the game goes on. The first few aren’t that bad as you’ll just have to navigate some sharp turns and a few barriers here and there. If you’re having some trouble getting through the first three courses, definitely stick with them until you can at least get a silver star on each. That will prepare you for what’s to come. The later tracks will have a lot of sharp turns to navigate, obstacles to avoid, narrow spaces to pass through, and even multiple paths you can take. While you have nitro and brake buttons, be leery about going through a new course full speed ahead. Remember how I mentioned that if you crash on the normal tracks you just go back to the last checkpoint? Well, there’s another penalty. Every crash will dock you three seconds off your final time when you do manage to clear the course. A few crashes may not be that bad, but they will add up over time and one crash can make the difference between a silver and gold star. It’s also worth noting that scraping along the walls, floor, or ceiling will cause damage to your ship, too much of which will destroy it which is just as bad as crashing.
When it comes to replayability, there’s a lot here to enjoy. Unlike other games I’ve reviewed you can’t just complete a track to unlock the next one (save for the first couple of tracks). You have to actually play each track over and over again to know the layout of where everything is. Also, get used to flying through stages using your nitro, at least once you’ve played the stage a few times. If it’s your first time through a stage, fly through normally or with the brakes on now and then to get a feel of the layout and where everything is. Once you’re comfortable enough, hit the nitro and see how fast you can fly through. You’ll have to eventually to get times high enough for silver and gold stars. You can also earn some achievements just for fun for various things such as going through an entire track without crashing or using nitro for a certain length of time.
That’s all there is to it. At first I honestly started thinking “this is it?”, but the more I played it the more into it I got. Five dollars isn’t too bad for a game that just about amounts to DLC or a mini-game of sorts, but it also leads me to wonder if the 3DS will get a full-fledged AiRace game like the DSi received. While sadly you don’t race anyone in this game, human or AI, there are online leaderboards where you can see how you rank against other player. The 3D effects I couldn’t keep turned on for more than a few seconds. It may sound nice to have obstacles flying at your face, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a 3DS game hurt my eyes that much with the 3DS turned on in that short of a time span. While there doesn’t seem to be much to the game, the difficulty will ensure that you don’t just breeze through it. Hopefully this will mean we get an actual sequel to AiRace on the DSi that’s a full-fledged racer, but for what this is, it is pretty fun, just frustrating at times.