The first time we entered the AiRace universe, if you will, was through the simple and fun 200 Point DSiWare tidbit AiRace: Tunnel. While it was a satisfying arcade flight experience, it felt more like a bonus mode that was chopped out of a larger game. AiRace is that larger game. With more aircraft, actual stages, cups, multiplayer and the whole shebang, Qubic delivers the game that Tunnel only hinted at.
Instead of squeaking and squeezing your way down numerous barren tunnels, AiRace opens up the skies for competitive events with a few weapons thrown in. The original track count is modest, with a mere six themed after typical gaming conventions like ice, industrial, jungle and so forth, and to help flesh the count out the game offers mirrored versions of these. We found the tracks to be quite well-designed with multiple (and secret) paths, risky placement of bonuses and plenty of sections to put your piloting skills to the test. Mirroring them won’t fool you into thinking those tracks are all new, but thanks to smart course design they still feel fresh.
Not so fresh are the items and weapons. Flying through a big blue AiRace logo begins a kart racer cycle-through that will net you either an offensive, defensive or boost item. The offensive arsenal is made up of standard missiles as well as things that look like switches and loop-de-loops, but hitting an opponent just seems to make them blow up no matter what you throw their way. One nice touch here is colour-coded pickups on the bottom screen, so you basically know when to hit the button to get what you want without having to take your eyes off the action up top.
And the action looks good, too; breaking away from the drab two-coloured courses in Tunnel has let Qubic flex their design muscles and 3D engine. The end result is smooth, detailed and attractive with nary a hiccup when six planes are cruising on screen with weapons flying everywhere. The music, however, will get on your nerves as the game includes only one song used in races.
Just as in Tunnel, there are two types of control: button and touch. Opting for the latter has you using the stylus as a flight stick of sorts and it works well enough, if a bit looser than using the D-Pad to navigate. Considering the amount of steep turns you'll have to make we'd suggest sticking to buttons, but it's all a matter of preference really.
Despite the somewhat small track count, there’s quite a bit of content here. Winning races, blowing up opponents and hitting rings during races will net you cash to upgrade or unlock the nine available planes across three classes, and there’s an extra fly-through-rings mode too. We would’ve liked to see more, though; while the racing is done well, some variety would’ve gone a long way. If you can scrounge up DSi-owning friends with their own copy of the game, the six-player multiplayer is a nice way to get some more mileage out of it.
AiRace looks good, plays great and stands out from the other DSiWare racers (or DS, really) in more ways than just choice of vehicle. A few more modes or tracks would have been nice, but considering the 800 Point asking price it's not a bad deal at all, especially for anyone who is sick of the road and would rather take to the sky.