The fourth entry in Warsaw studio QubicGames' downloadable AiRace series, AiRace Xeno is a natural progression of last year's AiRace Speed on the 3DS eShop – race three different futuristic aircraft at face-melting speeds through nine tough obstacle-filled tracks and try to beat your high score. It's a stripped-down racing experience; there are no opposing racers, no combat, no extra modes, and no way to win or lose, so AiRace is really just a time-attack game... a beautiful, fluid time-attack game.
AiRace is perfect for short sessions on the train or bus: races are fairly short, and the controls are easy to pick up and play (with support for both button-based and touch-based controls). At such blistering speeds you'll find yourself crashing your vehicle fairly often, but a collision simply hits you with a time penalty and sets you back to the last checkpoint on the track with unlimited lives, never breaking the gameplay flow. The 3D graphics and menus are luscious, taking full advantage of the 3DS' stereoscopic abilities; sometimes the stereoscopic 3D can be a bit too much, as the bright colours and blinding speed can make some players feel a bit nauseous — that's what the slider's for, though. Racing games live and die by their course selection, and while AiRace Xeno won't give you anything to write home about, its alien track designs are competent enough to keep you coming back for more.
AiRace Xeno packs a loud, thumping electronic soundtrack that verges on dubstep – not necessarily our favourite genre, but it perfectly suits the gameplay here. Of course, any racing game like this will bring to mind F-Zero, and AiRace certainly matches its speed; the difference is the stripped-down approach, which makes the experience feel more shallow but allows the developer to focus on nailing the primary racing mechanic, rather than fumbling with sloppy opponent AI or under-funded multiplayer modes. Considering the fact we haven't seen a new F-Zero title in a decade, AiRace will have to satiate our futuristic racing appetites on 3DS for now.
Replayability in AiRace comes simply from beating the high scores of yourself and your friends (there's no multiplayer but Xeno can keep track of your friends' lap times online), and earning the in-game Achievements. Later levels can't be unlocked until you finish previous tracks in under a certain time, which can be frustrating for newbies who want more variety, but keeps the game feeling fresh with more to unlock. There are no gimmicks to be found here: it's pure racing, with no power-ups or arbitrary stats to keep track of. There are some irksome load times and slowdown in the menus, but once you get into the actual gameplay it plays as smooth as a Kenny G melody.
AiRace Xeno doesn't do anything we haven't seen before, but it's a finely-crafted time-attack racer that's well worth the low price for fans of sci-fi racing, with luscious visuals and a bumpin' soundtrack. The list of modes and features is disappointingly short, but AiRace knows exactly what it wants to be and nails the core gameplay. QubicGames has certainly honed its craft over the course of the AiRace series, on 3DS in particular; it'd be interesting to see what the developer could do with a step up to Wii U, a console lacking in the sci-fi racing department.