SkyDrift Review (XBLA)

As posted on ButtonMasher.

I had low expectations of SkyDrift going in. An arcade  racer with biplanes? It sounded kinda risky. But Digital Reality has managed to pull it off; a fast paced chase through chasms and caverns.

Each track pits you against seven bots. It’s a linear racer through and through, except now you have the Y-Axis to think about, and a lot more reason to crash.

The tracks cover different environments including oceans, rocks, volcanoes, and icy mountains. They may look pretty but there is usually some devious Split/Second booby trap lying in wait. Sometimes a crumbling mountain, a falling structure, or a jet of fiery flame. Each track is wide and gives you enough room for eight planes. But there’s always plenty of nooks and crannies in the terrain to make you risk your neck for that one powerup, or simply just to show off.

The powerups are your standard kart racer fare; Mines, lock-on missiles, health repair, shields, machine guns, and a short-range electrical pulse. This is the Mario Kart of the biplane world. You can hold up to two powers at once and cycle between the two. Collecting the same powerup again will increase its strength.

The sense of speed you get as you race around these tracks is pretty incredible. You gain boost from performing “tricks”, basically playing risky — Burnout style. Hugging the wall, destroying an enemy, it all nets you boost for your meter. But that boost is nothing to what you’ll find in the Speed races. Powerups are out the window here. In their place are rings to fly through which instantly speed you up. Once you go through a couple you’ll be tearing around the track navigating around small gaps and tricky corners. Heck, you might want to avoid some rings just so you don’t crash.

Therefore it’s surprising how easy it is to fly. The controls are inverted like most videogame aircraft. Up on the analog stick makes you dip down. Down pulls your nose up. Pulling the right stick left or right puts your aircraft into vertical – a great help in the war against small crannies. Holding the left stick in the same direction as the right stick will help you make those nasty turns. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but soon I wasn’t thinking about it at all. It had simply become second nature.

The one remaining mode is Survivour, y’know, the type of race that picks the last player off, one by one. Powerups are here too, but what you really want to be doing is cashing them in for boost. That’s three racing modes in total. If you’re looking for open area dogfights you won’t find it here. I recommend Snoopy Flying Ace, it’s more a shooter than a racer.

Normal difficulty might be too easy for most of you. More often than not I’d be placing first, and I’m terrible at racing games! Fortunately “Hard” is available for you masochists. Normal had enough close calls for me to still feel like I was achieving something.

While the width of a level is usually quite forgiving, there is the odd part of the track where the game will push you away from some areas, much like an invisible barrier with insect repellent. If you go off course the game will simply push you back on track, sometimes leading you to crash into a nearby cliffside. Once you learn the limits of each track you won’t be surprised when you unsuccessfully try to steer yourself over a particular rock formation.

Planes and skins are unlocked as you win races or win awards. Each has different stats like speed, and control, but none felt drastically different from the other. I could still come first just as easily in the plane with the slower top speed.

The one major gripe I have with SkyDrift is the multiplayer, or lack thereof. Firstly there is no splitscreen to speak of, and for a game like the kart racing greats it’s a little disappointing there’s not even 2 player couch play. Online multiplayer is featured but whenever I play the lobbies are always empty. It’s a shame because SkyDrift is so damn fun.

There are only six tracks, but each is playable in reverse, so that’s double the tracks! Yeah… so there may not be tracks-a-plenty, but each track has enough variety and different routes to keep things fresh.

One last random little tidbit. I couldn’t help but smile when the announcer would proudly declare, “You are the first now!”

The English didn’t seem quite right. “You are now first!” or “You are now the first racer!” seem more appropriate. But they wouldn’t have made me chuckle as this one did.

Closing Comments

SkyDrift is one of those games that took me by surprise. It’s a great fun kart racer. Simply replace the ground with the sky and you’ve got SkyDrift. It’s just a darn shame there is no offline multiplayer and the online community is essentially nonexistent. If you’re in the market for a competent arcade racer go no further than SkyDrift. Of course that is if you don’t mind playing on your lonesome against your robotic pals delightfully named Manuel and Doctor Ned.

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