I once walked past a grocery shop called “Good Food” and immediately fell in love with the simplicity of it all. You know that when you walk into that store you’ll be getting food of a decent quality. I love simple and to the point titles, and Air Race Speed delivers exactly what it says on the tin; You race through the air and do so at considerable speed right up until the point you crash and instantly hit the restart button. Rinse and repeat ad insanitum until you hit that perfect time you were craving.
I suppose the title is only accurate if you use the verb form of Race, because you never actually face off against any other racers. The game is set in a neon future where pilots trapped by th evil space empire are forced to risk their lives competing in death defying time trails. A sickening blood sport enjoyed greatly by the degenerate Alien freaks known only as… Air Race…. Speed… Okay, so I made up all of that story, because there really isn’t any in the game itself. You’re just there to race and the reasons as to why, are left up to the players imagination. Which is fine to be honest, because the visuals do a good job of setting up the scene on their own. All the tracks you speed through have a run down feeling to them, as though you could be flying down some kind of unused and dilapidated space highway. You get a feeling that whatever it is you’re really doing here, this sport isn’t 100% above board and may be even illegal. The environments are all surprisingly well detailed, and despite rampant texture reuse they all feel fresh and exciting every time you start up a new trial. I was most impressed by the games subtle enviromental story telling; as your make progress the tracks start become more and more rusted and seedy, and after that an alien presence starts to weed its way into the roads you race on, until eventually you feel as though you are speeding down an Extra Terrestrials throat! The ships you fly in don’t really seem to conform to the same pattern though as they bounce between klingon war brands and Mass Effect style shuttles. They all look quite nice and feel very neon, future punk-esque, I can’t help but feel like they missed an opportunity in not having the Ship unlocks tell a story in the same way their environments did. Air Race Speed also runs very smoothly throughout, I never encountered any frame dipping of stuttering in my playthrough, which is very impressive considering the speeds your will be reaching in the late game. Everything loads nice and quickly as well, and while the game certainly isn’t pushing the Vita in any regards, It is good to see a title that straddles the line between clean visuals and quality performance that so many big budget franchises seem to bugger up all the time.
Hinted in my fictional plot analysis earlier was the main thrust of the gameplay on offer in Air Race Speed. It’s always a single racer flying down the tracks trying to get the best time possible, in essence it”s a full game version of Land Speed racing from Knight of the Old Republic. Though if I had to pick one game it reminds me of most, then I’d have to say F-Zero, mostly because of the sheer speeds you reach. Time trails are the core of the game but there are two other modes peppered throughout. Firstly you will unlock Bonus stages that are deceptively easy fly through the ring types. I say the word ‘deceptively’, because they start off simple enough and quickly ramp up in difficulty until they make you pull off some shockingly tight maneuver to make it from one ring to another on time. There are also infinite levels that mark you on how far you make it down the trail, and these really are the hardest part of the game as the needles you need to thread come fast and they are very precarious indeed. I must admit to something now before we go any further, I have something of a problem when it comes to time trials in games… I neeeeeeeed to do it perfecta! Just to frame it, I spend the first hour of Call of Duty 4 replaying the training mission to get the perfect time! Air Race Speed knows exactly how to push my buttons as a time trial junkie, because every level offers up three stars for getting the best time possible. You use these stars to unlock new ships, so getting good times is incentivize. That being said the star cost for each new vehicle isn’t as high as you might initially think, so unlocking them all doesn’t mean you need to get every single star, you can comfortable glide through earning mostly 1 and 2 stars and you’ll everything available by the time you’re in the last few levels.
Air Race Speed asks you to do a lot of perilous piloting with a lot of dangerously quick machines, so thank god the controls are nice and responsive. Now in my research of this game, it turns out this title was originally an iPhone game, which explains the star ranking and short gameplay loop. It seems that the original game got a bit of bad press for its controls back then, which have all been rectified with the simple addition of buttons and thumbsticks. There are also tilt controls as an option (no doubt another hold over from the iPhone days) which work, I guess, but if you want to aim for the gold ratings you need the precision of physical controls.
To be completely honest I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about Air Speed Race. Obviously its a very simple game, but that works in its favour. Its so easy just to sit there and waste time with this title. Quite often, when I knew I had some spare time to write this review, I`d just end up playing a little bit more because I wanted that final star on a tough course, or I thought I could go a few more miles than my best on the infinite runs. Nothing about this game is new, and nothing pushes the envelope in any way, but everything thing it does it does well and sometimes that’s enough. The game is just damn good in every aspect.
The gameplay loop is quick and simple, but immediately gratifying, this game is the perfect companion to travel or burning a bit of time while you wait, not surprising considering this was originally built as phone game. It’s easy for me to recommend Air Race Speed to Vita owners, especially for the low entry price. If you need something to fill time, then buy this game. If you like hitting time goals and earning medal, then buy this game. If you yearn for new F-Zero or Wipeout type space racer, then buy this game…. In short, I think you should buy this game. I really liked it.