Welcome to the future ladies and gentlemen, or should I say, welcome ?Back to the Future?’ Namco’s new hover board title has much reminiscence of that good ole’ movie with the crazy doctor, and his kick ass Dolorian. This title seems to have taken much of its influence from that fantastic movie, but surely, that can’t hurt right? AirBlade is almost exactly like Back to the Future in-terms of physical mechanics, its almost the same experience minus the Dolorian. In any case, this game while not being perfect, definitely has its finer qualities. Once you spend enough time with the game it grows on you, frustrating moments and all. In the end though, it ends up being light-hearted, and fun.
Its play mechanics are rooted on stability, which is a great thing for a hover-board game. The only way for you to truly crash on it is to hit a wall or object at full speed. Makes it kind of nice in most cases because this means the less you have to worry about falling, so you can concentrate on actually playing the game, which turns out to be quite entertaining. Criterion has made the controls similar to that of Tony Hawk with a few differences. You still have the grind, the tricks are modified by ollieing and doing any various button combinations (including use the R1, L1, L2, and R2 buttons). Yet an added bonus is that you don’t always have to jump in order to do your tricks, since technically you are already in the air, you can pull off a lot of tricks without even touching the jump button.
When you first pick up AirBlade, your going to be under the mindset that this game is not going to be so great. It seems like the next clich? idea of a new Tony Hawk rip-off. Whelp, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong. This title is quite the enjoyable adventure. Much to my surprise, after about a half an hour with it, I had already changed my mind on how much I liked it. Somehow the fairly loose controls, simple concepts, and highly trickable environment just sets off a certain level of enjoyment you wish you could find in any number of games.
The basic premise of AirBlade’s storyline consists of the quality of a B+ rated movie. Your character has a hover-board that houses a new prototype anti-gravity power generator, and a large corporation is trying to get it back. Granted, its not the most compelling storyline you’ll ever see, but eh, that’s not always necessary to have a good solid title.
The game in itself is quite fun, you can just about trick on every element, including walls, taxies, rails, poles, and sometimes even people. You really have to love the environment the game is set in; it adds an almost endless amount of things available for your enjoyment. The trick system is highly accented by its Free-Run and Score Attack modes. Each allows the player to appreciate the vast amount of tricking the game actually obtains. Though these modes are great, the Story mode is where all the hidden goodies are acquired; including extra players, and a free stunt attack mode that resembles the tasks set in Tony Hawk.
At this point I’m sure you’re wondering, ?Alright, this is a great game so far, but where does it fault?’ Though the gameplay system is fun, the method of its integration into the story-mode is rather annoying. The levels are tracked out in a series of tasks, often of which you have to wonder how in the world to complete. The levels are set up in a basic linear fashion, you are guided to each task by a yellow arrow that turns red when you are near the task to complete. Often however, you’ll end up sitting there for hours wondering how to complete and get certain places in the game.
Take the first level for example; you are first sent to knock over some bad guys with your board, you then have to swing on poles to knock more off of some ladders, you then have to grind a rail to get on top of the buildings to attack more bad guys, then? Well, you get the point. It’s direct and doesn’t leave much room for variety of tasks. But I’m sure that’s what the Free-Run mode is for. Certain tasks can only be accomplished by using one line of tricks, while this is ok, its makes VERY annoying when you can figure out what that line is. You can try a thousand different combinations and still never accomplish it what you set out to do. This is a major annoyance, because you do this through 6 stages of play. Once you’ve figured out every task AirBlade makes for a fairly short game, though the gameplay elongates as you spend a good portion of your time trying to figure these things out. You are given a certain amount of time to accomplish each task in the level, once you’ve completed a task you get more time added to the clock, and are given a new set of tasks. If you fail to a do a task in the given amount of time you have to start the level, all the way over again, which makes for another disturbing annoyance.
The levels are highly interactive, and you are give moves like jump, swing (around poles etc?), boost, direction change, camera rotation to trick every element available. Once you’ve stopped trying to control AirBlade like Tony Hawk, the game opens up to become something greater that you’d first expect. Grind, swing, jump, trick, and repeat, you’d be amazed at what kind of combo that would get you throughout these levels. The level design is something that’s really creative and deserves a certain amount of recognition, not to mention that they look just about as good as they play.
While the graphics are not something you’d consider revolutionary, they are consistent throughout, and do look fairly nice during play. AirBlade has an unusually high level of detail in its level design (stemming from the fact that they aren’t exactly ?huge’ but big enough). Criterion has implemented a lot of quality graphical features into this adventure, including good texturing, quality lighting effects (especially in those darker levels), and some blur motion filters (presented when boosting, and during a few of the cinematic sequences). The graphics are pretty crisp, yet still not what you would consider jaw dropping. The frame rate for the single-player mode remains consistent and strong, but it blunders when it comes playing in the two-player mode. There is a highly noticeable drop in frame rate that tends to be quite annoying during play. The game runs consistently at the lower frame-rate, but it’d still be nice to have it move as fast as it does in the single-player mode.
As AirBlades overall graphics are pretty good its sound track is rather ordinary. There truly isn’t much to say about AirBlade in terms of its soundtrack and effects. It sounds like your typical rock/rap-esque influence. Though the game contains both rap and rock influences, they fit quite well into the games atmosphere, but are by no means extraordinary in anyway. It’s your typical solid soundtrack, which is very reminiscent of the rest of the game. I was quite surprised to hear the game had no trash-electro/techno sound track, as most games from the UK tend to do ( I have nothing against the music, just often it ends up being cheesy in most games, save Wipeout).
The voice acting is another consideration that you might take as being generally bad, yet, it’s more the scripting that makes it this way then the actors themselves. As I said, its like a B+ movie, there’s a high corniness level. Once you fail on a mission, the response from the other characters will often be quite humorous, and will leave you chuckling for a while afterwards.
Overall AirBlade turned out to be a much better game that I had previously expected. Much to my surprise I found solid base for the game, which admittedly had more potential than is presented, but you can’t always complain about what could have been. The game is quite solid, and very fun, I suggest anyone looking for a non-hardcore hover-boarding action title should check this out. It’s certainly no Tony Hawk but its worth playing for the sheer enjoyment of it. Both Namco and Criterion get a thumbs up for this enjoyable action title, hope they keep up the good work throughout the new year.