After ten minutes of playing “Skydrift,” I was in love. After two hours, I was still having fun. Four hours later, the romance was gone. The foundations of a truly great game are here, but there’s simply not enough meat on this aerial racing game’s bones to hold your interest for very long. The recycling of a mere handful of race tracks sends this otherwise fantastic game crashing to the ground.
“Skydrift” would have been an arcade smash back in the 90s. It’s a racing game featuring planes that can boost, barrel roll, and knife-edge their way through tracks littered with volcanoes, power plants, and sunken ships. Just like in “Mario Kart” you can make up for sloppy steering by collecting one of several weapon power ups, such as a machine gun, homing missiles, and a protective force field. The planes handle like a dream, which is good, because the player is encouraged to pull stunts like flying through tiny crevasses and skimming as low to the ground as possible. Flying like a daredevil is rewarded with extra boost, so getting away with recklessness is the way to win.
There are three main gameplay modes that can be done solo or in online multiplayer. Power race is a typical “Mario Kart” race where you can blast your opponents with weapons to slow them down. Survival mode eliminates the plane in last place at the end of a timer countdown, and your job is to be the last one flying. Speed mode eliminates the power ups in favor of a series of rings that give you a speed boost when you fly through them. Speed mode can quickly become the most hair-raising and intense mode, as you’ll quickly ramp up to nigh-uncontrollable speeds.
The race courses are well-designed and are distinct from one another. There’s a picturesque beach with waterfalls and a beautiful sunset, a frozen wasteland where stalagmites jut out from the ground, and several more. The stages look great. The lighting and water effects will make you question if this is really a $15 downloadable game. You’ll also be tasked with flying through each of these courses backwards, which helps pad the replayability a little. In the end, there’s no getting around the fact that there are only a half a dozen stages to master. However, there are multiple planes and paint jobs to unlock to help persuade you to muscle through the repetitive single player mode.
Online multiplayer works very well, with almost no lag and all the features you would expect. That doesn’t mean that the exclusion of an offline versus mode is excusable though. Racing games are all about competition with your friends, so how a vital feature like this can get left out is mystifying. Note to game designers: Beating a stranger at a video game online will never be as fun as beating the friend on the couch next to you.
For a downloadable title, you’ll definitely get a high quality game. The problem is that there just isn’t enough of that game to keep you interested for very long. “Skydrift” feels like it’s off to a soaring start, but it runs out of gas all too soon.