Skydrift is described by its developer as an “aerial combat arcade racer,” while I would describe it as “Mario Kart with planes.” In each race, you must dive, swoop, and barrel roll your way to victory – usually while turning your opponent’s planes into scrap metal. And after you conquer the thirty or so single player levels, you can take your skills online and challenge armchair pilots all over the world.\

Three Different Gameplay Modes

Both in single and multiplayer, there are three different modes of play, all of them various types of racing.

Power Race is the most common, which is racing with various power-ups designed to either dish out damage to other players or protect your own plane from incoming attacks. Each plane can hold two power-ups and at any time you can sacrifice them for additional boost. This is especially helpful when you’re in the lead and don’t necessarily need weapons.

Then there’s Speed Race, which is devoid of power-ups. Instead, the course is littered with rings that grant speed boosts when flown through. Finally, there’s Survivor, which plays like Power Race but with the inclusion of elimination rounds. Each time the clock hits zero in one of these rounds, the player in last place is taken out of the game.

Locked, Loaded, and Ready to Barrel Roll

There’s no narrative to speak of nor any characters, just different types of planes with the typical tradeoff of skills: the fast plane has less armor, the armored plane is slower, and so on. While an assortment of quirky characters wouldn’t hurt, not having any isn’t much of a detriment and lends to the pseudo-simulation feel that the game puts forth. While an actual sim would be much more complex, Skydrift manages to fake it pretty well while remaining simple to play.

The controls are simple to learn but difficult to master, which makes for a continuously rewarding experience. Navigating chasms, barrel rolling away from missiles, and pulling off tight turns feels exhilarating. The game encourages risky piloting, as you can generate additional boost by “hugging” the ground, much like the Burnout series of games would give you a boost for narrowly avoiding other cars.

The weapons are pretty self explanatory. You’ve got your missiles, machine guns, mines, EMPs, shields, and repair power-ups. They all act exactly as you would think. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a solid assortment which covers all of the bases. The mines are particularly effective, as there are a lot of narrow tunnels and openings that, when placed properly, make them hard to avoid. Weapons can be upgraded by getting two of the same type. This will either make the weapon more powerful, or in the instance of missiles and the machine gun, give you more ammunition.

Take to the Online Skies

Multiplayer is exactly what you would expect. It functions just like single player, only it’s a lot more of a challenge, considering you’re taking on real people rather than AI. This will force you to be more strategic, especially in your plane choice. In one race I was competing against just one opponent, who chose a well armored plane against my fast plane. After taking him down a couple of times, I didn’t even see him for the entirety of the final lap. Choose your plane wisely and be sure to play to its strengths.

Looks Are Everything

Skydrift looks really, really impressive – especially considering the entire game is just a little over 500MB. The game manages this by cleverly using its resources. While the game will repeat tracks for the various gameplay modes, it will also reverse them, effectively doubling its selection. This works well because the tracks are designed well, and flying them backwards does indeed feel like all new tracks.

While the graphics are good, the visual design is outstanding. You’ll fly through caves, waterfalls, oil rigs, and even sunken ships. And as the race nears its end, all hell will break loose. Volcanoes will erupt, trees will collapse, rockslides will, umm, slide. And it’s one thing to witness, but flying through all of this chaos is very cool and very exciting.

Skydrift’s sound does its job, which is pretty much all that can be said about it. The planes sound like planes, the weapons “boom” and “bang” and “ratatatat,” and the announcer is a little bit annoying, which is pretty standard for a videogame.

Worth a Ride?

Skydrift’s simplicity is both a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to get into and have fun with, but it’s almost just as easy to grow tired of. Though the action is exciting, after knocking back race after race, it gets repetitive. The large amount of unlockables and just the sheer fun of it will keep you coming back for more, but after four or five races, you’ll be ready to walk away again. Skydrift is a blast to play in short spurts, and if combat racing is your thing, it’s not hard to justify the $15 price tag. Just don’t expect to spend hours on end glued to the television.

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