Remember Blur? I’d go so far to say it’s the best non-Mario Kart karting game (go on, change my mind). If it wasn’t for a travesty of a launch, releasing it in the same week as Split/Second, we’d be living in a world with multiple Blur sequels. At least, I want to believe that.
We’re namechecking Blur because Skydrift Infinity feels like an airborne sequel. Both games have been crowbarred into the Mario Kart template, even though they’re from different genres (Blur being an arcade racer like Ridge Racer, Skydrift Infinity being a dogfighter like Ace Combat). Neither of them have a licence to lean on, which is unusual for a kart game (although Skydrift has pushed THQ Nordic to give them an EDF fighter and a War and Death plane from Darksiders). And rather than do anything outlandish with their weapons, they’ve both gone Plain Jane and included an arsenal of ‘homing missiles’, ‘machine guns’ and ‘mines’. The weapons even look the same on the race track.
Most importantly, both Blur and Skydrift Infinity trim out the fluff so that they can focus on the good stuff. It’s four-player couch co-op out of the box, it’s tight but speedy controls, and it’s simple but devastating weapons. Battle modes, story modes and Diddy Kong Racing-style hubs get chucked out of the chassis so that Skydrift Infinity can do the core stuff well.
If you’ve played a karting game, you know the score here. You line up as one of eight racers, waiting for the lights to turn green. Then you’re speeding through the course, beelining to weapons that can take out your opponents and claw you further afield. In Skydrift Infinity, like Blur, the weapons aren’t randomised, so you’re nudging other planes out of the way to grab the one you want. Each course has shortcuts and multiple routes, and there’s a touch of Split/Second to how the course can topple and explode at inopportune times.
The race types are also out of Karting 101. There’s the conventional Power Race, with weapons and an emphasis on coming first. Then there’s a Survivor Race, which ejects the slowest racer every thirty seconds or so. Finally, there’s a Speed Race, which switches off the weapons and staggers ‘speed up’ rings around the course. It’s the Bake-Off ‘Technical Challenge’ of the bunch, forcing you to showcase your piloting skills without weapons to get you out of a hole. Skydrift Infinity also relies on mirrors of each track to wring every last drop out of its reasonably limited, but varied, seven tracks.
You’d be hard-pressed to make the argument that this is a full package. Even compared to the sublime Blur, this is stripped back slightly too far. The budget price of £12.49 justifies it to a degree, but seven levels, mirrored, with only a few modes applied onto them means that Skydrift Infinity becomes repetitious slightly earlier than you’d like.
The leanness is softened by how good Skydrift feels. It’s not the first aeroplane-racing game out there – we’ve had Diddy Kong Racing, Bravo Air Race, Pilotwings, and even the glider bits in Mario Kart – but it’s the best we’ve played. Plane-racing games tend to crash into the same obstacles: without tarmac and drifting, they can feel a bit ‘floaty’, for want of a better word. And when you’re flying about a full 3D space, it can be tough to spot a racing line or where you’re meant to be going.
Skydrift Infinity has answers for most of these. The floaty handling is avoided by gifting you three different methods of cornering: the conventional turn; a banking maneuver with the right analogue stick; and a power-slide mixed with handbrake-turn that you can pull off with the right trigger. All of these in concert give you a crazy amount of control over how you move in Skydrift, and it’s great. Since the power-slide also gives you a surge of speed, it can feel just as good as nailing a Mario Kart corner.
Negotiating the course becomes simpler and easier to understand because Skydrift drops in a couple of simple mechanics. If you stick close to the floor or tight to a wall, you get an increase in boost, which pushes you to keep tight to the bottom of the course. It means that the racing line is often obvious: drop low and keep close to the corners. It might narrow the 3D space to a smaller corridor, but it means you see people regularly, and know where you’re going.
Plus Skydrift Infinity plays it safe with its guidance. There are whacking great arrows everywhere, making it abundantly clear where you’re meant to go. There are still some issues, even with these big boys plastered across your view, as chicanes aren’t clear until you’re right on top of them, but overall the 3D space is handled well.
The pièce de résistance is the weapons, though. While they’re all too vanilla (they may be familiar, but there’s absolutely nothing new here, and we’d have welcomed at least something more innovative than a ‘heal’ power-up), they layer on plenty of strategy. There are two tiers of weapon, so picking up a mine when you already have a mine will create a ‘super-mine’, a rotating star of death that needs reflexes to avoid. Machine guns upgrade into gatling guns. Knowing when to stick or twist on your weapon becomes a constant question. To add degrees more complexity, you have two slots for weapons, so you can sit on two mega-shields while in front, like a dirty little camper. You can also ditch a weapon at any time.
It creates some fantastic carnage, which is amplified in multiplayer. Skydrift comes with an online multiplayer and up to four-player couch multiplayer, with all the tracks (including mirrors) and planes available on first go. It’s all you’d want, really, and it’s where Skydrift comes into its own. Much like Blur, Skydrift is manic and evil in multiplayer, with double-iteming a common occurrence and more deaths in a single race than you’d see in a full solo career mode.
The solo career mode is fine. It introduces the welcome idea of letting you construct a Grand Prix from a list of races, so you can go solely for Power Races, should you want. We’re not entirely sure why the list of races gets shorter on later cups, as we liked this DIY set up. Otherwise, the career mode is nicely pitched in difficulty, and we occasionally returned to improve on a second or third placing. On the negative side, the lack of features let Skydrift down, as we would have loved to dial up or down the difficulty. Here, you get only one. Plus, opponents have a form of rubber-banding that gets occasionally frustrating, as they zoom past you without a conceivable reason for how.
Know what you’re getting, though, and Skydrift Infinity is a joy. This is a budget aeroplane-racing game, crammed into the structure of a karting game, and the combo works like a dream. It’s fast, it handles well, and the weapons – while a little basic – can be levelled up on the fly, adding strategy. It plays best in multiplayer, as three friends can join you on the couch without any drop in quality.
What you’re not getting is much content, as only seven tracks and three race types are included (without any difficulty changes or even, heaven forbid, a true dogfighting mode). But while it’s lean, it’s certainly mean, and you’ll have plenty of fun sending your friends spiralling down to the ground. Skydrift Infinity is an airborne Blur that’s had most of its content excised to focus on fun, and – as Blur fans – there’s no greater recommendation than that.
You can buy Skydrift Infinity for £12.49 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S