Sonic: Free Riders Review
Sonic: Free Riders box art
System: X360 (KINECT) Review Rating Legend
Dev: Sega of America 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Sega of America 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 4, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-8 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Sonic is back. For better or worse.
by Andrew Groen

I don't think many people were expecting racing games to be one of the most populated genres available on Kinect at launch. Piloting a vehicle just doesn't seem natural on a device invented to track body movements. Sonic Free Riders releases alongside Adrenaline Misfits, Kinect Joy Ride, and many other games that include racing mini-games. The good news is that we have a lot to compare these games to. The bad news is that they're almost unilaterally terrible. Sonic Free Riders is no exception. It has some decent moments, but overall this is yet another tech demo that offers a barely serviceable gameplay experience.

Sonic: Free Riders screenshot

The Grand Prix mode begins with the notorious Doctor Eggman dressed up in a hideous disguise in an attempt to trick all the heroes of the Sonic universe into racing against each other in a Grand Prix. As if it weren't insulting enough that they're subjecting us to such a ridiculous plot introduction, the story is played out in lengthy cutscenes that offer absolutely no value whatsoever to the viewer. Half the time it takes several minutes for the narrator to ask the crews if they're ready for the upcoming race and for each of the characters to say "yes" in their own snarky way. These scenes are excruciating to watch, and there's no discernible way to skip them as far as I was able to tell. The inability to skip these scenes is one of many reasons why Kinect was a bad platform for this game. It might have been remotely enjoyable had it used a game pad.

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Once the race starts things continue to slide downhill. The Kinect controls for this game are consistently terrible from start to finish. You control your character on a hoverboard, motorcycle, etc. by standing sideways at a ninety-degree angle away from the camera. You then lean back and forth to turn left or right. The detection for these turns is awful. It fails to register slight turns one moment, and the next it will crash you into a wall for the same motion. Then when you try to make a major turn, you'll wind up barely turning at all!

Sonic: Free Riders screenshot

This wouldn't be so bad if the whole race wasn't designed around precision turning. You not only need to make it through the track, but you also need to be able to grab Sonic's famous rings and skill capsules. A bad game mechanic is not necessarily a damning thing for a title. However, when the developer fails to recognize that their system doesn't work, it becomes a problem. A skilled developer will build in work-arounds for these kinds of problems, or better yet, design a game that doesn't focus directly on those problems.

Free Riders similarly fails when asking you to jump. There are ramps placed across some levels that give you a boost and a super-rad jumping animation if you jump on them at the right time. When it works, it's pretty neat and a fun little addition to the track. However, I had huge problems getting Kinect to recognize me jumping consistently. Even when I was jumping as high as I can, I still had problems getting it to respond more than twenty-five percent of the time. When winning or losing depends on these jumps, and it often does, it's completely unacceptable for it to work so rarely.

Sonic: Free Riders screenshot

Sonic Free Riders is one of only a few Kinect games to support online competition. However, this is one area where I'm pretty much unable to offer comment. After logging on periodically over the last four to five days since Kinect's launch, I've seen very few people in the online lobbies. On the rare occasions that I found a game to join, thrice the connection was lost or I was logged out right after trying to get into the game. And once the connection was lost right before a game was about to begin. After that I simply gave up and moved on to the single-player content. My guess is that this is a pretty good explanation for why so few people are trying this game online so soon after launch.

Screenshots / Images
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