Sonic Riders isn’t bad….but it’s the pits….that can kill the fun. Read on. by Vaughn Smith
February 28, 2006 – Sonic has seen a lot of wacky action outside of his regular video game activities over his 16 year career, such as racing, pinball and fighting. Sonic Riders attempts to cash in on the racing genre, perhaps in another bid to usurp Nintendo’s Mario Kart as the pinnacle of the lighthearted racing genre, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Instead of running on foot as we last saw in Sonic R, Tails, Knuckles, Sonic and some new characters (all equally forgettable and generic), this time out it’s all about hoverboards. Yes, hoverboards – as in TrickStyle, EyeToy: Antigrav and Namco’s AirBlade. For some reason, Western civilizations’ fascination with hoverboards hasn’t fared well in the video game arena and unfortunately, Sonic Riders isn’t the catalyst to spark a newfound gaming fad even though it tries to amalgamate surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and racing.
The back story of Sonic Riders involves a new team of emerald stealing thieves known as the Babylon Rogues who just happen to ride around on “extreme gear” (aka hoverboards). Sonic’s seemingly only worthwhile nemesis, Dr. Eggman, throws a racing tournament in a thinly veiled evil plot to get his hands on – what else? – and before you know it, you have a barebones understanding of why you’re playing Sonic Riders, aside from the fact that you either bought or rented it. As you progress Sega will continue to force the half-assed story down your throat via cutscenes, but will you really care?
The racing in Sonic Riders is fast and might make you furious, due to a few factors that should have remained on the cutting room floor. The worst gameplay mechanic in years has to be the loss of air while using your hoverboard. Using boost drains your air supply (if only it drained the lifeforce of Air Supply, the 80’s wussy band that annoyed the crap out of me back then…) which results in your chosen character running on foot if emptied completely. To restore the air, you’ll have to find a pitstop along the way. Not only does this waste valuable time, but it completely disrupts the entire flow of the game. I believe Sega thought it would add a strategic element to the game, but it only succeeds at annoying you since you’ll probably find yourself avoiding the boost feature at all costs; without it, the game seems like your standing still.
One element of gameplay that does work as intended is the use of riding opponent’s turbulence trails. Streaming from behind them, you’ll be able to jump onto their tailwind and increase your speed and execute tricks and combos by leaping to and from a variety of turbulence created by the other riders. The shallow trick system isn’t anything to get excited about and the stunts are executed by a directional push – the only downside to the tricks is landing them incorrectly which can result in a small scale wipeout, which will cost you valuable time. The only way to make that time up is to use the boost, which drains your air supply which requires a visit to the pits….Argh! Enough already!
Visually the game is pretty hot stuff across the three available platforms (GC, PS2 and Xbox). Sonic Team kept the environments in Riders to look as though they were lifted from the same bizarre Sonic universe that all of the other games were borne from. The game is very smooth with the occasional framerate hiccup, but it’s nothing to get your panties in a knot over. Remember, I’ve played Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness (PS2) so I’ve seen the benchmark for worst framerate in a video game ever. Angel of Darkness was akin to playing a video game on one of those “Flip the pages as fast as you can!” books; that’s how bad the frame rate was. As mentioned the character designs are as generic as they come, but let’s face it, that all began with the introduction of Tails in 1992 and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down since. At the very least they work within the framework of what has come before.
The track structure is more than a little attention deficit – it’s like someone went crazy with the Track-Designer 3000. The tracks start out busy and distracting and manage to assault the senses even more the further you progress – which means they should be just perfect for the youngsters and teens this game is targetted at. Hey, I know I’m old. My eyes are going. Lots of flashy lights give me headaches. I’m not saying the level design is bad – Sonic has always featured level layouts jammed with everything and the kitchen sink – it actually suits the style of the game quite well and allows for the limited amount of technique the hoverboard mechanic offers the player.
The game supports up to 4 players which signifies that Cube and Xbox owners will be ready to play right out of the box, while PS2 owners require the multi-tap. Let me just say for the record that playing a game as involved as Sonic Riders is a nightmare on a small TV in 4 player split-screen mode. The speed of the game is impressive with 4 players, but the twisty turny, hair-pin curve, level design and reduced visibility make most of the races trial and error rather than pure talent. Two player split-screen is definitely workable however.
Controlling your chosen character is a snap for the most part and gamers of all skill levels will be able to pick up and play it with minimal instruction; whether they can manage a 1st place win or not is another story. The game requires the use of just a couple of buttons – jump, boost, R and L tight turns (shoulder buttons) and once you get the hang of it, you’ll begin exploring the landscape using different characters to mine their various abilities (based on speed, flight or power) to reach cool new places.
Replay value is high if you persevere and manage to like the game enough to beat many difficulty levels. There are no less than 10 extra characters to unlock, including NiGHTS, Aiai (Super Monkey Ball), Shadow the Hedgehog, Ulala (Space Channel 5) and Super Sonic just to name a few. Unfortunately, Super Sonic is a mixed blessing as you’ll constantly be reverting back to Sonic due to Super’s high ring count which you must maintain, and if you’ve played this game you’d know keeping the ring count above a certain number can be a little overwhelming given the lack of rings and hazards that tend to take them away.
If you’re a patient gamer as well as high ranking Sonic fanclub member, chances are you’ll be able to overlook some of the games weakspots and enjoy Sonic Riders for what it is. It’s certainly not perfect, but it is definitely playable and enjoyable. Again, my biggest complaint is the pits…pitstop that is. At any rate it’s a far site better than the recently released Shadow the Hedgehog game. If you’re sitting on the fence, rent it. Sonic Riders is a bit of a bumpy ride, but what do you expect with all of that turbulence?
- All-new air board racing. New blend of snowboarding, surfing and high-speed racing combat.
Innovative “Turbulence” air-system. Catch the drift of your opponents and leave them in your wake!
- Insane tricks. The more difficult trick you pull off, the more points you get!
- 4-Player Ultimate Battle. New rival group, the Babylon Rogues sets the stage for scorching head-to-head multi-player battles up to 4 players.
- Over 13 outrageous tracks, plus multiple modes, and tons of bonus unlockables.
- Collect and customize your Extreme Gear with over 40 unique types of equipment to choose from, as well as equipment upgrades.
- Unravel the mystery in Story Mode. You’ll play as two opposing teams, complete with cut-scenes.
By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director