Sonic fans will gravitate towards this title! – No Doubt
Two years ago Sonic signed up for a new kind of heart-pumping racing that made plenty of people jump for joy. Sonic Riders didn’t come without its flaws, but the real fans didn’t have much of a problem with that and made the best out of it. As a reward (or a way to make some more ca$h), SEGA is back with a new Sonic Riders that fixes the blemishes of the previous title and comes packaged with its own new defects. Don’t make early conclusions though; it’s a much better game overall, and it should be able to please the fans once again.
Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity includes 16 brand new and dynamic courses, 18 sharp-looking characters, and 60 different vehicles, which gives players more than enough reasons to make them jump into the Sonic Riders adventure all over again. Take the word “adventure” with a grain of salt because they tried to throw in some sort of story line, but it doesn’t really make it an Adventure with capital A. In fact, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but at least it brings in some nice cutscenes that most Sonic fans will appreciate.
This is basically the plot: A rain of meteorites starts falling from the night sky and impacts the ground right at the feet of a security robot. The next morning Sonic and company listen to the news and find out robots are roaming freely all over the place, disobeying commands as if they had their own minds. To make matters worse, Tails has a piece of that strange meteor that seems to attract the robots and makes them really angry. They don’t have a choice but run and escape! Somehow that fragment has anti-gravity powers they weren’t expecting; that might just be the reason for the whole robot craze! But wait, it’s not only the robots chasing them; it turns out the Babylon Rogues, a band of legendary thieves seen in the previous title, is on the run as well and they’re ready to do whatever is necessary to get a hold of those powers. Things are looking ugly indeed. And that’s the whole reason why you’ll be racing all throughout the game.
Don’t think of Sonic Riders as a Mario Kart kind of game; this series has much more resemblance to games like F-Zero or Wipeout, mixed with some Excite Truck elements that up it a notch or two. The tracks are futuristic and were built for high speeds. You’ll race in Sonic Riders as if you were in a roller-coaster full of turbo pads, loop-de-loops, vertical drops, and more. All your character needs is one of those powerful hover-boards! The rhythm is insane, and you will barely have time to plan your moves; this is the kind of racing you get used to and soon enough your brain will just send impulses to your hands so you perform the right moves. However, as smooth as it sounds, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity has a few too many spots in the race tracks where all the magic of the high-speeds is destroyed; sharp corners followed by narrow doorways, huge gaps on the sides of the track, and numerous oversized obstacles will slow you down and hinder the otherwise exciting game pace.
The controls are actually pretty good and make a lot of sense; if it wasn’t for the booby traps mentioned above, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity could appeal to a wider audience, not just Sonic fans. The Wii version offers three types of controls: holding the Wii remote horizontally (classic mode), vertically, or using the GameCube controller. The PS2 version controls simply relay on the DualShock controller. There’s nothing wrong with any of these controls really, although the gameplay with the horizontal Wii remote is a blast once you get the hang of it, just like in Excite Truck. The GameCube controller or the Dualshock in the case of the PS2 version are just as good but maybe not as fun.
In Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity your character will grind on rails like Tony Hawk, pull cool stunts thanks to the zero gravity effect, ride cool vehicles, use turbo boosts, find hidden paths, and more. There are lots of possibilities depending on what vehicle you’re using at a given time. You can easily swap your gear and vehicles by picking up the power-ups on the road. My complaint here is that sometimes it’s tough to realize what gear / vehicle you’re using until it’s too late. For example, if you have the Air Ride, you could take advantage of the catapults that rise up, fly through the shiny rings, and obtain a nice speed boost; if you have the skates, you can access grind areas and ride even faster; and with the bike you can burst through obstacles like a bullet, etc. Only true masters of the genre will be able to take advantage of these power-ups and maximize the experience to the limits. For the rest (more mediocre racers) the game will become a battle of survival where your goal will be to stay on track and at least avoid falling into black holes or crushing your character against the walls.
The vehicles have similar color patterns and are not easy to distinguish; the symbols for each of the power ups are a bit too generic, and you have to look at the top-left corner to see what you have. It’s a small complaint, but it should be heard. The rest of the power-ups give you with special attacks, high speeds, etc. Some of them will have negative effects for you though, like the splash of colored paint that obscures vision, the parts-lock that deactivates your gear abilities, and more. You can also pick up the typical Sonic rings which you can trade later for new gear.
For the most part, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity represents an improvement in the Sonic Riders series. They got rid of the air meter and the frustrating pit stops, the annoying announcer, and the double-tap in order to grind. Those were major disappointments in the previous title, and I’m glad the developers took the critics as constructive and made the necessary changes. It’s too bad the game comes with new flaws because it would have been perfectly fun otherwise.
The game looks just like Sonic Riders: not better, not worse. It seems to make sense for the PlayStation 2 version because it’s a last-generation console. However, just average graphics on the Wii is not acceptable these days. They’ve showed us what’s possible, and SEGA has two perfect examples of what can be done, even if they’re not quite there yet; Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams displayed beautiful graphics. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity should be envious. Sure, it’s colorful and cool-looking, but it needs to be smooth and full of detail. The textures are tough to swallow, especially in stages like Botanical Kingdom or Gigan Rocks that contain more natural elements. Other tracks are full of futuristic, colorful, and inspiring architectural elements, and they look okay. I still think much more could have been done, and hopefully they’ll realize that eventually and apply that point of view to future games. The characters are cute and look sharp, especially compared to everything else. I love their vibrant colors, inventive looks, and gear. With 18 of them you’re sure to find a favorite, and you’ll get to choose it in normal, grand prix, and survival mode, just not in story mode.
There are several gameplay modes you can play with other three friends: Normal Race includes Free Race and Time Attack; Survival Mode has three modalities: Survival Relay (gear is used as the baton), Survival Ball (shot and score: use gravity control), and Survival Battle (slam foes with gravity action). Some of these modes, like Survival Ball, are not easy or fun to play. The modes that are just based on racing are the best the game has to offer, and even though there’s a learning curve you’ll eventually understand what to do and time it right. I have to say the tutorials in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity don’t help. They are bad and may cause people to lose interest in the game; everything is explained with text and not an actual demonstration, and failing in the tutorial never leads to a better explanation – it just makes the character repeat the same “Gotta try harder!” kind of comment. Wonderfully frustrating, isn’t it? At least you can leave the Tips turned on, which shows the controller motion you should do or button you should press on the screen so you know what you could do to gain speed.
Being able to play against your friends is one of the best things this game has going for it. Playing against the omnipotent A.I. is a rather frustrating experience, and only unlocking new gear, movies, game modes, and characters will entice you enough to continue playing. However, playing against your friends brings the game to a whole new level. Now your skills are measured against theirs, and those who utilize the power-ups like they’re supposed to will succeed. How much more fun it is to engage in furious competition against friends and to be able to show off your mad skills!
The Wii version also supports Wi-Fi connection – Great! Unfortunately, it’s not what you might expect: you can download high-scores, and you can race against a “ghost” competitor. The ghost isn’t someone playing against you at the same time; it’s just a replay of someone’s attempt in that same stage. Every time you obtain a new personal high score in a stage, the ghost data is saved and your ghost might eventually appear in someone else’s race. You can even choose to race against a ghost of the same character, similar, faster or much faster speed. In any case, it’s not real online competition, and it’s just a gimmick that not many of you will appreciate.
The soundtrack is similar to that of Sonic Riders and even the F-Zero franchise. It sounds like one of those European techno discos full of neon lights. It’s actually an appropriate rhythm for the fast-paced gameplay of the game – it provokes a need for speed. You can listen to all the tunes in the extras section too, which is nice. The voice over is better for some of the characters than others. I personally think characters like Tails could sound a bit more masculine… but you know what cartoons sound like, right? We all know that Bart Simpson’s voice actor is indeed an actress, so I bet there’s a woman behind Tails’ voice as well! In any case, it’s all pretty good overall and I enjoyed the sharp sound effects of the game.
All in all, the game is good. It’s a new and improved Sonic Riders with plenty of new tracks and characters to enjoy. It’s a must-have for Sonic fans and a “might-enjoy” for aces of the racing genre, especially for those who like F-Zero and Wipeout. If you’re not sure you’ll like it, give it a rental or wait until the price drops. And remember: I’m not responsible for your frustration! – All I can say is: Have Fun!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
A downgrade for the Wii. After seeing the Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams’ quality graphics, we all know they can do better! 3.8 Control
Once you learn the controls, you’ll have a lot of fun – most of the time. They’re pretty good indeed. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Good music and nice sound effects. Techno tunes provoke a need for speed. The voice over is better for some of the characters than others. But you know what cartoons sound like, right? 4.2
This will be a blast for racing aces and fans of SEGA’s most famous icons.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
- – Gravity Control: With a push of a button, you change the law of gravity and alter courses by turning walls into new tracks filled with shortcuts and alternative pathways.
– Gravity Dive: This gravity-defying dive creates the ultimate speed boost, hurtling objects from the path and allowing you to grind on objects and cars that are floating in the air. Hapless competitors are left far behind.