Review: Sonic Riders (XB)


Sonic Riders
Genre: Racing
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 2/21/06

Hey, look, it’s a Sonic the Hedgehog racing game! That’s new!

Okay, so this is Sonic’s third foray into the world of racing games. The first two (Sonic R for the Saturn and Sonic Drift for the Game Gear) were, shall we say, less than stellar, so I’m curious as to why Sega would want to go to the well again. That said, you’d think that Sonic and a racing game would be a good fit for one another, and I enjoyed the demo that I played recently, so I was actually pretty interested in getting my race on with Sonic Riders. I wasn’t expecting the next coming of Daytona or anything, but I was hoping, at the bare minimum, for something to wash the bad taste out of my mouth from previous Sega games.

Unfortunately, all I ended up getting was a shot of Listerine: replace the old bad taste with an entirely new one.


1. STORY


Dr. Eggman has announced a hoverboard (or “Gear” as they’re called here) racing tournament, with simple stakes: the competitors must each risk one Chaos Gem, and the overall winner of the tournament reaps the spoils. The tournament attracts the interest of a bird named Jet and his cronies, who opts to rip off a Chaos Gem from some undisclosed location instead of, say, going to an alternate dimension or fighting a robot-making dictator for one. To each their own, I guess. Said robbery attracts the interest of Sonic and his crew, and after Jet and company escape, Sonic decides to risk a Chaos Gem to enter the tournament and bring Jet down.

Now, I’m no hedgehog historian or anything, but logically, one would have to assume that placing your Chaos Gems anywhere in the vicinity of said round, mustachioed mad scientist is probably not the best idea if one values life. That said, the story is otherwise acceptable. Jet and company are introduced in an acceptable fashion, and suitably play the “villain of the week” role this time around (see also Knuckles and Shadow). Robotnik nee Eggman is dastardly and villainous, Knuckles and Tails are their usual selves, and Amy Rose is suitably up Sonic’s ass. The numerous storylines and missions that you can play through help to establish the characters and their motivations (shallow though they may be), and while it ain’t Keats, it’s acceptable as Sonic stories go.

Story Rating: 6/10


2. GRAPHICS


Sonic Riders looks pretty damn good, with the exception of the usual offenders. The various character models, while not ultra hi-res or anything, have a clean look to them and retain their expected cuteness. The various character animations are all solid and transition well into one another, thus retaining the standard Sonic flair. The various game environments are fairly pretty as well, and each has its own distinctive style that makes it interesting, if not unique. SR also gives off a distinct sense of the speed the characters are traveling at, which is a must for a racing game. And the special effects the game, like the turbulence trails, look quite nice and don’t detract from the visuals in the least.

Also, I liked that the opening cinematic was done in anime style as opposed to being rendered. Maybe it’s just me, but I like hand-drawn intros more than CGI.

Unfortunately, the visual problems that afflict the game are the usual suspects. Clipping is noticeable as the characters race around, especially in the jungle races. Frame rate drops occur here and there when a lot is going on at once (some of the busier game environments, or when the racers are all bunched up, for instance). Also, the camera angles could use some minor work, as there were more than a few times where the camera jumped behind objects in the environment as I was racing. Individually, none of these problems is game breaking, but when taken as a whole, they detract from what is otherwise a visually solid experience.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


3. SOUND

Musically, Sonic Riders is solid; the intro track is worlds beyond, say, “Sonic Boom” (ugh) and the general game and track music is pretty decent, and far better than Sonic R (again, ugh). It’s nothing like the old-school Sonic tracks, and you won’t find yourself humming it in the shower or anything, but it’s pretty decent, and I didn’t really mind it at all.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is thoroughly mediocre. Jet and Sonic are passable, and Knuckles, Storm, and Eggman are above average, but Tails and Amy Rose made me cringe every time they spoke. I get that cute cartoon characters need cute voices, but Buster Babs Bunny never made me want to cry with their voices, so I don’t get why Sega keeps hiring people with nails on glass vocal pitch. That aside, the rest of the acting isn’t cringe-worthy, so you should be okay with what’s here otherwise.

Sound Rating: 6/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


Take one part Wipeout/F-Zero racing, throw in some Tony Hawk/Amped/SSX, add in a dash of Mario Kart (mostly for the cartoony mascots and the overall feel of the game) and you’ve got Sonic Riders. Each racer comes equipped with an air powered Gear, which they ride against other racers in the various gameplay modes. Acceleration is as simple as pressing forward, the triggers allow you to make tight turns, and there are two boost buttons (each claims a different function, but they’re both fundamentally identical) available when you need a quick burst of speed. Boosting and hard turning drains air from your reserve, which means you either have to refill air or you’ll wind up running to the finish line. You can always hit the Pit stations scattered around the tracks, hope the random item boxes you hit as you race contain air (as opposed to rings, shields, shoes, and other Sonic staple items) or do tricks, which also refill your air meter if performed correctly. Doing a trick is as simple as launching off of appropriately high surfaces and moving the analog stick in a direction, and successfully landing these tricks refills air, the better the trick, the more the air. You can also perform tricks out of the turbulence thrown up by other racers, or you can choose to ride the turbulence for a speed boost and a brief period of following the opposing racer’s line. All in all, the game systems seem solid at first glance, and it certainly seems like there will be a lot for you to do.

Racers are also split up into three categories; Speed racers (Sonic), who can use rails and such as shortcuts; Fly racers (Tails), who can be launched into the air, again, as a shortcut; and Power racers (Knuckles), who simply bowl through large obstacles with no slowdown, again, as shortcuts. Your racer dictates which paths you can take, though ultimately, most of the racers play identically, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them appealing or disagreeable, depending on your play style.

Unfortunately, for all that Sonic Riders does right, it does just as much, if not more, wrong. The actual trick system seems more tacked on than anything else, as there’s not really much to it, and had it been excised, it wouldn’t be missed. Tracks are designed in odd and often disagreeable ways, and even if you sit down and master the track layout, you may still find yourself plunging to your (temporary) demise, simply because you either took a turn wrong, or because something was happening in the environment that screwed you up. Speaking of which, another major issue is that the game seems entirely too busy entirely too often for its own good. You’ll find yourself riding up into turbulence without knowing how you got there, hitting level-specific free rides without even realizing they were coming, or hitting turbulence or other racers while trying to land a rail or take a turn. It’s nice that Sonic Team tried to do so much, but the end result often seems to be that there’s just TOO MUCH going on far too often.

The air system also seems poorly implemented at times; some times it’s appropriately nerve-wracking to try and manage your air until you can get a refill, but if a player should simply get lucky on the draw in his or her item box pickups, they’ll be able to run the whole race without stopping, which is slightly unbalancing. The fact that hard turning burns air also seems somewhat stupid; you kind of NEED to make hard turns if you value life, and running out of air on turns near pitfalls often means you’re knocked back several places for it. A air turbo system that functioned off of making good turns and tricks probably would have been better overall, I think.

There are a fair variety of race types, including the Story missions, some more standard missions that involve outperforming your rivals, Versus races, and Tag races, which feature two racers sharing one air bar. However, the split screen racing action tends to be more than a little confusing, even with only two players, and when you get four players involved it gets downright frustrating. This is something of a shame; the game doesn’t really have much to offer in the single player modes, and the multi-player modes can often be downright unplayable.

Bottom line, there are some great ideas in Sonic Riders, but the implementation of these ideas often leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not so much a bad experience as much as it is an uneven one, and while it’s certainly not completely broken, it could stand to have a lot of work done to it.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 5/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

There are multiple storylines to race through, Gears to unlock, and hidden characters to uncover, so there’s a lot of reasons to come back and play more Sonic Riders. The game also has a very “pick up and play” atmosphere to it, so you can easily get down with some friends and race. Lack of an online mode hurts the long term replay of SR somewhat, but if you’re any sort of Sonic fan, or a fan of odd racers, you’ll find plenty of reasons to keep SR in rotation in your game console.

And hey, you can unlock Nights as a playable character! Race around the track and remember back when he used to be in a much better game! Wait…

Replayability Rating: 7/10


6. BALANCE


Once you learn the fundamentals, you shouldn’t have too many problems with the other racers; they do tend to follow lines, but they are capable of fouling up independently, so they’re not perfect. Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks, as noted, have abnormally hard designs to follow, so unless you really sit down and master each track’s layout, you’ll most likely find yourself losing by no fault of your own. It will take a lot of work to really get consistently good at SR, and the learning curve goes all over the place, so I can’t really be sure most people will want to put up with it.

Balance Rating: 5/10


7. ORIGINALITY

It’s Sonic, in a racing game, on a hoverboard. So, a franchise character doing something he’s already done, this time in homage to Marty McFly. In fairness, Sonic Riders does some interesting things with the concept, and while not all that much of the game is insanely original, what is rehashed is done in such a way so as to seem creative. The Air meter, in particular, is an interesting and fairly well implemented idea, and the dynamics associated with it keep the game from simply being another “me too” experience. The game also maintains the standard unique “Sonic charm” that most of Sonic’s games have going for them, though that doesn’t go quite as far as it used to.

Originality Rating: 5/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

If you enjoy the racing/extreme sports theme and the Mario Kart/F-Zero/Wipeout design, you’ll find a lot to keep you interested in SR. The gameplay is quirky enough to keep the interest of those looking for something different, and Sonic fans will most likely find themselves interested enough to keep playing on principle. Unfortunately, fans of more standard racing games aren’t going to find anything to draw them to SR, and the overly busy gameplay might put off more casual gamers before they have a chance to really get into the title.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

It’s Sonic. That alone is more than enough to draw in a lot of people, even now. It’s available across the board, which means anyone with a game console (save 360 owners) can pick it up. Lack of online play will probably put off a lot of people, but anyone with a fondness for the little blue hedgehog, or for wacky racing games, will see this on the shelves and go “Ooh!”, so that’s definitely appeal for ya.

Appeal Rating: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Sigh. Yet another disappointing title in a string of disappointing titles from our fine friends at Sega. Regardless of what anyone would like to say or believe, it’s pretty hard to pin this one on Sammy; after all, it’s a Sega franchise exclusively. I look at something like this and have to honestly wonder, what with all the money spent producing, developing, and playtesting SR, why wasn’t some money tossed into the game to make it good? It’s a fairly average racer with nothing going for it save the name on the box, and if it had some random character on the front cover instead of Sonic, I doubt I’d have even looked twice at it. The game isn’t necessarily bad so much as it is just uninteresting, underdeveloped, and unfun. And ultimately, the first rule of gaming is “It’s fun or it’s nothing”, which pretty much sums up about what this game has to offer: nothing. At $20, it’d be an acceptable purchase; at a full price tag, it’s a waste of cash. Save your money… there are far better games available than this.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores:
Story: 6/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10

Overall Score: 5.6/10
Final Score: 5.5 (AVERAGE).

Short Attention Span Summary
While it’s nowhere near as depressing as offerings like Shining Tears, Shining Force Neo, or Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic Riders is a wholly unmemorable experience that most gamers will likely not even have a reason to play. Some interesting game concepts are bogged down under lame flaws and control issues that shouldn’t have made it past play testing. There are far better racing games available, and for that matter, far better Sonic games too.