Review by Dentorin
"A Game With Two Experiences"
Sonic Riders is a good game. The learning curve is a little steep and you will have trouble getting into it if you don't have enough patience to tough it out, but it's very playable if you take the time to learn the mechanics. Fans of Sonic will appreciate seeing the blue hedgehog back in action and fans of racing will appreciate some of the more unique mechanics. This game's charm, however, is dulled by a number of factors that serve to hamper the gameplay to the point of a controller-crushing rage.
But seriously, who plays Sonic games for the story anyway. I've never expected much from Sega, and thus I'm never disappointed. I'm not going to include this in the final score because it's a freakin' racing game. However, for those people interested in a story any deeper than "See Spot Run" you're going to be disappointed.
This game is very pretty. I will warn that the XBOX version seems to have some visual glitches and the Gamecube version is probably the version to go with. I was hoping to have the XBOX version myself, but the cutscenes (which are very enjoyable, especially on mute) were nearly unwatchable. Everything in the game is, as it has been in every Sonic game, vibrantly colored and visually appealing. Even the iterations of Sonic on the Genesis had a certain visual charm that made them more stimulating than some of the other selections on that console. The only reason I was unwilling to give this game a ten is because sometimes the screen is unreadable. Not in a bad camera angle or graphical glitch sort of way, but simply because there's entirely too much going on. It's the same complaint that I hear often about Super Smash Bros. Melee. If you have trouble there, you're likely to have trouble here, too.
Getting a feel for the way the new Gears control can be a bit tricky. Fortunately Sega seems to have learned from the mistakes of previous Sonic games and put discrete, important functions on their own buttons. If you want to boost, you hit B. B will always be boost, no matter what context you're in. You'll only have trouble with the controls because they do take getting used to and they don't provide you with any real opportunity to learn how.
I like the music. That's why it got a four instead of a one. It sets the mood well and helps you get into the game. What lowers this from a perfect ten to a four is the voiceovers. Hearing Sonic talk was bad enough. Jet's voice is incredibly grating and everyone else ranges from lifeless to painful. Hearing Amy screech is not my idea of fun. There are few voices in that game that are tolerable and none are good. In addition, you have an announcer that wants to talk about what you and everyone else is doing during the race. You can only hear "Look at Sonic Ride that turbulence" so many times before it becomes a routine part of your nightmares. If the announcer were a less frequent occurrence or had a larger variety of things to say, it wouldn't be so bad. Rarely, however, do I find a quiet moment that lasts for more than 15 to 30 seconds. Frankly, the things the announcer said were unimportant and unnecessary and it grated on my nerves enough to be the other contributor to give such a low score for sound.
Gameplay: (9/10 + 3/10) / 2 = 6/10
I realize the score for this section is a little strange. The reason why I scored it the way I did is because I've had two separate experiences with this game. In many instances, I'm having tons of fun with few problems and find it to be one of the more interesting racing games I've played in a while as well as one of the most carefully-coded Sonic games in quite some time. However, sometimes I almost regret buying the game. That's just how bad it can get. I want to take some time to detail each case, so that it's easy to make an informed decision with your $30.
The Good: At the time of this review, I've played through both halves of the story, done a handful of missions, collected a number of the gears and done several races as well as participated in the Heroes Grand Prix a few times. I did all this because I was having a good time with the game. When you're flying through the tracks, rarely do you have trouble figuring out what's going on. On a good day, the game is just challenging enough to keep you interested without completely blowing you away. The areas are so littered with shortcuts that I'm still finding better ways to complete a course and running the course with a different character type can provide a slightly different experience. The turbulence system allows you to fall behind and still catch up to win the race and there are a number of ways to speed yourself along. Collecting rings will give you levels that improve your air capacity and your boosting capabilities. If you constantly find yourself running short on air, finding better ways to conserve air or quickly collect rings adds to the intrigue of solving each track as you would solve a puzzle. All in all, it's a good experience that makes Sonic Team look like they might have actually considered their players when making this game.
The Bad: And then you put the disk in and that illusion is shattered. The game starts off very abruptly with no proper tutorial to help you learn how to play with the unique mechanics of this game. It didn't take me too long to figure out the gist, but the first few races were extremely frustrating as I fumbled my way through, trying to figure out why this or that was happening and what the purpose of certain things were. It can be said for many racing games that the computers are inexplicably better than you. This game is no exception. To this day, I've never seen a computer fault on a start. Rarely do I see a character go over and edge and if I do, it's usually because they ran into me and took me with them. They don't seem to ever run out of air or make many mistakes that a human would. I've had instances where I've hit a wall so hard that I've been spun so that I started doing the track in reverse. And yet that's never happened to the computer players? It's nice that they're challenging, but they're playing against human opponents. With no slider for difficulty, this aspect can become very frustrating. When I made a comment earlier about Sega's coding of these games I was making a reference to the Sonic Adventure/Sonic Heroes series. I remember my first introduction to Sonic Heroes, running a course with the Sonic trio and on my first loop, as I was running down the back side of it I just kept going through the floor and died. Thinking that this was a glitch, I tried it again and received the same results. Sonic Riders doesn't suffer from such terrible glitches, but it does have some. There have been a few times where I've hit a ramp at an odd angle, watched the screen freak out, and then watched as my character fell through the level into the abyss. Other times, I've been faced with a turbulence trail as large as the path that ends inside the middle of a ramp. Riding this turbulence caused me to clip the floor of the ramp and, that's right, find the abyss again. In another case where the turbulence system felt completely untested, I had a computer racer suddenly speed past me and cut in front of me right as I was going to go off a ramp. Instead of hitting the ramp, however, I got caught in the end of their turbulence trail as they went off the ramp instead. With the extra speed from the turbulence, I shot straight off the right side of the track. There was no possibility reacting to it; it was just the unfortunate truth of what happened.
The Indifferent: There are a number of things to unlock which is always a plus. It would have gone in the good section in fact, if it didn't take so long to do it. There are countless missions on which you can gain a bronze, silver or gold medal (Sonic Adventure series comes to mind again) which will act as a massive time sink. The problem is that these missions come in only a few flavors; ten would be generous. There are five per track per mission group and after playing the first two or three levels, you've seen all that you're in store for for the next god-knows-how-many missions. Also, falling off the racetrack incurs a major penalty. Not only do you lose all your rings that you have at the time, but you lose all the levels for your board too. If this happens at any time it's rather detrimental, but if it happens at the end of a race, you're never going to have a commanding enough lead over the computer players to make up for it. I understand that there needs to be a penalty, but now you're walking away from the race with few if any rings and a loss instead of a pocket full of rings and a win for one mistake. That said, even after playing both story modes I only had enough rings to buy the three cheapest gears available. Without any bonuses from a Grand Prix, even if you come away with the maximum amount of rings from each race (100 rings per race) it'll still take over 500 races (according to another source, I doubt I'd have that kind of patience) to buy every gear in the game. This isn't replay value, this is tedium.
Replay Value: 8/10
And even though that isn't replay value, there is still some. There are a good number of unlockable tracks, characters, modes and gears that it's worth your while to continue playing it. There's no reason to play the story mode again, unless you're a masochist, but the rest of the modes will provide you with enough gameplay to fill a few more nights. If you're a perfectionist and the idea of repeating mission concepts sounds upsetting to you, you may want to stay away from this game, because Sonic Riders likes its repeating missions. With so many things to do, it's hard to call Sonic Riders out for its replay value, but they could have made things a little more fun and a little less tedious.
Final Word: 7/10
I had to do the final score completely objectively based on the scores I assigned above because on a good day it could go higher and on a bad day it could go much lower. I gave the game a fair shot and I would say that if you're just looking for a Sonic fix, this is okay. As a racing game, it's also fairly unique. However, Sonic Team has a way of never letting a game quite reach its full potential, and Sonic Riders is no exception. If you're even the slightest bit unsure, get the game used or rent it first. You'll be glad you did.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 04/19/06
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