Review by darkknight109
"Perhaps the most underrated Sonic game ever"
Sonic Riders came amidst games like Sonic Heroes and Shadow the Hedgehog, names that make all but the most fanatical of hedgehog fans cringe. It got a pretty bad rap, partially from association with those titles and partially from the seemingly dumb premise of the game. Sonic racers have not been of particularly notable calibre in the past and an airboarding game just seemed... well, stupid, really... At any rate, many people wrote off the game without even trying it, which is sad, because it's actually one of the better things Sonic Team has churned out in recent years. Admittedly, I was in that crowd and wasn't interested in even renting the game until a friend bought it and let me try it out. I was quite pleasantly surprised and went out and got the game myself a few months later. So before you scoff at the game and pick something else, at least rent it and give it a try. Who knows? You might actually enjoy it.
The story is fairly barebones, even for a Sonic game. Sonic and his friends decide to compete against some local airboarders who call themselves the Babylon Rogues in a contest for the Chaos Emeralds. Dr. Robotnik is also somehow intertwined with this plot, although it's not revealed why until later.
In the game's single player mode, the story is developed through cutscenes between the races. It's pretty lacklustre overall, but it serves its purpose. Thankfully, the game doesn't try to pull any weird drama tricks, given that there wouldn't be enough time to properly set them up anyways, but it still comes off as disappointing in that it's just too darn short. The game ends rather suddenly, and with little real resolution to the story. There's a healthy dose of Deus ex Machina used in the story at various points and a lot of stuff seemingly comes out of nowhere. You're probably not expecting a lot from the story of a racing game, so this section should come as little surprise to most of you, but if you really want a good Sonic yarn, try one of the other games.
There's not a whole lot to say about the graphics in this game. They aren't bad, but there's nothing eye-popping about them. They are pretty much all-around average. All the areas are nicely detailed and everything looks suitably Sonic-like, which is really all you expect from a Sonic game and this game doesn't disappoint.
I was quite pleasantly surprised when I first heard the game's soundtrack because it is a call-back to Sonic's earlier days. Since Sonic Adventure 2, the series has been plagued with some of the worst musical tracks I have ever heard in a modern game, and they only seemed to be getting worse as time went on... However, Sonic Riders dropped the annoyingly bad vocal tracks and instead went with something more akin to the music present in the original Sonic Adventure. No cheesy lyrics, no crappy rap tracks... it's a dream come true for followers of the series and I only wish they had continued the trend into later instalments like Sonic and the Secret Rings. The music suits each area quite well, from the frantic fast-paced sounds of the city courses to the rhythmic, mechanical sounds of the factory levels, and some of the tracks are quite catchy.
The voice acting is the second outing of Sonic's new voice cast, replaced after the death of Deem Bristow (Dr. Robotnik) with the 4Kids voice cast who worked on Sonic X. Some serious problems arise in this department and it detracts from the already disappointing story segments. The Jet's aggravating squawkiness, Cream's nauseatingly cutesy voice and Storm's stereotypical big, dumb guy demeanour will have you clawing at your ears in no time flat. Other problems crop up with voices like Shadow or Rouge, who are both so deep and quiet that they are nigh-on impossible to hear. This issue is hardly game-breaking, particularly given the low amount of voice acting in the game, but it's still annoying.
The game actually plays similar to F-Zero GX, another Sega racing title for the Gamecube, albeit at a much slower pace. You play as a Sonic character equipped with an airboard for racing. Initially, only the character's starting board is available, but additional boards can be bought from an in-game store with your earnings from racing, each with different characteristics; some may have better top speed, while others may increase your traction.
The game's characters are broken down into three types: speed, flight and power, each with a slightly different approach to racing. Speed characters, arguably the hardest to use, can grind on specially placed rails, by jumping on them and pressing B. Flight characters can jump off a special ramp and soar through the air, using a set of rings in the air to boost their speed. Power characters can smash through obstacles in the course and, despite being the most user-friendly of the bunch, come with the downside that people can follow you if you make a shortcut for them. Each of these methods can be used to find shortcuts in each of the game's courses and it's essential that a player learns these various shortcuts if they want to succeed in the game, as the computer makes use of them frequently.
Rather than starting everyone at the starting line and shouting GO!!, the game instead starts you a set distance behind the starting line with a countdown until the race begins. The objective is to time things perfectly so you run forward, picking up speed and pass over the start line just as the countdown reaches zero. If you happen to jump the gun and pass over the starting line before the countdown has finished, you will be caught in an electric web, robbing you of all your speed and stunning you momentarily after the race begins.
Once the race begins, your character leaps onto their airboard and it's a simple 3-lap race to the finish. The controls of the airboard are a little weird, but I'll get into that a little more below.
During the race, you have an air meter to the right of the screen and it basically counts as your fuel and will slowly deplete over time. Boosting or drifting rapidly empties your air meter, which must be replenished by performing tricks, accessing shortcuts via your character's special move, following on-screen prompts at specific parts of the race or by moving close to another racer while boosting. This last manoeuvre triggers an attack that will gain you some air and cause your opponent's speed to drop. If your air ever runs out, your character will get off their board and start running across the course until some air is obtained. Since running is much slower than boarding and you cannot access shortcuts or wind tunnels while on foot, this can be crippling for a racer who runs out of air at a bad time.
You can collect rings during a race, and at 30 and 60 rings, you will level up, giving you a larger air meter and a stronger attack. However, if you fall of the course or get hit by an opponents attack, all rings are lost and you drop back to level 1.
The game uses a rather clever method of balance, ensuring that even racers stuck in last still have a chance to win the race. A character travelling at high speeds creates a wind tunnel behind them, which can be ridden by other racers. This wind tunnel increases the speed of anyone in it and automatically steers them, letting them quickly catch up to whoever is creating the tunnel. This ensures that races always remain close and it is almost impossible to get an unbeatable lead in this game.
The game has several modes of play: Grand Prix, where you race through all the game's courses in a racing tournament, with the winner getting a nice wad of cash, Free Race where you can select a course and race through it on its own, Story Mode where you play through the game's main story and a mission mode where you are given a character and a board and have to complete various objectives. Mission mode objectives range from beating a certain time to destroying a certain number of enemies to collecting a bunch of hidden items and can be quite tricky for those who don't understand the game's subtler mechanics. Grand Prix and Free Race can be played multiplayer.
The game has a host of unlockable content, some of which contains cameos by other Sega franchises including Crazy Taxi, Hang On and, my personal favourite, Fantasy Zone. A lot of the game's fun comes from trying to not just beat the game, but unlock everything in it as well. Overall, once you get used to the game's controls, it's a lot of fun and the game plays very well.
The game's controls are actually spot on and are wonderful to use after you've learned them. However, that last part is what made me drop the rating down to a 7, instead of giving them a 10. You see, the controls are actually quite complex, more complex than initially meets the eye. In fact, this is one of the few games that I openly recommend you read an FAQ about after you've tried it for a little bit. The physics also take a little getting used to, but that's more practice than anything else.
Your airboard goes at a steady speed and there's no accelerate button or anything of that type. The A button can be held down to charge a jump and, if released on a ramp, can send you soaring into the skies. The B button is used for dashing/attacking. The shoulder buttons are used for drifting, enabling you to turn corners quickly.
So what's so complicated about that? Well, that's all the game tells you, but there's actually a lot more to it than that. For example, at certain ramps in the game, if you jump and hold either forwards or back (which one depends on the specific ramp), you will trigger a shortcut that will cut a huge amount off your time. The game never actually mentions this in its instructions or tutorials, which means that unless you figure it out through sheer dumb luck, you will constantly be left wondering how the computer suddenly got so far ahead of you. Similarly, at certain points in the game, you can spin the control stick to recharge your air. This isn't immediately apparent, but is guided by an on-screen prompt, so is at least a little easier to figure out.
The final problem is tricks and these still somewhat elude me. While in the air, pressing the control stick in any direction triggers a trick; pressing it in a subsequent direction triggers and additional trick and so on and so forth. The idea with tricks is that you want to pull off as many as you can while you're still in the air, but none while you're landing. If you are pulling a trick while you land, you will land badly and not gain any air, as well as be slowed down by the whole thing. Pull off a whole lot of tricks and you'll practically refill your air meter from zero to full. Problem is, learning which tricks link well into which other tricks is more or less trial and error. You'll have to figure out a combo which works well for you.
Despite its deceptively high learning curve, Sonic Riders is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a worthwhile purchase for any Sonic fan. And given its proliferation in bargain bins everywhere as people try and make room for the next-gen games, it should be a relatively cheap purchase, too.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/17/07
Game Release: Sonic Riders (US, 02/21/06)
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