Review by ShadowGuardian9
"The Fast and the Frustrating"
Sonic's ventures through gaming have led him from side-scrollers to party games. One genre that was briefly visited by the blue hedgehog was the racing game. Sonic R was the Saturn racer that was rather forgotten. But, Sonic Team has created another racing game featuring the blue blur. With new characters, a new setup, and some new moves for Sonic to use, is the new hoverboard racer Sonic Riders a winner?
These graphics are beautiful. The game opens with an incredible anime opening featuring Sonic and his crew along with the newcoming Babylon Rogues. The game shifts into some excellent cutscenes. Sonic and his friends look great and the lighting effects are stellar. In-game, the sense of speed is phenomenal. Riding on the hoverboards is graphically entertaining. The racers' movements feel natural and true, and the trick animations are very well done, though not as graphically astounding as the moves in games like SSX. The levels are gorgeous and diverse, with excellent air, water, and sand effects. The graphics truly demonstrate the speed and intensity of a Sonic game. However, if you do slow down the game, you will notice some incompleteness in levels. There are some grainy textures beneath the speedy surface. Also, the regular cutscenes are okay, but don't seem to express as much detail as the gorgeous and rare ones that you see at certain points in the game. Overall, though, Sonic Riders is a slick looking racer with some really beautiful graphics.
The voice acting is pretty average. Sonic and the rest of the crew sound fine, but the Babylon Rogues' voices don't keep the same quality. Jet's voice especially just doesn't seem to fit the character. The in-game audio focuses around techno tracks during races, some pretty well done air sound effects, and the occasional voice quip. The announcer sounds off far too much and gets annoying. The audio here doesn't keep the same quality as past Sonic games, but doesn't stray too far and still is passable.
Here's the big problem. Sonic Riders is Sonic's way of reentering the racing genre. Sonic and his friends use hoverboards (or as they call them in the game, Extreme Gear) to race in different locations. Sounds cool. Sounds.
The story is that Eggman is setting up a racing tournament to gather the Chaos Emeralds. Pay a Chaos Emerald, participate in the tournament. Win and you get all the Chaos Emeralds. Sonic and his friends know that he's up to no good, so they enter. After entering, a squad of racers called the Babylon Rogues arrive and challenge Sonic and his crew. The story is okay, but nothing too original.
The controls are similar to those of another Gamecube racer, Kirby Air Ride. You don't hold a button to accelerate; you move on your own. A is used to jump, B to boost (which takes energy from the Air meter), L and R to drift. The controls are simplified for easy access...and that's the problem. The controls are oversimplified. Even worse is that they are touchy and clunky. Drifting is a serious pain, as you won't grip the ground enough and eventually fall off the track. Hitting walls will be common, as will falling off a wall-less edge. When riding behind a player, Turbulence is so easy to ride, you barely have to do anything. The controls are a clunky hybrid of F-Zero, SSX, and Kirby Air Ride, and don't help the races' credit.
Air is the prime source of power during races. Air can be used to Boost and gain speed. Air can be earned by performing tricks off of ramps, riding turbulence, or stopping in Pits to recharge. The Air system does encourage management of your energy, which doesn't work in such a fast paced game. To keep up with other racers, you must Boost a lot. Eventually, you'll run out. The entire system feels inappropriate for such a game. Tricks are especially important in getting air. By pressing A off a ramp, you can get a jump and perform tricks by tilting the Control Stick. The trick system is very simplistic, too simplistic in fact. Performing tricks mostly relies on the timing of the A button press. Turbulence is a trail of air that racers leave behind them. The Turbulence can be rode by other players to gain a lead. The Turbulence can be used as a half-pipe to perform tricks, but is usually used to gain speed. The whole Air system is an ambitious way to create a racer in the Sonic world, but the whole premise doesn't play as smooth as hoped.
Different racers have different strengths in speed and skills. The three types of racers are Speed, Flight, and Power. The Speed characters' skill is grinding rails to reach other areas. The Flight can fly through acceleration rings. Power can smash obstacles in the way. As great as the strengths are, they really have no distinct effect on the races. You can choose a character and win, regardless of their type. The characters lack speciality, so you'll most likely pick your favorite character or in the case of Story Mode, play as who the game assigns.
The tracks themselves are very detailed in appearance, but as far as structural detail, the game still suffers from the clunky controls. Turns will appear behind the cloudy Turbulence and you'll most likely miss the turn. The multiple paths favor one type of racer over another. The problem is using the Air system in the races. The track design doesn't coordinate with the system used. Most of the time boosting is the last thing the game wants you to do, and that is where Sonic Riders stumbles. Sonic games, especially Sonic racers are about speed. Trying not to fall off an edge or turning a perfect corner is not what Sonic games are. The entire package lacks the Sonic structure. The gameplay in Sonic Riders is ambitious and the sense of speed is downright incredible. However, the clunky controls, bad level design, and lack of difference in characters don't help the game.
Replay Value 8/10
Despite a short story mode, Sonic Riders offers a few more things to do. The Mission Mode is an objective-based mode and is pretty entertaining. The Battle Mode is well-done, and the Tag Mode multiplayer is interesting and uses the Air gauge well. Unlockables are abound in the game, with hidden characters and tracks. The entire concept is expanded upon well, despite the control issues.
Final Verdict 6/10
Sonic Riders may be an elaboration of Sonic's racing career, but the entire concept feels incomplete. The Air system is ambitious, but is clunky and most of time, doesn't seem to affect a race. Each character lacks gameplay significance, and the levels make the game frustrating when combined with the sloppy controls. There is a lot to do in Sonic Riders and the presentation is excellent, but beneath the gorgeous graphics lie gameplay problems that hurt an otherwise solid game. If you have to have every Sonic game ever made, this will please you with its colorful cornucopia of characters. Anyone who liked Sonic for the gameplay will be disappointed at this game's shallow gameplay and frustrating controls. This is a game best rented.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/06/06
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