Reviewed: March 8, 2006
Released: February 23, 2006
Sonic may be the fastest thing on foot, but how fast is a hedgehog in air? Meet Jet, Storm, Wave, and their airboards. Sonic Riders takes the insanely fast Sonic and makes him faster. Sound too fast? Well, at times it can be. Sonic Team and Sega have been bringing a whole slew of game featuring the blue hedgehog for over a decade.
Some of you may remember a previous attempt at putting Sonic in a racing game with Sonic R for the PC. The concept has returned, except this time he has an airboard. Throw in some rails to grind, some familiar faces such as Dr. Eggman and Knuckles, new rivals called the Babylon Rogues, and tricks to pull off and you have the high-speed Sonic Riders.
Sonic Riders is like many other racing games, but also shares some differences. Like others, the goal for you is to cross the finish line first. Your air tank, the rings, and your special ability throw in the twists. Your air tank is equivalent to fuel. You run out of air and youíll be running the rest of the race. Luckily there are pit stations around the track. You can also get air by pulling off tricks when you fly off a ramp.
Gathering rings during a race give you the chance to level up for that given track. You become slightly faster and more powerful. If you hit someone when youíre at your max level, youíll stun them momentarily. Special abilities give you a chance to sort of pick your shortcuts. There are three special abilities: speed, flight, and power. Speed can grind rails, flight can fly through hoops, and power can break through certain barriers. Each track has a shortcut crafted for each ability.
We start off on a nice night in Metal City with Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails. Before you know it, the Babylon Rogues bust onto the screen, making a getaway with a Chaos Emerald. Sonic Team actually managed to tie the emeralds, like all other Sonic titles, into the story. Our hero, Sonic, picks up an airboard left behind by Storm - thanks to Knuckles - and takes off after the trio. Unfortunately, he isnít as skilled at boarding as the thieves and they manage to get away.
A short time passes and Dr. Eggman appears on a jumbo monitor in Metal City Plaza. He announces a tournament that he has called the EX World Grand Prix. Anyone could enter for the fee of one Chaos Emerald. Our heroes are ready to walk away until some of the contestants catch Sonicís attention. It turns out that the three thieves are already signed up for the tournament.
Right after the previous opening scene youíre thrown into the first race in Story Mode. If you want to learn the ropes, you can watch a tutorial video in the Extras section before starting the Story Mode. There really isnít much to learn, though. You boost with B, jump with A, powerslide with L and R, and steer with the control stick. The control layout couldnít be any simpler.
The first two races are pretty forgiving, allowing you to at least place third and pass. However, after the game figures youíve been give enough time to warm up, the bar is raised. To beat a race, youíll have to finish in first. A veteran at this game might say that itís pretty simple, but when you donít know the track and itís coming at you as a blur, it can be pretty frustrating.
Story Mode presents the story in a nice fashion. From the Heroes part, you see the story through the eyes of Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails. To fill in the gaps, youíll need to beat the Babylon part of Story mode. But youíll need to beat the Heroes part to unlock Babylon. Sonic Riders gives you a good chunk of the story from the Heroes side, but it still leaves enough out to entice you to play through the Babylon part.
Mission Mode contains a ton of missions: 100 to be exact. Beating all one hundred is already time-consuming enough as it is. However, if you want to eventually unlock all the characters, levels, and boards, youíll need to go through and earn gold medal on each mission. Quite a few of the missions are fairly easy to get gold, but some can actually be incredibly frustrating.
Normal Mode has three subcategories: Free Race, Time Attack, and World Grand Prix. You can get to know the levels in Free Race or race against the clock in Time Attack. World Grand Prix borrows the traditional point system seen in the majority of racing games. Youíll race on a total of five tracks, accumulating points through each race. There is the added incentive of placing first in each race to get a gold medal in the end.
Tag Mode puts a twist on the air tank. Youíll partner up with someone or a computer and the two of you will share an air tank. So you canít just go through the level boosting the whole time.
Survival Race is like a game capture the flag. The object is to get the one and only Chaos Emerald through a checkpoint. The first one to get five points wins. Survival Battle is like the battle modes in the Mario Kart games. The object is to go around attacking the other players until youíre the last one remaining.
The Shop gives you a chance to buy new boards using the rings that you pick up during the races. There are a lot of boards. Getting enough rings to buy every single board will probably take a few days.
Once you get the hang of the various characters and levels, Sonic Riders can become pretty easy. Overcoming that initial hump can take quite a few hours of gameplay, though. There isnít much skill to really acquire. Enough repetition with a particular character or level should enable you to place first without too much effort.
Much of Sonic Riders comes at you as a blur. Itís hard to admire the details and colors of the levels and characters when theyíre all going by so quickly. With this fact, you might actually expect the level designers to skimp out on the amount of attention that they devote to each level. Luckily, this isnít the case. The environments that you race through actually possess some nice scenery.
The HUD is also easy on the eyes. Having your eyes fixated on the race is crucial, so itís important that you can easily check out stats, like your position, with a quick glance. Also, if the game has any graphical glitches or bogged framerates, the action comes so rapidly that you wouldnít notice it.
The characters donít really display anything radical. It seems as though Sonic Team tried to borrow the style of snowboarding when outfitting the characters. The apparel is modest enough to not become bothersome later on. The boards tend to be rather plain, though you really wonít notice them much anyways.
The opening movie is pretty cool. If you walked into a room while it was playing, youíd probably mistake it for the Sonic cartoon. The other movies follow more of a CG base, but theyíre still pretty cool.
The sound effects contain your basic ďwhooshingĒ sounds to indicate speed. A few other typical Sonic sounds are also present, such as the sound of gathering or losing rings. One of the best sound factors is the music. With Sonic always having been about high speeds, Sonic Team has become pretty adept at creating music that compliments his pace.
The typical voices for Sonic and his gang have also returned for Sonic Riders. There isnít anything new or exciting about them. The dialogue during cutscenes is simplistic; the way it usually is in Sonicís games anyways.
The most annoying sound factor in the game: the commentator. Her comments are usually short, but she doesnít have very many. They follow a pattern of ďcharacterís nameĒ is in the lead or some other fairly boring statement. With only a handful of comments, youíll be hearing them repeated over and over again.
Sonic Riders retails for $39.99 or about $10 less if you look hard enough. If youíre a diehard Sonic fan, the game will bring you a decent amount of enjoyment. With tons of things to unlock and boards to buy, you could easily spend days of continuous playing and still have things left to get.
If youíre not a big fan of Sonic, you might want to wait. The main reason Sonic Riders isnít a must-have is because itís a racing game. Sonic is more suited to 3D platformers than racing, even if he is the fastest thing out there.
Sonic Riders could be better, it could be worse. Turning a platformer into a racer is pretty difficult to pull off. To make it worse, game developers will normally follow the same formula used in the Mario Kart series, but release a game that doesnít match up. So unless itís really innovative, it doesnít really impress gamers.