What has happened to my beloved Sonic? I used to get excited about your games and now I cringe with the sounds of anything outside the realm of a true sequel to Sonic Adventure. Their first mistake was catering to the “guns make games better” philosophy with last year’s atrocious Shadow the Hedgehog, now they bring us the epitome of mediocrity; a mascot racing title!! While there are certainly franchises that have pulled it off, Crash and of course Mario come to mind, does anyone remember Sonic’s last lap to lap endeavor? While it may entertain for a little while, Sonic Riders does little more than offer a brief distraction in an already overcrowded genre.
Now don’t get me wrong, Riders is not broken, in fact the game really doesn’t suffer nearly as much as some efforts. The biggest problem lies in the fact that there simply isn’t anything to keep the player engrossed. The controls are suitable, but still lack a certain depth, the visuals are typical, and the mode selection is limited by a lack of online play and a deeper story mode. While a lot of these things can be overlooked on a first-gen game, it’s hard to accept them this deep in a console life cycle.
Let’s start with the visuals, as I mentioned before they aren’t going to set the world on fire. Character animations are limited and the onscreen action is just a hair shy of being engrossing. The levels, which of course are the main attraction of any racer, can sport some nice variation, but with poor textures and very few alternate paths they tend to grow tiresome after two to three races. Unfortunately we also found a small inconsistency in the frame rate on all three versions, when running into object, passing across turbo boosts or simply battling it out with fellow racers the game tends to chug a bit. Nothing that can’t be overlooked, but with the lackluster visuals it can be suspicious as to why the frame rate can’t function at a steady pace.
The main single-player trek is your archetypal collection of ideas simply changed to fit the content. Sonic discovers a new Chaos Emerald, but before he is able to obtain it a snowboarder drops in from the sky and steals it. When Sonic pursues the thief he discovers his arch nemesis Dr. Eggman behind the theft and challenges Sonic to a series of racing events to win back the emerald, how thoughtful of the Eggman. You will then begin your journey through the simplistic story mode unlocking new tracks and characters along the way, thankfully the adventure is broken up with in-game cinematics that progress the story. The seemingly transparent movies are fittingly accented with somewhat cheesy and amazingly appropriate voice-overs.
For fans of the Sonic franchise there is plenty to see and do here. Sonic Team has added in a bevy of characters including the likes of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, Jet the Hawk, Storm the Albatross, and Wave the Swallow to Dr. Eggman, Shadow the Hedgehog, Rogue the Bat, Cream the Rabbit, Robo 1 and Robo 2. All of these avatars are complimented with the inclusion of familiar locales such as Metal City, Splash Canyon, and what Sonic game would be complete without a tour of Dr. Eggman’s Factory.
Sonic Riders is mostly about speed though, and with the addition of the new turbulence system which allows players to coast along on the wind trails of their opponents. The biggest disappointment to me though was the lack of control I felt while playing. The steering and simple moves of any character seem automatic and didn’t really give me the sense that I was actually playing the game. Picture Kirby Air Ride with faster courses and a blue protagonist and you get the picture. The trick system is also almost worthless; you simply tap the analog stick in a direction and spin until you land. It isn’t hard to achieve an A+ rating on almost every bit of air you can achieve. Players looking for a deep racer should definitely steer clear of this amazingly shallow title.
For a silver lining, if it really constitutes as one, you can duke it out with up to four players in split screen mode. What is disappointing though is the lack of online for both the PS2 and Xbox systems. As it stands playing with all the crazy action on four split screens is more confusing than trying to decipher the Da Vinci code using only your fingers and toes. Needless to say any form of online functionality would have been greatly appreciated.
In the end Sonic Riders is simply a weak attempt to cash in on the popular Sonic brand with a bare bones racer that simply does everything to the “average” degree. While the game doesn’t have any glaring problems that constitute is as being broken it certainly has a long way to go before we can actually recommend it as being anything more than a one night stand. Rent it if you have a Sonic fetish, otherwise don’t even bother with this extremely under-average racer.