Sonic Free Riders • Page 2

The least dignified game demo of my life.

This way of controlling the board doesn't just look deranged, it's also tremendously uncomfortable. Bending backwards at the waist is not a natural motion. Bending over in the other direction isn't exactly comfortable either, but at least it's physically possible.

Once we're into the race, the boards fly off in a straight line and it rarely feels as if there's any control at all going on. Jon has slightly better results with wild motions back and forth than I do with more snowboard-esque tilting, but if I were to bend forward with equal enthusiasm my face would be in precarious proximity to his backside, and nobody wants that.

Photos are being taken. This is not dignified. Kinect is never dignified, but this takes the biscuit. You can reach out to the sides to grab rings as you go past, but throwing your torso back and forth with arms outstretched is enough to make you topple over. I fly into an item box and pick up a missile, which the game tells me to fling at Knuckles, who's in front of me. I throw my arm forwards twice without success. Works the third time, though.

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At least when you're grinding on rails, you don't have to steer.

There's another ink-splotch item which you activate by clapping your hands together, and this one works first time. When a jump's coming up, you crouch down and then up again to fly off the ramp, pulling stunts that seem to fill up your boost meter. You can then activate a wicked-rad speed boost by turning so that you're face-on to the camera and pushing off with your foot like you're on a skateboard. So far it's the only thing about Sonic Free Riders that's fun and intuitive, until you have to turn sideways again because your character gets confused and flies into a wall, slowing himself back to a crawl.

I finish seventh. Jon is fifth. I ask him how he did it, but he has no idea. We resolve to give the other course a go, but are almost defeated again by the menu. Second time around, the relationship between the movements we're making and what's happening on-screen is sadly no clearer. Riding a jetboard is skittish anyway - if you've played either of the other two Sonic Riders games, you'll know just how skittish - and controlling it by moving your body makes it even more unpredictable. Getting whichever bastard child of the Sonic canon you're playing as to turn at all requires such an exaggerated motion that finesse is out of the question.

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Hey, it's... that bird guy! Whatsisname! You know.

There is a possibility here that Sonic Free Riders will feel less entirely random when you get used to controlling it, but the whole point of motion control, particularly Kinect, is that it's supposed to be immediately obvious what you have to do and how you have to do it, and fun to carry it out. It's possible, too, that Kinect itself is having trouble tracking two people playing in a room with others moving around in the background, but that really doesn't reflect well on the device itself, which would be a much larger problem.

There are loads of reasons why games might be worse at preview stage than they are when they're ready to review. Sometimes the tech isn't working properly. Some games just make a bad first impression. Some games just need a little tightening up before they're released to go from broken to perfectly playable. Few undergo miraculous transformations two months before they're released. And going by the series' history, sadly we're not holding out much hope for this one.

Sonic Free Riders is due out for Xbox 360 this November.

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