Sonic Riders Reader Review
It's no secret that I've been a big fan of Sonic for years. Not just the games, but the character, the design and the attitude aswell as the concept of running anywhere as a notion of freedom. Needless to say I'm rather biased, but I could never fool myself when it comes to gameplay. Ultimately I enjoy a game or I don't on a core level.
A hedgehog on board
Sonic Riders is the most successful attempt at 3D Sonic in recent years. It's weird at first, almost headache inducingly confusing in fact, but once you wrap your head around it it offers a consistently good time with short bursts of brilliance woven into it.
It helps if you like Sonic of course, because if you don't then F-Zero GX is the obvious choice over this for your speed fix. (F-Zero GX prolly should be bought by anyone in their right mind regardless) There's so much here that depends on you appreciation of the characters and cool Sega extras that makes the game approach fanservice in a lot of areas unlike something like Mario Tennis, Golf, Party or Strikers which are thoroughly good games in their own right.
Don't get me wrong, there's a real solid game here - albeit somewhat twitchy occasionally, but that's to be expected - but if Sonic doesn't appeal to you thematically at all, you prolly needn't bother with this.
Aaanyway, Riders (with a red R - a nice callback to Sonic R for the Saturn even though this is infinitely better) puts you on a hoverboard and sends you flying down what's essentially Sonic Adventure style levels with a bit more shameless it's a track design, and you'll encounter familiar grind bits, tunnels, speed arrows and such.
What you wanna do in Riders though is preserve your "Air" which is really the word for fuel in this game. You don't actually need to accelerate, as the character does that automatically sort of like the default setting in Tony Hawk. By performing tricks - that feel SSX-ily random yet satisfying - you build up you air meter that'll keep your speed up aswell as allow you to perform drifts and boosts. The boost isn't as central here as it usually is in your standard Burnout or F-Zero sense as it mostly lets you gain speed fast and then you keep that by not cocking up. The relationship between speed, tricks and air is what makes the game confusing and potentially frustrating at first, but once you figure it out it's really fun.
Drifting feels a lot like Outrun and Mario Kart, which you don't expect, with the game looking so much like F-Zero GX, and that means that you press and hold a shoulder button to initiate a drift and then you adjust your board's angle to determine whether you're making a narrow or a wide curve. A lot of places in Riders are really narrow, so it takes some practice to get the curves just right, again initially leading to some argh moments. When you release the shoulder button you shoot out of the curve depending on how long the drift was.
Jumping off ramps is done by, er, jumping. However, it's important to note that the game wants you to press and charge a jump just the right amount before a ramp. If you press the button too early you'll slow down, and if you press it too late the jump won't be as high nor as fast. The better timed jump, the more crazy trick combos you can do, the more speed you gain and the more air you gain/preserve aswell.
You can also level up in the game. See how this is a weirdly complex game yet? Anyway, levels, yes. Levels determine how well you can perform certain moves. For instance, there are different classes of characters; Flight, Speed and Power. The flight characters can travel through rings suspended in the air. In order to reach some of them, the character's level need to be at least 2 (3 is max) which means that you can tilt the board to hover through the air. The different classes have different powers that let them use shortcuts on the levels, but the extent of this you'll just have to figure out yourself. I'm not writing a user manual here.
Um. Right. Yeah and also there's a story in here of course. It's largely centered on a mythical people - the Babylonians - of whom the new characters in here are all descendants. It's not terribly deep or involving, but I'd still say it's worthwhile for Sonic fans such as myself. The cutscenes are as usual rendered BEAUTIFULLY, and the proper ending to the game has my fan-muscles flexing.
There are also mission modes, grand prix, four player splitscreen races, tag races, battles, etc etc. It's full of stuff to do and unlock which is great after having completed Sonic Rush with only sound test to show for it. There are a bunch of cool extra characters here too for those that have the conviction to pursue such things.
Finally, a great big fat character spoiler that shouldn't upset people more than make them excited: Shadow is in here, and he's not using a hoverboard - he's using his skates. How cool is that!? It's worth the price alone!
Sonic Riders has a very steep learning curve, and despite having on-screen pointers for everything you need to do at a certain section on a track, it's still dizzyingly difficult to get into if you aren't backed up by relentless Sonic love.
It retains some trademark 3D Sonic twitchyness but ditching the pseudo-free roaming nature of SA makes the camera and level design more reliable. Once you get to grips with everything there's a genuinely enjoyable, gorgeous and smooth game here, and it's the best time you'll have with Sonic in three dimensions since Sonic Adventure 1.
6 / 10