Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Racing Platform OTHER Release 21st Feburary 2006
- A little while ago, I commented about how Sonic Adventure was the first "real" 3D Sonic game to be released. However, it wasn't the first 3D Sonic game. On the SEGA Megadrive, British game studio Traveller's Tales
was responsible for one of the worst Sonic games in the 90's. It wasn't a terrible game
, not by today's standards anyway. It was just different and hardly anything you would call "Sonic" by any means. I am -- Of course -- talking about Sonic 3D: Flickies Island
. However, this wasn't technically
a 3D title, just another 2D game masquerading as 3D using some clever isometric view-point-trickery. No, the first truly 3D Sonic title was developed by Traveller's Tales; Sonic R
for the SEGA Saturn and eventually for the PC as well. Sonic R was a small-scale racing game which basically used Sonic characters instead of race cars... Not that it made much of a difference, since all the Sonic characters controlled like cars anyway.
Pretty much what I looked like when playing the game. Perhaps a bit more constipated.
Fast-forward 9 years and we meet the 'new' Sonic R: Sonic Riders. A game about Sonic the Hedgehog... The fastest creature
known to whatever world they're on
, riding a hoverboard. Not that this isn't the first, nor the last time Sonic decides to use vehicles to race, rather than just run like usual, mind you. Sonic Riders, though, is at least a passable attempt at a "Mario Kart" competitor. Now I've done it, I've now got to do another tangent
to explain this. Briefly; at this time Nintendo was milking the Mario franchise near to breaking, creating a bunch of sports games baring the Mario moniker, games such as Mario Power Tennis
, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour
and Super Mario Strikers
. SEGA saw this as an exemplary business model and immediately started making Sonic games which just used the brand, rather than the gameplay of the series. It was quite a short-lived affair as Nintendo made wheelbarrows full of money, SEGA just didn't.
Wait, when exactly did Sonic get into the future anyway? Aw, forget it.
Sonic Riders starts off with Sonic, Knuckles and Tails in Future City
(yes, Future City. Oh, it gets worse.) when suddenly a window on some
building explodes forth and from the raining glass appear three anthropomorphic-bird characters on hoverboards. Sonic jumps in-front of the fleeing avians hoping that his minuscule stature would somehow block a 4-lane wide future highway
-- may I just remind you these people have hoverboards
which can just fly over him -- Knuckles gets the right idea and delivers an uppercut straight to the jaw... Beak
of one of the fleeing scoundrels, making him drop his board but still manages to escape by clinging onto another of the bandits. Sonic then makes himself more useful by chasing after the mysterious figures... By picking up the dropped hoverboard and chasing after them on their terms. Now, I don't know about you, but if you're able to run faster than the maximum speed of the hoverboard
... I would run after the hoverboard. So, predictably, Sonic gets his non-existent buttocks handed to him to wear as a head garment and the baddies get away. This then sets up a pretty stupid storyline in which they try and track down these three thieves, who it transpired stole a Chaos Emerald when they were fleeing Sonic & Co. the other night.
Well, that's reasonable. What's the world's biggest evil scientist going to do with an all-powerful energy source?
Meanwhile, Dr.Eggman has got a brilliant idea how to get his hands on the seven Chaos Emeralds; get the heroes to stupidly round them up for him. Eggman has put together a new sporting event; the "EX World Grand Prix", EX short for EXtremely Stupid, one would imagine. It's conveniently a hoverboard racing competition which, in order to enter, competitors need to pay a deposit of one Chaos Emerald
. Sonic is rightfully disinterested until it turns out the thieves from the other night are already competing. Turns out -- get this -- Dr.Eggman is working with the thieves to bring back the lost [floating] city of Babylon
as Eggman wants the legendary Ancient Babylonian Treasure which resides within the city. The new bird characters; Jet (the leader), Storm (the fat one) and Wave (the female) are Babylonian descendants and... Uh... Not quite sure what they wanted out of the deal, really. Anyway, rather predictably, 7 Chaos Emeralds somehow magically appear for the odd number of racers who actually participate in the event and upon reviving Babylon to the skies... Eggman reveals he is double-crossing the Babylon Rouges (the birds) and makes off towards the floating island of Babylon to steal the treasure for himself. There, they take back the key Eggman stole from the Rouges, open up the... Only building on the island and defeat the pathetic "Guardian" of the treasure inside, only to find that the treasure was in-fact, a flying carpet and a prototype "Extreme Gear"... The board they use to race with. So in the end they come away from this... No better off. Great.
The story itself isn't very good, as you may expect. It's simplistic and extremely short. The game is, after-all, a racing game and thus the majority of your game-time will most likely be doing simple races or multiplayer games with friends. So, I can't really rip the game apart on story this time. They could have just as easily have Sonic R'd it and just had a bunch of them racing around a circuit for no real reason. Perhaps this is just a sad reflection on how cookie-cutter racing games are when Sonic Riders actually has a "decent" racing game storyline. And it sucks. Badly. So perhaps all that effort went into gameplay this time around, right? Well...
Needs more blur. Don't you think?
Let's get this straight right now. There's one major flaw to Sonic Riders. The controls. Perhaps I was just disadvantaged since the only copy I could find of this game cheaply enough and readily available enough was the PC version of the game. Which, by the way, handily came on DVD with a 1.78GB installer, which took... And I'm not joking, 5 minutes
to install, then I had all sorts of problems just trying to get the game running. I had to find a rather shady no-cd patch
which resolved the problems that the game kept telling me to run the game from the "launcher", despite the fact... I was running it from the installer
. Anyway, technical problems aside, the controls are terrible. Moving in straight lines and around shallow corners is just fine and dandy, but as soon as you get onto the more complicated tracks the whole thing starts to fall apart. Moving left or right is so rigid and stiff that if you're aiming for a narrow object on the track like a ring or an item box, you best damn make sure you prepare from the moment you see it, else you wont hit it. I guarantee you that much.
Not mentioned: Knuckles questions how the City of Babylon could float. Uh, dude? You live on a floating island.
Cornering then, is quite a problem, but then the game has this "drift" mechanic whereby either pressing left or right air-break, you can glide around corners at speed. If you do it well, you'll get a speed-boost out the other side of the drift. This works well once you understand how the drift arcs, this can take a few races, but you'll eventually work it out. If you've played any of the newer Mario Kart games up until the 150cc mark, you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly. So, you're perhaps wondering now I've mentioned Mario Kart; can you use the drift to correct or align yourself easily to compensate for the stiff steering? No is the answer to your question. You do that and you're going off-course. If may just be a tiny course-correction you want to initiate, but any press on those air-breaks when you're not in a corner and you'll go flying off in some weird, uncontrollable angle which will end you up off-course. This isn't an uncommon thing. If you've played any futuristic racing games in the past such as WipeOut or, a game which SEGA helped develop: F-Zero GX (AV, developers of F-Zero GX were formerly known as SEGA AM4 and was a subsidiary until it was absorbed back into SEGA in 2004 following the Sammy take-over of SEGA
), hitting the air-break would indeed offer that minor course-correction as well as offering an entirely horizontal movement to dodge traffic or obstacles. So why did no one thing to implement something similar here? Anyone? No? Well, you have SEGA's AM2 department, responsible for some of the best arcade racing games in-house, why don't you go ask them how to build a proper racing game sometime?
I guess you could say that start was... Shocking?
I'll get my coat...
Much like in Sonic Heroes, there are distinct racing "classes" which characters fall into; Speed, Fly and Power. There's distinct attributes for each class, such as specific abilities each class can utilise. Speed has the ability to grind on rails, Fly has the ability to jump through rings in the sky to get a small speed boost and Power can knock many course obstructions out the way, where as other players would crash into them and lose speed. The rail grinding can be a little bit tricky at times, trying to hit the mark is the hardest part, the stiff controls really hinder your ability to successfully make contact with the rail, often you'll need to jump between rails to continue down the rail path. Failing to do so can often result in some lovely off-course action. Flying can be a real struggle to control, and of course, missing a "link" ring in the air will more likely than not result in falling off the course. Power is far more advantageous as you just knock stuff over and it's far less likely of you to fall off the course however Power characters are much slower than any other type of character. Each character, from the basic 6 you can pick from at the start of the game through to the additional 8 characters you can unlock as you progress through the game's story and complete challenges; each have their own unique attributes such as their maximum speed, their trick ability and so forth. There's very little difference between characters and in theory they all balance out, perhaps for the stand-out exception of Super Sonic, who you may have already gathered is a power-house which has maximum everything
and can use all three types' special abilities. However, he is a pig to unlock.
Stale Fish? Are you implying my trick stinks, Jessy?
Regardless of character, you're given the ability to boost, instantly gaining speed and while boosting; attack other players. Sadly, there's no real control over the boost-to-attack mechanic, you press the boost button and if anyone gets in your way, you attack them, sometimes slowing yourself down to attack them. If any player is attacked, they lose speed. The boost ability can't be abused too much, though. Each player has an "air" gauge which depletes as you ride and has large chunks taken out of it when you boost. This gauge starts off small, however as you collect multiples of 20 rings you gain a "level" which increases how much air the board has and either increases how powerful or how large the range of your boost-attack will reach. Thankfully, once you attain a level, you keep it for the rest of the race, even if you lose rings. If your air gauge runs out, you're reduced to running on the course which is much slower than riding. To regain air, you'll either need to gain a level by collecting rings, find an air-refill station or perform tricks off jumps. The trick mechanic is fairly simple but difficult to master. At a jump, you must hold down on the jump button to build up jump-power, releasing it just at the right time will send your player skyward where rotating the controls will perform tricks. Depending on how well you launched at the trick-location, the faster you're able to perform tricks. The better the tricks, the better the rank when you land board-down, the more air you receive as a reward. A character's personal trick-ability also bares on how well one can perform tricks. However, landing awkwardly when performing tricks will often lead to a much worse air reward and no boost out the other side of the trick-session.
Turbulence, Trick, Rail. A convenient screenshot if I do say so myself.
One of the best ideas the game developers thought of, most likely after vast complaints about how the controls suck by play-testers, was the inclusion of the "turbulence ride". As a player steams-on ahead, they leave a slipstream which players can enter to get a speed boost (and refill their air gauge). As the lead-player turns sharp corners, you can jump off the edge of the wind to get a further speed boost. Basically, the game goes into auto-pilot for you and all you need worry about is keeping on the wind. Any sharp corners which may require the air-break are just normal turns to you as the game takes care of the rest. One problem with the slipstream is that it will always seem to end when you reach a very tight corner, just on the cusp. So when you leave the slipstream and sail into 1st place... You end up crashing into a wall where you're back at 6th place. Perhaps it was just me, but that was my experience. Slipstreams can also be extremely annoying since even when you don't want to enter one, you'll often air-break into one by accident or one will appear either dead in-front of you or where you're going to land off a trick jump. It can be most disadvantageous at times, especially when a tight corner is coming up and the slipstream remnants only last until, you guessed it, the cusp of the corner. This means you have to time to air-break around the corner and you hit the course walls or fall off the course.
The air-break cornering mechanics can also be extremely broken at times. If you're not going fast enough when you reach a corner, activating the air-break will slow you to a crawl. Even if you seem like you're going fast enough, you'll often hit the air-breaks only to find out... You weren't going fast enough. But the kicker is, regardless of how fast you are, unless you hit the air-break when turning corners, you'll fail to make the corner. So I'm not entirely sure of the thought process which went into this part of the air-break mechanics, but it's damn well annoying.
Metal City. Wait, I thought it was Future City? Oh man, all these future cities all look alike...
The game isn't a bad looking title by any means, for the time it was quite vibrant if not falling into the clichéd 'futuristic' setting at just about every turn possible. Stages can be quite interesting to look at, however their biggest achievement was to make the game look visually distinct and concise in alerting you to dangers, pitfalls and places to perform tricks. There's a few pit-falls visually, the game's cutscenes are perhaps quite lacking in terms of direction but they do the job, afterall the story is just a minor part of the game. Character animation is extremely reminiscent of Sonic Adventure 2, so it's not all
bad. It's just a shame that the game's artwork style, a sort-of smoother Sonic Battle-like art direction; simplistic with thick coloured borders relating to characters didn't at least attempt to transition into the actual gameplay itself. Just the menu artwork and an opening pre-rendered animation. Still, no complains in the visual department.
Yes, let's compete in a race to bring to justice thieves who are career criminals. Rather than just arresting them. Wait, we're not arresting them? So what was the point of all this? I hate this game.
I can't really get around this fact; the game's sound design is bland. Very bland.
The game's full of generic techno-beats, once again pining towards this ill-advised 'futuristic' vibe the game tries so hard to pull off. All it does, however, is create a passive background noise which you'll hardly pay any attention to when playing. One thing that will grind on your nerves is the female announcer voice which will constantly tell you what some player, somewhere is doing. "Sonic is losing momentum" or "Look at Tails ride the air" are the most common lines spoken in the game and it happens every minute or so. You just can't shut her up. Story cutscenes have predictably poor voice acting as usual, they also doubled up some voice talents for various characters in the game. The voice of Sonic also plays the leader of the Babylon Rouges: Jet. The voice of Rouge (the Bat) plays the voice of Wave, the female Babylon Rouge and so on. And although they attempt to hide this duplication, I'm afraid there's a very bad job done of masking it. They could have at least changed the pitch of Jet's voice to not just sound like Sonic was pretending to talk like a parrot. Either way, a very disappointing game in terms of sound.
Sonic Riders then, it's a pretty big flop. There's the makings of a fairly solid futuristic racing game in this mess somewhere, but the features weren't developed enough to make them stand out. Poor design choices in the air-break mechanic and stiff controls make the game frustrating to play and there's nothing you can get out of this game that you couldn't with far better racing games on the platforms which Sonic Riders was released for. The game's mechanics are far too complicated to appeal to children, while the game's too simplistic to appeal to more mature gamers. A game which had the best intentions, but eventually fell flat on it's face in execution. Doesn't that just sum up new Sonic games in general?