Sonic Riders: Zero GravitydislikePEGI3 Developer SEGA Publisher SEGA Genre Racing Platform Nintendo Wii Release 22nd February 2008
Over-Reaction Command - Let's be honest in saying that Sonic Riders wasn't exactly the epitome of hoverboard, futuristic racing simulation... If you want to even go so far as to call it "futuristic", let alone any other part of that description. It was a game with broken controls, an awful plot which seemed to drag it's heels and a difficulty curve which resembled a straight line from "rage-inducing" to "this is just damn well near impossible" in about 2 races. It didn't help that the controls in the game were never fully explained, nothing about the title seemed polished or even finished and that the only real thing going for the title was course design, but even then the awful controls in the game just kept getting in the way of all the fun. So when I heard that they were releasing a sequel to Sonic Riders, I dug my head deep into the palm of my hands and hoped that it was all a bad dream.

Sonic observes the ancient art of balancing... Sadly the game doesn't use this art at all.
It wasn't. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity was soon released for the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 2, this review covers the Nintendo Wii version of the game, so I'm not entirely sure how the Playstation 2 version fares in relation, but whatever. In a break from tradition, I'm going to not start this review by explaining the story of the game, as right off the bat this game started to infuriate me. When you load up the game for the first time, the game asks you to select a file which you want to use to save your game data, pretty standard, right? Well, I just blindly hit "A" on the Wii remote and it asked me to input a name. Now, naturally, you'd think that you would use the on-screen keyboard by pointing at the screen like many other Wii titles, correct? Wrong. I pointed at the screen, nothing. So I realised I had to use the D-Pad, which in-itself doesn't inspire confidence about the quality of the game. But then I noticed something funny, pressing down on the D-Pad made the cursor move left... Pressing left made the cursor move up... It then dawned on me that what the game was actually doing, was interpreting the controls as if I was holding the Wii Remote sideways. What the hell, there was no notice, no on-screen hint or even a little icon indicating that I should hold the damn Wii remote sideways. Well, that's a lie, actually. Since it does tell you that you should hold the Wii Remote sideways... After you've progressed past the name input screen. Did anyone playtest this game? First thing on my damn feedback sheet would be "Doesn't tell player how to hold Wii Remote." I mean, it's not game-breaking, but there's a reason why Nintendo's first-party titles inform you how to hold the damn Wii Remote when the game starts up, because from the Wii Menu, you're holding the Wii Remote like you would a TV remote as you had to point at the screen, not holding it sideways. So that put me in a bad mood, great start.

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity starts out with Sonic, Tails and Knuckles all cruising along in their futuristic hover car in a futuristic transparent full-pipe, probably listening to futuristic indie music while thinking how futuristically pretentious this whole situation is. Tails is talking about a strange meteorite which fell in a CGI clip just before this CGI clip, in which a meteorite entered the Earth... Wait, is it Earth? Well, the Planet's atmosphere, this meteorite turned out to be a strange bracelet-like object which upon tapping the foot of a strange, futuristic robot, caused all other robots to go completely mad. Back to the cutscene I was mentioning before and the said robots are now attacking Sonic and co, trying to take the bracelet off him. Upon losing the robots in the futuristic hover car elevator, which didn't work as these robots were intelligent enough to assume that eventually the doors of the elevator would open again somewhere down the pipe and they can fly. Things get a little ugly as Tails tries to run over the robots to no avail and they eventually cause the car to tip over, the trio thoughtfully take their futuristic hover boards out of the car before the vehicle explodes, though. You know, priorities and all that. Unfortunately, a design fault of the futuristic transparent tube road-system is quickly highlighted in this action as it appears that if your futuristic hover car breaks down in the transparent futuristic pipe-shaped highway, you're basically screwed, as there's no where to run out of the way of speeding futuristic hover cars and you're elevated several hundred feet off the ground. Sonic discovers this the hard way by plummeting while Tails and Knuckles, either of which could actually make an effort to save Sonic at this point in time, helplessly watch.

I sure hope those sharp-looking gears mince her... What? You were thinking it too.
Luckily for Sonic it turns out that the bracelet-like meteorite controls gravity and this somehow saves him from splattering over the futuristic pavement below. Are we all now aware how much Sonic is in the future yet? Trying to ditch the pursuing robots, Sonic dips into a futuristic dome-shaped botanical garden to lose the robots. They do, for a whole cutscene in which Amy, the bane of all modern Sonic games turns up with another gravity-defying bracelet. And while we're introducing characters, the Babylon Rouges, returning characters from the previous game, also turn up and, as you may have guessed, are after the gravity bracelets. As it turns out, the company who made the robots which are now rampaging; MeteorTech, is run by none-other than Dr.Eggman. Now, how exactly Dr.Eggman was able to build a massive tower in the middle of a futuristic city, head up a corporation and be able to mass produce dangerous robots at will is beyond me. At this point he should be locked up, although I'm starting to get the feeling that corruption runs deep through whereever Sonic is supposed to reside in this game. Perhaps I'm looking too deeply into a game about giant talking animals riding hoverboards... Anyway, Jet -- Leader of the Babylon Rouges and that Boomerang bird in Angry Birds -- still has this unusual grudge against Sonic and always claims to be the "fastest creature on the planet", which if you take it as a sexual innuendo can result in hilarious scenes in which Sonic tells Jet that "Girls don't like men who rush them".

Either way, the whole plot gets rather stupid at this point. Basically, the whole story is based around the Babylonians (remember, first game? No?) being aliens, these gravity bracelets are actually parts of the engine that powered the Babylon Gardens, which is actually a space ship that when its engines went critical, they had to eject the engine and hope that once the engine had cooled down, the parts would re-enter orbit so they could reconstruct the engine and continue exploring the cosmos. Sadly, the engine didn't just "cool" down and if at any point the parts of the engine were put back into the ship, it would cause a huge black hole. Since the characters in the game prevented Dr. Eggman from doing anything evil before the final boss, the story randomly throws a robot into the mix, who steals the engine parts, takes them to the ship and thus, causes a singularity which starts eating everything around it in a very expensive looking CGI scene. Ultimately, the robot who had somehow integrated itself with the ship's engine and grown exponentially in size for completely unexplained reasons in the space of a minute and a half, is taken down and the black hole just sort of stops. The game then ends with Dr.Eggman tried, convicted and executed for the crimes he's committed. The end. Well, no, actually, of course not. Instead, Sonic and Jet have a race inside the damn futuristic car-pipes and the credits roll, but not before Tails explains away all the plot holes in the story by answering the question of "who wrote the program which made the robot gather the engine part and take it back to the ship, put it in the engine and cause a black hole? Also, how come it was compatible with a robot from a completely different civilisation?" with "I don't know." Well, great. Good job we got that plot smoothed out, 'cause remember kids; there's no such things as plot holes if you make it seem like they're part of the story. It's like Independence Day all over again when they put the virus into the alien computer...

You know your game has difficulties when the generic press shots of the game have screens like this.
Controls. Now, there's some good news here... But why would you want to hear that first? The default control scheme the game lumps you with is absolutely horrendous, mostly because for some unfathomable reason, someone, somewhere decided that a racing game about dudes on hover boards should have a control scheme as if you were driving car. Yes, the game employs the use of motion controls while the Wii Remote is held sideways and you tilt the remote like you would a turn a steering wheel. There's something completely disjointed about the way the motion controls work. I mean, they work, you can play the game with the controls as they are... But perhaps not for very long. It took me until the second stage in the game to give up and see what other control schemes were on offer. Like in Sonic Riders, you start off the race by running up to the start line to get a good speed boost out the gate. Unfortunately, with the motion controls being so loose when tilting the Wii Remote nearly 180 degrees in order to walk backwards, as demonstrated by Sonic and the Secret Rings not too long ago, this can be a bit tricky to get a hang of. Another control scheme, which involves holding the Wii Remote like a remote and pointing at the screen was so damn unplayable that I managed to perfectly execute two dozen doughnuts without so much as actually doing anything. The game seems to just have a mind of it's own in this mode, that or the remote is possessed by a demon in this configuration and I need to exorcise it at the earliest possible convenience.

Of course, much like most SEGA games on the Wii, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity includes a handy Gamecube Controller mode which works a treat. Once the motion controls are removed from the situation, the game becomes immeasurably better. Although one wonders why exactly there's no "Wii and Nunchuck" option within the game. Surely if there's already a control scheme which utilises a control stick, the Nunchuck would be a viable option for a control scheme. Especially since there's 4 buttons available within easy reach on the remote and nunchuck (A, B, C, Z) and the Gamecube control scheme only uses 4 buttons... No, instead they'd rather implement a control scheme which doesn't work at all. How kind. But to be fair, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is a game far improved over it's predecessor... Well, in some ways. Things they fixed included the stiff controls... Well, I think they have. I hardly ever bumped into a wall this game, which really can't be said about Sonic Riders in any way.

Oh hey, it's Hempy Hoverboots. What are you doing here? Get out.
Changes come pretty quickly to the game, for starters there's less of a reliance on the Air Gauge... Mostly because there isn't one in the game. Instead you have a "GP" gauge, what GP stands for is vague, I take it that it's "gravity points", but who knows? Who cares? Gone along with the Air Gauge is the ability to boost freely and attack other players freely. A mechanic which was mostly broken in Sonic Riders, not that Zero Gravity is free of broken, cheap mechanics. Gone also is the game's "rubber-banding", where if you got too far into the lead, a rival will, in most cases, catch up to you somehow. Instead there's a much higher focus on item pick ups and rings, the latter are used to power up your "gear" (which has thankfully lost the "extreme" from the front of it since the last game) on-the-fly. Sonic Riders also did this in the form of "levels", whereby you would attack other players harder and dash for longer. But, it seems that the upgrade mechanic in the game wasn't thought-through properly, because in order for the upgrade mechanic to work, they needed to nerf your character's initial starting speed and abilities. What makes the upgrade mechanic really annoying is the fact that you need to micromanage the upgrades yourself. When you collect an arbitrary numbers of rings the game will prompt you to upgrade... But often you'll miss it as your attention is at the centre of the screen, not the top-left hand side where the prompt is. An audio cue informing you that there are upgrades available would have been a nice, but perhaps an even nicer mechanic would have been, much like the level system in Sonic Riders, for the game to just automatically upgrade your gear when you get the allotted rings. Basically, what happens is this; you collect the rings, forget to upgrade and then someone comes along behind you, attacks you, makes you loose all your rings and the upgrade option along with it. Annoying.

Thing that really gets me about the upgrade mechanic is the lack of abilities when you start out. In Sonic Riders, your "type" of character, a choice between "Speed", "Power" and "Fly" all had individual gimmicks which they could interact with. For instance, the Speed type could use Rails, Power could smash through weak walls and punch objects out of the way and Fly could use in-air shortcuts. And while this is still true in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, unfortunately, you need to level up twice in order to use said gimmicks. But, of course, these rules only apply to player characters. The AI is already fully powered when they start out, meaning that it's more a race to collect as many rings as possible rather than race for 1st place, as no matter how much skill you have, it's hard to beat AI which can use cheap, type-only shortcuts and have a speed advantage from the out-set, although I do think the AI is limited in speed for the first lap, usually by then you do have the "speed up" upgrade. But either way, trying to jump onto rails on the first lap and failing was extremely frustrating, especially since, once again, you're never told about these specific upgrades by the game's pathetic tutorial mode which is extremely poorly written.

Knuckles hits that low-poly robot thing with a slightly less low-poly fist. Hell yeah.
Boosting may be gone in the game, as is the ability to air-break to turn sharp corners. Instead, these two traits were mixed into one with the use of the "Gravity Drift" a mechanic which enables the player to slow down and turn sharp corners with a boost out the other end. Whether you actually get anything out of the speed boost at the other end is questionable, since while the game world seems to slow down for you... The race carries on as normal for everyone else. Which makes sense, right? I mean, it's control over gravity, not time. The Gravity Drift is an interesting mechanic to say the least, it can sometimes be very awkward to use and if you come into contact with certain walls you can be kicked out of the Gravity Drift move and stuck momentum-less against a wall, most likely knocking you down several places as a result. Other times it can do crazy stuff like throw you through floors and walls. More interestingly and explained extremely poorly in the game's tutorial is the fact that you can use the Gravity Drift move to ride on vertical walls. When you jump from a trick, press the Gravity Drift button and aim towards a vertical wall which you can ride on and you'll go zipping along. The "boost" mechanic in the game does have some incarnation of itself much like the air-break does, the easily abusable "Meteor Dive" which throws stage objects into the air, which contact with, rather than slowing you down as you may expect, actually helps you gain speed. Of course, once you start hitting these objects and getting a significant speed boost out the other end, the AI starts to struggle. Just hitting three objects per Meteor Dive is enough to get a sizeable lead against the AI and once you realise this... The game's difficulty basically flatlines.

But let's talk difficulty. The game isn't very difficult at all. Where as Sonic Riders was a extremely infuriating game which was a mix between down-right tedious and honestly difficult, Sonic Riders Zero Gravity actually ends up being only mildly annoying in difficulty. In Sonic Riders, it would take a lot of painful practice and trial-and-error to get enough skill down to clear a segment in the story mode. In Sonic Riders Zero Gravity, the most tries I had to complete any given mission was 5 attempts. Two of those were restarts instigated by myself because I got off to bad starts or got stuck on a wall. This lack of difficulty highlights a real problem with the game, the two story modes; Hero and Babylon are about 1.5 hours a piece, meaning that your average completion time on a first-run will be about 3 hours. That's catastrophically short. I can see why Sonic Riders had such a steep difficulty curve, to hide the short story mode. 3 hours isn't the extent of the game, however. After you complete a level in the story mode, missions are given for you to complete from the story level-select screen. These missions are generally one of two things, collect a certain number of rings/perform certain number of tricks or complete a race in less than some given time. Grinding through these challenges will unlock you a special gear. And, of course, there's the multiplayer aspect of the game, which may have been a good idea if there was at least some sort of online multiplayer... Alas, there is not. And good luck trying to convince friends to play this game with you over, say, F-Zero GX?

Did I say this game looks good? Well, it looks good in motion anyway...
There's also a "Survival Mode" which is basically a 1 to 4 player racing death match... With a crazy football-like game thrown in for no good reason. Did I say "crazy"? I meant "damn near impossible to play". You kick around a bomb or something which explodes after a given time, you must Gravity Drift near the ball and try and use the "boost" out the other side of the drift to guide the ball into numbered rings, doing so nets you points equal to the number shown on the ring. A simple concept undermined completely by a control scheme which doesn't easily allow you to turn around and a "shooting" mechanic which means that you can "steal" the possession of the ball when mid-air, sometimes from strange distances... While sometimes you can't interact with the ball when you're right on-top of it. Also doesn't help that the AI in this game will completely run rings around you. Survival Mode isn't really worth your time, so you're basically left down to the story and the missions to keep you occupied when playing alone and the split-screen multiplayer to make up the rest. You could replay the game half to death and buy some more gears from an in-game shop with the rings you collect during the game, but when the game's already so easy, why do you need the ultimate gears?

Visually, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is rather impressive looking... But there are a few problems. The team behind the visual effects were obviously very proud with their rain and water effects... So proud, they act like a kid who's found the preset render tools in Photoshop and have gone to town trying to throw as many as possible into an scene. Some stages are so busy that it's hard to clearly see what's going on. Other than this, everything's quite visually clear in most cases... Not quite as colourful as the original Sonic Riders, it seems like a lot more stages are darkened or just don't use as many vibrant colours as the original. Story scene choreography has been improved immensely, it's still rather hammy and doesn't look in any way natural, but it's very cartoon-like and fluid. Perhaps one of the big problems with the visuals is the lack of clarity in which you can make out some of the hexagon-shaped path markers which tells you which types of characters should take which path, it's not very clear at all, but once you learn the colour-coding, you're pretty much good to go. I should also mention that, unlike Sonic Riders, there's no clash of artistic styles as Sonic Riders seemed to suffer, everything's all CGI-like now and more relatable to the in-game visuals.

My Sonic, what big hands you have...
Audio is a tricky subject. I'll get it out the way that the voice acting and scripting are pretty bad in the game. Most story scenes are filled with pointless dialogue which serves to meet no end other than to seemingly annoy everyone watching. Music in the game can be pretty catchy, but it's rather odd to explain what's going on... See, when you go into the Gravity Drift or Meteor Dive, the music changes and you have an exciting "pinch" as you exit, releasing an up-beat part of the song in doing so. The problem is, is that eventually, you'll end up hearing that same part of the song, over and over and it gets just a little bit boring. Where as if music was left to run it's natural course and just, say, turn down the volume as you drift, then it perhaps would have been better. Not that the music in the game is much to speak of... It's mostly loops of vaguely techno-sounding music. Without the pinches the whole soundtrack might come off pretty boring... So it's kind of a loose-loose situation, really. It's either boring for just being bland or it's boring for hearing the same segment over and over, although more exciting. There are some exceptions, the music for "Security Corridor", one of the last stages in the game, is amazing. Why the rest of the soundtrack wasn't this awesome is beyond me.

Overall, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is a much improved, better-playing racing game over Sonic Riders... However it's still lacking in polish and execution. The single player is criminally short and the difficulty is pretty much non-existent. It's mediocre at best, and it's a shame, because at points in the game I really enjoyed playing it. Ignoring the mind-boggling "Survival Mode" and overlooking some dodgy AI and glitches, the game isn't so bad. But the core mechanics are betrayed by awful, but optional motion controls and an upgrade system which makes you buy into what should be default character stats. Sadly, this is as far as I go into the Sonic Riders series. There is another game in the Sonic Riders lineage; Sonic Free Riders, sadly the game is for Kinect, the Xbox 360 attachment which has a grand total of 0 compelling titles and a price tag of £99 to £130, so good luck convincing me to buy one just to rip apart a Sonic game. I have my limits, people. Go look up someone else's review of the game, it'll be overly negative anyway, so just inject some bland, unimaginative sarcasm into their words and you can pretend like I wrote it.
Awful, as usual. Although, again, it's not all that bad for a racing game. Still, if you're going to do a job, do it right.
Sadly, despite being better than Sonic Riders... Zero Gravity fails to impress, too loose and too clunky. Let's not even talk about the motion controls.
I verge on disliking the visuals, but they do come across cleanly and other than being visually busy, I can't fault them.
Soundtrack is bland, save a few tracks and the voice acting is dire. What else do I need to say?
3 Hours
3 Hours through the story, about an extra two to three hours on missions, although most are hair-rippingly insane as far as difficult goes.