Sonic Riders finds the iconic hedgehog taking a breather from his platform exploits and engaging in high-speed air board races with 16 of his beastly buddies. Dr. Eggman plays host to an intergalactic tournament spanning 14 tracks, from the industrial Metal City to the tropical Splash Canyon, each filled with ramps, rails, tunnels, alternate routes, and plenty of gold rings. Sonic and close friends Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, and Cream the Rabbit must defeat Eggman's dream team of riders, known collectively as the Babylon Rogues. Characters are individually rated in speed, power, and flight, while over 30 types of ability-enhancing equipment are available to further customize riders.
As in traditional skateboard and snowboard titles, players can perform a number of grabs, spins, and other tricks, but the air boards have the added ability to create turbulence, which players can strategically use to draft behind their rivals. Another feature of the game is an air meter, which is filled by performing tricks and unleashing massive jumps. Players can use the stockpiled air at any time during the competition for more precise cornering, a speed boost, or to create a tornado to temporarily stun pursuing rivals. Up to four speed demons can compete in racing, battle, and tag modes, with the latter supporting cooperative play.
The PC version of Sonic Riders is finally here. The game's got a quite a few modes of play, a few of which support up to two people. There's a story mode, though there isn't much of a story. Its vaguely comprehensible plot points involve Eggman setting up an air-board tournament for Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and his various cartoonish enemies. The winner gets a bunch of Chaos Emeralds, which unlocks long lost Babylon. Since he's a super villain, it makes sense that Eggman eventually steals all the Chaos Emeralds after the story mode's fifth race, prompting a sixth race amongst Babylon's ruins. In addition to the story for Sonic and friends, there's a separate one for his enemies, though the tracks are quite similar. There's also Free Race, Time Attack, and World Grand Prix modes, a Tag mode, and Race and Battle stage variations of a Survival mode.
The air-boards Sonic and his buddies glide around on control poorly, bouncing awkwardly off walls and turning at strange angles. Trying to properly maintain a line through bonus hoops is frustrating because the jumping is so inexact, and the trick system is regrettably shallow. Getting better equipment and using different character types can make the races easier to manage, but they're never close to precise. There are sequences where you'll be put on an automatic rail and be instructed to wiggle the control stick or alternate between key presses to boost turbo (called air). While getting turbo lets you knock over opponents, boost speed, and slide turn, it's kind of pointless to play a racing game if you're frequently removed from controlling the character. Given how short the tracks are to begin with, you'll spend a surprising amount of time watching your character glide around on a rail. This is helped by the wind wake created by boarders in front of you. If you fall behind you can hop into one and glide automatically along behind whoever's in front of you. You tend to go faster in these wind tunnels since you'll move along a more precise line, so it's always worth jumping in if you happen to see one. That's yet more time you spend on auto-pilot. Your statistics can be boosted within every race by collecting rings, but it's not going to help all that much in your battle against the controls.
If you're planning on downloading this game, you'll want to use a peripheral controller. We hooked up two Xbox 360 wired controllers and went through some two player offline matches. In addition to the framerate being frustratingly inconsistent on the ATI card, obstacles and objects are even stripped out of multiplayer races in an attempt, we're assuming, to make things run more smoothly. Well, they don't, and playing in a level without rails or obstacles makes racing through even more likely to cause a spiked controller or snapped keyboard. There's a Battle mode that tries to mimic Mario Kart's arena battles, but the sloppy controls make it about as entertaining as watching your mom get punched in the face.
Characters can be unlocked and better gear purchased at a shop, but who really cares? The limited selection of tracks in the game aren't particularly well designed, have very few rails to make things interesting, and are generally boring to look at. The character models aren't very detailed and boast a limited number of animations. You'll hear a few generic, pounding techno tracks while playing, and the voice acting is so bad it's laughable, even with its intended cartoony slant.
People who downloaded Sonic Riders have also downloaded:
Sonic Heroes, Sonic R, Sonic Adventure DX (Director's Cut), Sonic Mega Collection Plus, Sonic CD, Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island (a.k.a. Sonic 3D Blast), Sonic & Knuckles Collection, Need for Speed Underground 2
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