Sonic Free Riders

There’s certainly no shortage of games for those with Kinect units this Summer - provided, of course, that you only want to play dance, sports or board riding games. The latest game from Sega, Sonic Free Riders, falls into the later category. Combining Sonic’s illustrious history with stylish ‘Back to the Future’ hover-board goodness and full-body movement detection should go together like Tango and Cash. Unfortunately, like several other Kinect titles, the premise is compromised by some frustrating controls.

Sonic Free Riders doesn’t need a plot (after all, it’s just a bunch of colourful rodents hooning around a track) but, as the diluted and low-budget opening cinematics tell us, Dr. Eggman is once again up to his old tricks. In order to lure the ever-gallant Team Sonic into his clutches, he creates a World Grand Prix event that attracts racers from all over the globe for the ultimate title of supremacy. Our predictable heroes Sonic, Tails and Knuckles are incapable of turning down any chance to wear their flash new sneakers and of course instantly sign-up. But the real motive for Dr. Eggman (with his PhD in Ridiculous and Expensive Evil Plans) is to gather data on the competitors and improve the programming of his army of robots. Or something. I’ll be honest and say that I found the intro quite hard to follow, but mainly because they comprised of a series of still pictures with a rough voice-over trying to explain it all.

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Anyone who has played either of the two previous Sonic Riders games won’t have any trouble filling in the storyline gaps. But everyone (even veterans of the series) will need to spend time going through the comprehensive tutorials at the beginning of the game. Those attempting to plough through them and just start racing will end up with more rage inside them than Mel Gibson at a Bar Mitzvah.

The tutorials explain all of the movements you’ll need to perform in order to get our blue hero and his pals to the finish line in good time. They include the correct way to stand on the hover-board, how to turn and even how to land tricks and use special actions. With a good sense of balance and reflexes, most players will pick up the basics fairly quickly. Unfortunately though, all of this pretty much goes out the window when the proper races start.

As everyone should know, Sonic has always had a bit of an obsession with floaty gold rings and the racecourses have hundreds of them scattered everywhere for you to collect along your way. Some are located in the middle of the tracks and can be picked up simply by racing over them. But others are situated outside of the course requiring the player to hold their arms out and grab them on their way. Trying to keep your balance, watching for turns and reaching out to grab rings makes for some challenging but rewarding gameplay. But Sonic Free Riders goes further than that by adding in unique power-ups and special actions for each racer as well. Activating each one requires it’s own unique movement, such as a throwing gesture to launch a torpedo at your enemy. The ‘Soda Rocket’ action, which gives your racer a speed boost is performed by pretending to shake a can of soda until it builds up pressure. Unfortunately though, this same gesture also tends to look like something else. You can ask my neighbours just how dodgy an adult male looks trying to balance on a virtual plank with one hand vigorously pumping up and down around his crotch area.

Awkward gestures aside though, Sonic Free Riders isn’t just about looking daft on hover-boards. The game also features bikes as well, which change the motion control setup and help to keep the gameplay fresh. Here you semi-squat with your arms out in front as if you were actually riding a motorbike. Leaning to the left or right determines your steering and, with the sense of speed that Sonic Free Riders manages to produce, results in a decent and adrenaline-filled racing experience. However unless you’re a full-time waiter, most people will start to feel the burn on their arms from having them stretched out in front of you for extended periods of time. Actually if you used a couple of barbells and a sack of potatoes strapped to your back you could probably get a pretty good work-out from Sonic Free Riders. Or a serious hernia.

As many Kinect users are discovering at alarming speeds, the motion controls are still causing some issues. It has been interesting reviewing Kinect titles as the controls always prompt the question over the ‘ideal conditions’ needed for a ‘full experience’. With traditional controllers, you could easily fault a game’s responsiveness or button layout. With Kinect you need a lounge the size of a tennis court, perfect lighting and the right camera / body height to get everything in sync. Whether anyone has all of those variables is another question but I fell foul of control bugs in Sonic Free Riders. And when speeding around at a zillion miles an hour, those small little glitches usually resulted in slamming into concrete walls at random, failing to execute a jump correctly or prematurely letting off my soda all over the place (it only happened once, I swear). They weren’t enough to ruin the gameplay completely but happened enough times to notice.

Despite this, Sonic Free Riders is still one of the better Kinect racing titles on the market. Regardless of the flimsy premise, the game packs in a large amount of variation to the experience. Players will find plenty of upgrades to keep their riders interesting and the tracks are well designed for intense, nail-biting dashes to the finish. On top of the campaign Grand Prix mode, there is also other offline gameplay including Free Race and Time Attack for quick matches. The multiplayer even adds in Tag Race (where you can partner up with a friend), Relay Race (which is similar but allows for up to 4 players to swap in and out like a relay) and then plenty of competitive racing modes for online action too.

Sonic Free Riders might look like just another board racing Kinect game, but it’s a league above others like CrossBoard 7 in terms of depth and replayability. The graphics are also worth a mention, bringing all of Sonic’s vibrant colour and necessary frame-rates to life in stunning detail. It’s not going to define the Kinect experience by any means, but it’s a game to look out for when the sales start up if you enjoyed the previous Sonic Riders.

"Frustrating but still some fun to be had"
- Sonic Free Riders
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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Comments Comments (2)

Posted by indion
On Wednesday 19 Jan 2011 11:34 AM
Good review, yeah if you can per-serve with a bit of frustration. It's actually worth playing this game. Solid 6+ plus for me
Posted by D4nzy
On Wednesday 19 Jan 2011 3:47 PM
I'm not gunna lie i found this game pretty terrible..