April 15, 2006

Review: Sonic Riders (PS2)

For fifteen years, Sonic the Hedgehog has been a little blue blur on millions of televisions worldwide. Being blessed with supernatural speed, Sega’s mascot should be perfectly suited for a racing game. Certainly more so than an overweight Italian plumber with a history of mushroom abuse. After the rightfully ignored Sonic R for Sega Saturn, everyone’s favorite hedgehog is racing again in Sonic Riders. While it may be a smart business move, what we get is a mess of a game, overcomplicated to the point that it fails to be enjoyable.

Sonic Riders finds our hero riding Extreme Gear (a.k.a. a hoverboard) to once again thwart Eggman and his nefarious plans. The storyline is almost nonsensical, dealing with Chaos Emeralds and the Babylon Rogues. Worry not; there won’t be a test on it. In fact, the story serves only to connect the races, of which there are only six in the initial adventure. A second story mode is unlocked upon completion of the first, assuming you can get that far.

Where Sonic Riders fails is in the racing, which is what the entire game revolves around. Controlling your character is an exercise in futility, in which you never feel like you have any say in the outcome. Pushing forward on the analog stick may move you forward, but there’s so much more to deal with during the race. You’ll have to pick up rings, fill up an air meter, do tricks, fight your opponents, ride turbulence, and still try to finish in first. It’s a disaster.

Mascot racers benefit from being simplistic; the Mario Kart series is easy to play, but tough to master. Sonic Riders, on the other hand, is difficult from the start, making this a tough purchase for the target market: children and mainstream gamers. That isn’t to say that it was a poor idea; in fact, there are some potentially strong components to Sonic Riders. The idea of riding the “turbulence” of your opponents has serious potential, and the ability to buy new Gears with your collected rings gives the game added replay value.

The game has the requisite split-screen multiplayer mode, as well as an unlockable mission mode. An online mode would have benefited the game, though not enough to warrant a purchase. Hidden characters will compel hardcore fans to keep playing, but most will be turned off by the difficult and unrewarding gameplay. With a price tag of $40, I cannot recommend this game to anyone. Even if the core mechanics were solid, there is not enough content to satisfy.

At fifteen, Sonic finds himself in the midst of a crisis. Since entering the era of 3D gaming, he has only starred in one great title (Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast), while Nintendo continues to successfully crank out Mario titles year after year. Sonic Riders doesn’t improve his situation one bit, leaving fans with little hope that their favorite speedy mammal will one day make a comeback.

Grade: D

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