SEGA has made no bones about this being a ?Sonic version of Mario Kart?. Of course, the similarities between Sonic Riders and the AAA Nintendo series are clearly evident, but we all know it boils down to something more than that. Sonic and Mario were bitter rivals back in the day, when the grass was greener and Take That were top of the charts? perhaps it was a good thing then that us lads of the era had this mascot battle happening to take our minds off of the pathetic Top 40 of the 1990?s. Although you can?t really put a foot wrong with Scatman John.
But back to the point. These days, with Sonic going all multiplatform on us, and the direction of the series in general, many die-hard blue blur devotees have placed their bets on whether the Sonic Team have completely lost their marbles. Not only has the rivalry ended, but also recent headlining Sonic titles have admittedly lost the flair and charisma that the old Mega Drive classics had. Or even, to a lesser extent, Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.
So it?s good to see Sonic have a go at a racing game, a genre that suits the nippy bugger perfectly. The plushie-collecting among you will no doubt agree that this isn?t the first racer featuring SEGA?s figurehead ? the 32-bit Saturn was home to Sonic R, a game that, despite it?s clunky and bizarre controls, was a damn enjoyable ride. Until you completed it in an hour and a half, that is (we?re not kidding).
Sonic Riders is not that easy. Or simple. Rather than a standard vehicle, you race on hoverboards that levitate in the air, in yet another homage to the great film of our time, Back to the Future II. The graphics are standard fare, but as far as Sonic games go, they?re much better than past efforts, and the music is very upbeat, with sound effects usually bopping and bouncing in time to the main BGM.
About the best thing about the presentation is the atmosphere and design of the game itself. Sonic is officially hip again; with the whole story gearing around his rivalry with new characters Jet, Wave and Storm. Collectively these new faces are known as the Babylon Rogues and they?re teaming up with Eggman to race in the EX World Grand Prix - their run-in with Sonic at the start of the Story Mode makes for some of the best FMV sequences we?ve seen in a long time.
While Sonic Riders puts Sonic at the pinnacle of coolness once again (where he rightly belongs), the game doesn?t overdo it in a Shadow the Hedgehog emo-angst ?let?s blow stuff up? kind of way. The comedic nature of the series returns with bizarre attacks, light-hearted story (Dr. Eggman with Classic British Racing scarf flapping in the wind!) and decent track design.
Sonic R on the Saturn treated us to courses with multiple routes, and although Sonic Riders doesn?t quite take it that far, the levels have various shortcuts and alleyways that can be taken depending on what character you are. Every racer has a ?Speed?, ?Fly? or ?Power? skill type, meaning certain routes will be open to these specific characters.
As you begin racing however, you notice just how hard this game is for the first time player. It will take an hour or so of play just to get figure out how to work the controls properly, although if you don?t really care about winning you can still have a laugh. The basic premise is a little like Kirby?s Air Ride, in that there is no accelerate button.
You race at a constant speed based on your momentum, and your fuel for your levitating vehicles (also known as ?Extreme Gear?) is air. Air goes down at a constant rate, and you can replenish this by performing tricks, hitting designated Pit Stops and finding item boxes with air inside. If you run out, you end up running on foot until you find an opportunity to get some back.