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Sonic Speed Review: Sonic Free Riders (X360)

December 2, 2010

Sonic Riders: a cool idea that somehow never really kicked off the starting line, or, zapping electric beam, as the series insufferably prefers. Stick Sonic, the fastest thing alive, and friends, on boards that hover and make them race around courses really fast, a little like the lovechild of a Tony Hawk game and your pick of any of the bottom-line generic hoon promotion racing games on the market. Now chuck Kinect onto the see-saw – and ‘chuck’ is the appropriate word, because it implies disregard and carelessness, and it’s how the developers have approached modifying this already simple yet constantly questioned formula onto the Kinect.

Where did Free Riders go so wrong? Everything that could be entertaining about its formula coupled with the novel abilities of the Kinect turns out stunted and on the wrong side of infuriating. Right from the tutorial, controls range eclectically from stiff and disobedient all the way to loose and over-enthusiastic. And just to make you lose more hair, it is the very first problem you run into that does this game in and sentences it to the bargain bin once we’ve all gotten over the excitement of our new controllerless toy. That problem is steering. To move Sonic and friends on their hoverboards or whatever they’re called, (‘Extreme Gear’, my memory reminds me, but that’s background knowledge from previous installments, I don’t think I caught much detail in between wincing in pain) you stand side-on to your Kinect, like you would if you stood on a skateboard, and lean forwards or back to turn, and into the Kinect to speed up. That sounds awesome, a simulation of what riding a real air-board would be akin to, but the game ignores any concept of accuracy and barges on through the course despite your flailings back and forth. A small lean forwards could inch you to the left, while a similiar lean backwards could send you rocketing into the wall (literally as well as figuratively).  The problem I found mostly was that the steering was just far too unresponsive and horribly erroneous – especially when leaning backwards. I’m no acrobat, I go, my body doesn’t lean  that way – no, that’s okay, there’s that ‘switch’ thing I accidentally did when I fell over, I’ll just turn around and switch my backwards lean to a forwards lean. Forget about it, the lag guarantees that by the time you’ve switched you’ll have missed the racing line by a mile. Jumping and completing mid-air tricks can be fun, but your movements need to be wildly exaggerated just to be recognised, including the boosting crouch that should precede the leap.

What you end up with normally is last place and a very sore lower back. Though the racing missions themselves, where you flail it out with other CPU’s, are relatively easy (suspiciously as if the game is well aware of its faults and trying to make amends for this), but the bottomless horrors are seen at their worst during missions where you need to collect rings within a certain time-limit, which happens to be mission number 2 – the point where I pretty much lost faith. You’re supposed to be able to reach out a hand to grab these rings as you rocket past them, but I’ll eat my hat if I ever saw my character actually do as it was told. At the beginning of each mission the game lines you up with a digital hover-board, getting you to stand in the correct position – but I’m sure this is just to lull you into a false sense of security because no good seems to have come from this quick, sketchy calibration.

Sadly, the game looks about as poor as it plays. Courses are blocky and unimaginative, and apart from a few shiny cutscenes there is virtually nothing to catch your eye. The extensive plots previous installments enjoyed have been hacked down to a linear two-step that could have been written on the morning train. This is only a sucker punch for fans of the series that may have been looking forward to seeing a proper return of characters that have been pushed to the peripherals for a little while, such as Shadow and Rouge or Vector and Cream. What might have been an attampt at redemption is the fact that all characters are given full voice-over, though this only highlights the cornball and frankly pathetic script – I know racing games aren’t exactly meant to be deep with character and the Kinect is aimed at a casual audience anyway, but that doesn’t give it an excuse to make my ears want to run off my head.


This is the height of selection and omission. Select the image, omit the fact that the player smashes into a wall two seconds after it was taken.

So that’s no fun, no fan service and very little lasting appeal. There’s no spirit here, nothing that makes you want to walk away still thinking about it. If you really don’t like somebody you can invite them over for a game of multiplayer, which is where we’re all really expecting Kinect to shine. But multiplayer or single you’re still going to run into those same issues with the wonky, lagging controls that even extend to your control over the menu. It’s designed in a sort of wheel,and you use your hand to move the wheel clockwise or anti-clockwise, but you might as well be playing window-washer for all the fuss that comes of it.

Part of me, the part furthest from the throbbing vertebrae in my lower back, does not know whether to blame the game or to blame Kinect. Should our new toy be on trial as much as Free Riders? I’m sure that if the controls and dynamics could be eased onto something with a toggle we would have a much more solid game. I’ll admit my experience with Kinect is at a grand total of two game, including this one, but that second game brought out much more entertainment than this did. That one had personality, and it felt like a Kinect game, utilising every novel aspect the Kinect offers and parading it proudly. So, bottom line, don’t lose faith in Kinect, it’s early days, but don’t let Sonic Free Riders anywhere near it, or your fragile physical health.

One Comment leave one →
  1. maxcady128 permalink
    December 2, 2010 1:14 pm

    I see we’re your coming from, Sega should’ve known from the start that standing in that semi-squat position during gameplay would be impractical in the long run.

    The ads made it look cool and all, but you’d have to have some serious yoga classes to make it work.

    Hope your lower back recovers after that beating. So rest easy.

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