Sonic Riders @ 28 March 2007 12:45 AM
There was a time when Sonic was the very epitome of cool, not only in looks, but his games too. His fast-paced adventures were a world away from Marioís more measured and unhurried platform antics. He became a gaming icon loved by fashion-conscious gamers around the globe, and despised by other game characters who would have killed to be as cool as he was. Fast forward to the present and Sonicís Ďcoolí factor is something akin to your Dad having his nose pierced and walking around in Bench and Ecko gear calling everything Ďwickidí, in short, Sonic is a laughing stock.

Maybe it was the move to 3D that made him suffer; after all, his speedy action was likely to cause more problems than Marioís thoughtful approach. His earlier 3D outings suffered from terrible cameras that couldnít keep up with him when at top-speed and level design that seemed intent on stopping him dead at every opportunity. These were followed by progressively poorer releases and finally we get Segaís latest Sonic spin off release Sonic Riders.

On paper it easy to assume that Sega are making headway by shoe-horning Sonic into a genre more suitable for his main attributes, fast speed and jumping, that of a board racer. Secondly, the early screenshots looked very similar to Amusement Visionís F-Zero GX on the cube, which led many to believe that Sonic was in the very capable hands of Toshihiro Nagoshi. Unfortunately, such hopes were misplaced as what weíre left with is a complete mess.

Worryingly, Sega just donít seem to care about their most popular mascot anymore, judging by this title. Yet again, Sonic has been joined by more cringingly bad, Ďcoolí friends that have less personality than a Tory MP and heís been forced to appear in a game that is so fundamentally flawed itís amazing to think Sega actually have a QA team. So many elements are just so broken the game is virtually unplayable.

Once you get into the main game, via a woeful story (which I can forgive seeing as itís just a racing game) involving a racing tournament organised by Dr Eggman, you choose your character and prepare to let fly on hoverboard, rocket boots or whatever they use to get around, just be prepared to bounce along the sides and get utterly confused on your first lap. Actually, make that your first set of races; if Sonic Riders had 360 style achievements the first would undoubtedly have to be Ďcomplete a race without chucking your controller to the floor in frustrationí.

Every individual element is flawed and combined will lead to absolute irritation and possible ill-health. The camera is terrible and just canít keep up as Sonic (or whichever dead beat youíve chosen to race as) as heís flung across the track, over zip lines and flung into the air by trampolines. The trick system has poor controls and is let down by the fact that you canít actually see your character as the camera is busy looking at the sky rather than you. This in turn makes landing from your tricks nearly impossible in some parts of the tracks, not that you can expect to stay on the track much as the controls and steering are equally dreadful.

Sega have crammed far too many elements in, without refining a single one. The ring collection is similar to the original MarioKart, where you get faster and gain bigger air as you collect more, keeping hold of them is another matter as you lose them all if you crash land or come off the track, both of which are sadly inevitable. The Turbulence is a nice idea, as you get behind another racer you can ride their wake effectively an extra boost, but again is poorly implemented meaning you either propel straight to first with little effort or if there are corners involved, get stuck in the scenery and lose badly.

Technically too, this title is seriously lacking, with poor trackside detail (if you get the chance to see it) and character models. Add to that some horrendous slow down and pop-up and a soundtrack taken straight from a high school studentís Hip hop mix tape and you are left with very little to recommend this for.

This game was released to celebrate Sonicís 15th anniversary but merely serves to highlight his awkward adolescence years. Maybe Sega will one day give him a home console title to be proud of but they are never likely to do that until they strip away all the unnecessary extraneous elements and bring him back to basics.

Sonic is crying out for a great game to star in, and deserves the kind of rebirth recently seen last year by Lara Croft. The question is, if Segaís insistent on promoting coolness over gameplay persists, will his appeal last long enough for such a resurrection?
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