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GameCube Review: Sonic Riders

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I can’t remember the last time — if ever — a game made me groan out loud while playing it, not from frustration of losing or anything like that, but from how the design, presentation, and moreover, the script assaulted and demolished good taste and ingenuity right before my eyes. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how many better games this one could have half-emulated and had soaring results by comparison.

Let’s boot up and see where this travesty takes us, shall we? The main menu offers three choices that could just have easily been put into the next menu: Start Game, Extra, and Options. The next menu allows you to start a normal race (free run or time trial), story mode, tag mode, survival mode, and an area to shop for new “Extreme Gear.” Still nothing too terrible.

Normal race is probably where you want to go first. Here you can try out the five (yes, five) available courses, ranging from a cliché metropolis setting to a cliché jungle setting to a cliché inferno setting. Getting the idea here? Nothing novel, and the track list is dismally short.

You can pick up rings in any race in any mode and they all count toward your total purse for shopping, which is nice. At least you’re not tied to having to complete the story mode just to buy a few new gizmos. However, rather than buying upgrades for the stats of one board, you buy an assortment of individual boards that each have their own unique improvement, but can’t be used jointly. Thus, you can get a boost in one category per race rather than improve a rider’s overall stats like in SSX.

However, if you do make the mistake of entering story mode and have an education anywhere beyond the first grade — and any experience with prior Sonic games — prepare to scratch your head. A Chaos Emerald is required to enter each race, but you never earn one starting out. Guess it was just in your pocket the whole time. Next, the story takes dives into idiocy with writing like, “This isn’t just any race, but a race to see who’s the fastest.” What other kinds of races are there? Isn’t the very definition of racing to see who can get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time?

Beyond that, get beaten over the head with nonsense about the Babylonians (never before mentioned in a Sonic game that I know of, yet treated as common lore) being a civilization of thieves living on an island in the sky who specialized in — of all things — extreme sports. Yeah, that makes sense. Like I said, if you’re older than about age five, turn off the subtitles, mute the volume, and just admire the nice character models in the cut scenes. And do make a point of enjoying said CGI, because the rest of the game looks almost on par with Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. Maybe worse.

Now you’re actually up and racing. You can try to aim for the turbulence half-pipes or speed pads on the ground or the jumps you’ll never truly be able to time properly, but you mostly careen from one wall to the next with little to no control over what your character is doing. My race position would jostle up and down constantly and I never saw anyone passing me or being passed.

Don’t forget that running out of air (fuel) leaves you running the race on foot, which is where these characters are known to be fastest anyway, but not here. I just don’t get it. The only ways to get more air are to make a pit stop (which guarantees last place), doing tricks at pre-assigned spots on the track (forget the jump button or any trick improvisation), or keeping an eye out for on-screen indicators letting you know when to spin the analog stick like a maniac to get some boost. It’s tedious and stupidly implemented. It’s like having to earn gravity and snow in a snowboarding game.

What’s more, there’s a supposed combat element here, but I never managed to hit anyone. They might have been better off using a Wipeout or Mario Kart-style combat system where you pick up and fire projectile weapons. It would certainly have worked better than this uncontrollable mess.

Everything’s blurring past and you have no real say in what’s going on. In that sense, the game sort of plays itself. There are four-player modes, but that does more to multiply the agony than it does to extract any semblance of fun. Sega could have let EA release the game and call it SSX: Sucky.

First we had Shadow the Hedgehog in his jeep/humvee, and now we’ve put Sonic on a hover board. Does it strike anyone else as stupid to put characters known for their superior pedestrian speed into vehicles that will only slow them down? Exporting Lara Croft to Crystal Dynamics seems to have done nothing but great things for the Tomb Raider franchise. Maybe Sega should consider doing the same thing with Sonic and Co. They’ve clearly demonstrated that they either don’t know how to make a decent Sonic game anymore, or that they just don’t care.

Sonic Riders is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief and Mild Cartoon Violence. This game can be found on: GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.

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About Mark Buckingham