Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: February 21, 2006
As the current generation of consoles draws to a close, it appeared that Shadow the Hedgehog would be the last time Sonic would ever play host to the current crop of game machines. While Shadow was a commendable effort, it ultimately fell flat, and left fans wanting something more, and something new.
Shortly after Shadow was released, Sega decided to give us just that.
Sonic Riders is coming.
It’s not a high-speed platform game. You’re not bouncing on evil robots, or taking on traditional bosses. Heck, in Riders, Sonic isn’t even running.
However, in the end, none of this matters. Despite all these differences from current Sonic game fare, it’s still going to be this month’s must-play title. To heck with that Sonic R business--Sonic Riders is to Sonic what Mario Kart is to Mario, right down to the style, speed, and the faithfulness to its source franchise.
The game’s story centers around a new band to rival Team Sonic—the Babylon Rogues, a trio of birds out to discover the lost treasure of their own equally lost kingdom. Jet the Hawk, Wave the Swallow, and Storm the Albatross serve as direct rivals to Sonic, Tails and Knuckles respectively; from their physical prowess to even their lifestyles. The story mode reveals that Jet is carefree, Wave’s a gear-head, and Storm’s a hothead. In other words, just everyone’s a perfect match for each other. Scary, isn’t it?
These birds are all specialists with “Extreme Gears”, which are boards that hover inches above the ground, and propelled forward by jets of air. Think of the hoverboard thing that Marty McFly lifted from the year 2015, and you’re pretty much on point. Apparently, these babies are faster than the whole of the Sonic cast, and Jet in particular has no qualms with challenging Sonic’s speed overall prowess as a result.
Combine this with Eggman conveniently deciding to hold an Extreme Gear tournament with Chaos Emeralds as prizes (and which is also more than meets the eye) starring these very same birds who show Sonic up, and it’s clear to see that Sonic won’t take any of this lying down. And so it starts.
Sonic Riders is very reminiscent of racing masterpiece F-Zero GX, which is to be expected as Amusement Vision, the coders of that game, did play a hand in the game’s creation. In fact, Riders plays pretty much like a fusion of F-Zero GX and Snowboard Kids--you race around a track, collecting items and leaving your competitors in the dust, all the while doing snowboard-esque tricks that are essential to survival.
Survival, you may ask? Well, yes. Sonic Riders is all about air—every game mechanic centers around it, from speed boosts to defensive maneuvers. Extreme Gears themselves are powered by air—without it, they’ll shut down, and your character is stuck running on the track. Considering just about everyone in this game is a super-speedy mammal, it’s not that much of a speed loss, but it’s just enough to be felt, especially when you’ve got rivals on your tail. In addition to conserving air, you also have to make sure that your characters stay behind you in the pack. Those snowboard tricks I described earlier will help keep your air tank filled, and one way to make sure you stay ahead in races is to take advantage of the game’s showcase tactic.
When characters approach their top speed, they instantly leave behind trails of air, which Sonic Team has dubbed “turbulence.” Turbulence is represented by a sort of trailing half-pipe that can be ridden by the boards—once a character does so, they will automatically go faster than normal, and allow you to eventually overtake whoever created the turbulence in the first place. (Remember Mario Kart 64’s infamous “rubberband” AI? Now you can do it too!) In short, always racing hard and fast has just as many risks as it has rewards, as you never know who you may be helping out. If you’re looking to catch up, however, turbulence serves as “tracks within tracks” that you should always be looking out for. If you’re good, you can surf one streak of turbulence, pull off some tricks, and land in others, making cornering a thing of the past and rocketing past other racers in the process.
Tracks are laden with pit stops that you can use if you’re desperately low on air—you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to risk being passed while you refill your board. Fortunately, each stage is also filled with shortcuts for the three character types in the game—speed, power, and flight. Yes, the three types from Sonic Heroes make a return, as do character levels—pick up enough rings and you’ll be able to turn your racer into a powerhouse from the get-go, making them faster, stronger, and able to attack in ways they hadn’t been able to previously.
The game looks and sounds fantastic—very reminiscent of F-Zero GX, and with the speed and music to match. Mind you, it’s not quite as fast as the aforementioned game, but between the game’s difficulty, and everything that you have to do in it just to ensure a place in the top three, if it were that fast, nobody but the most hardened twitch gamers would ever be able to play it.
Lastly, I’ve got some good news for PS2 owners—no longer do you have to suffer at the hands of an underpowered game system! The PS2 version of Sonic Riders hardly ever dips under the silky-smooth 60 frames of its cousins, so you can ride in style no matter what vehicle you’re sportin’.
Sonic Riders will be here at the end of this month, and honestly, it’s one of the most significant racing games to come down the pike in recent years. Join me next week for the other half of this preview, where I talk strategy, tactics, and multiplayer!
More articles about Sonic Riders