This review has actually been a long time coming and I apologize for that. The reason was simply being unable to try out the VS. modes. Because of that, I’ve simply decided to make this a two-part affair. Anywho, hit the jump to learn all about the single player mode of the third (and final?) Sonic Riders title!
As one can probably tell by the game’s name and eponymous theme song, the gimmick here is all about being “free.” In this case, free of a controller, as the game is for the brand new Kinect peripheral for the 360. We’ll jump right into the controls since that’s probably the only thing most care about. The main type of gear is the Board Type, or hover boards. These are controlled by standing in a skateboard stance, and leaning your body to turn. Like previous Riders titles, characters are divided into groups based on their signature skill: Speed, Flight, or Power. This overall has little effect on the play because of the brand new Gear Part addition. Parts range from the Speed, Fly, and Power skills, to improved boosting, decreased air, better durability, and even music changes. The part that you use is dependent on your stance (which way you are facing). To switch parts, simply switch sides, and your backup part becomes active. There’s also the Bike gear, which are somewhat easier to control. You hold your hands out as if you were grabbing handlebars, and simply turn them left and right to steer. Unlike the board gear, Bikes are equipped with the Power skill by default, so you can only pick one extra part and there is no switching.
There are also various items on the track. There are the traditional extra rings, more air and various attack powerups. These include basketballs, golf clubs, bowling balls, footballs (or handeggs, for you cheeky Brits out there), soda can and random octopi. All of the sports items are used by a certain motion. You toss the football, roll the bowling balls, swing the golf club, etc. There are also other parts of the track to interact with, such as various poles that can be grabbed and will throw you into shortcuts. Jumping and ducking also play a big role in the tracks as well. Additionally, there are evasive maneuvers for being hit with items at well. For example, if your screen is suddenly filled with Octo ink, simply wipe it off. The big question is: does it all work? The answer: it depends. If you have set up your Kinect properly and have enough space to play in, it’s pretty much flawless. If you don’t take that step however, there will be various problems along the way. Space is a big factor here as well. The game needs to see your feet, so you’ll have to be standing a considerable distance away from the TV. The Power Type punching motion tends to be a bit dodgy, until you realize that you are not actually punching, but instead shooting Ki energy a la Iron Man, or Dragon Ball Z.
So what exactly is there to do in Sonic Free Riders? There are a variety of single and multi-player modes. The main single-player mode is the World Grand Prix, which combines the story and mission modes from the previous Riders titles. The story scenes take a Sonic Rivals style approach here. The characters talk over static pictures that change according to mood. A big draw for Sonic series fans is that this is the debut of a brand new voice cast. Unlike the majority of the past game casts, this one can actually act, and thus the scenes were more enjoyable to watch (though they can be skipped by a simple stopping motion). The story takes you through the four main Teams (Sonic Heroes, Babylon, Rose, and Dark ), and has a extra 5th story where it all comes to a conclusion. The game has a generous mercy in that the only three lap races are the last ones in each story. The other missions are simple ring collecting, rail grinding, air riding and other such affairs. However, these 3 lap races are where the game really shines. When you master all the skills, and have to put them together, the simple reward of 1st place can be quite satisfying.
Other modes include the Free Race mode, where you can try any of the 16 tracks (eight locales with two difficulties each) with any character you have unlocked (up to 17) and any gears that you have bought (and that one that you earn). There’s the tutorial, where you can practice all the different motions and there’s even online play. You might be better off trying to gather a few buddies to set up online matches though. I found one match, but got kicked because the race was just starting as I was getting to the lobby. If you’ve ever played or watched a couple of Sonic games, you’ll know that one thing that is consistently awesome is the music. Sonic Free Riders is no exception to this. The soundtrack is a bit of a blend of the traditional Riders series techno and the complete randomness of the first Sonic Rush game (or the Jet Set Radio series). The music is very fun just because it’s so wacky at times, yet the tracks are fitting to the courses. Audio wise, there’s also the bit about the improved voices, as well as the traditional rings, springs, and other Sonic things. Graphically, this game is no Sonic Unleashed. In fact, it’s more comparable to Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing from earlier this year. The characters have ditched the crazy oversized hands and quills for a more standard look, and each of the tracks are full of detail. It doesn’t really seem to be taking advantage of the power of the 360, and a Wii port would likely have little, if any, change in graphics.
This review seems to have ventured into the TL;DR territory, and rightfully so. Sonic Free Riders is actually chock full of modes and gimmicks to play around with for single and multiple players. Overall, Sonic Free Riders is a solid entry into the Sonic Riders series. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your feelings on the series in general. If you already have, or plan to get a Kinect, I definitely recommend this title. However be sure to take the time to set the system up properly, and make sure you have plenty of play space (6-8 ft for single player, 8-10 feet for vs) If you’re on the fence about Kinect, this title won’t really convince you to get one. If you already hated Sonic Riders, well move along, there’s nothing to see here.