Published on November 10th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey
Sonic Free Riders Review
Among all the games being released with the Kinect, I viewed Sonic Free Riders as being the most promising title. Not because I’m a Sonic fan, no, but because it was the one game being released that wasn’t being marketed as an avatar-heavy family title filled with small mini-games. Sonic Free Riders is a complete racer that dumps the old controller and allows people to live out theirBack to the Future dreams of owning their very own hoverboard. Unfortunately, not all dreams can come true.
The third title in the Sonic Riders series, Sonic Free Riders is a game that fully embraces Kinect’s controller-free philosophy and forces gamers to drop the old pad, hit the floor, and pretend like they’re skating in the living room and smoothly race for the finish line. The problem with this though is that it just doesn’t work–at least not the smoothly part. Because Kinect is often imperfect and is plagued with an obvious lag, navigating sharp turns and timing jumps turns Sonic Free Riders into a test of patience.
The game requires a player to stand as if on a board while facing the screen. To turn, one must simply lean their body into the corner at a varying angle depending on the sharpness of the turn. Jumping can be done by actually jumping in place and to speed up–or “boost”–all you need to do is take the foot furthest from the T.V. and quickly drag it from the front of the board to the rear. Skaters should be familiar with this move.
The unresponsive controls, however, make most of these actions difficult to do. Just trying to turn can become maddeningly frustrating at times. There have been moments when I was leaning only a little and my on-screen character would sharply turn and hit a wall while other times I was leaning so much I nearly fell over and the character would only lamely attempt to follow my commands. Jumping can be performed on specialized ramps and must be timed differently with the lag. Normally, a person would instinctively jump near the edge of a ramp but in SFR you will need to jump about a second or so before hitting the point you want to jump from. Otherwise you will simply miss the jump and fall down which will greatly halt your momentum.
To be fair, a lot of these problems began to fade a little once I trained myself to compensate for these shortcomings, but the problems didn’t disappear–they only became more tolerable. Even after playing for hours I still hit the walls a lot and sometimes I still couldn’t jump early enough on quite a few jumps which would often cost me my lead or even the race which, to be greatly understated, was very frustrating.
Sonic Free Riders is a pretty fast game when everything is going well. However if things are not going well and you need a jump in speed you can lean forward to start moving quickly or use your foot to boost forward and try to gain an edge against your opponents. Boosting comes at a price in the form of Air and using it will quickly start draining the Air supply meter on the right of the screen. To fill it you only need to jump at the precise moment at a special ramp. You can also perform tricks in the air in order to get bonus amount of boost to use.
Watch LaWiiG (aka Greg) play Sonic Free Riders for the first time!
The weapons in the game range from decent to mediocre and aren’t always very effective. The homing missile can be useful if you’re not in first place and there is the ink blot to blind trailing opponents for when you are. Activating weapons can be somewhat fun because you have to actually make the correct hand gesture in order to use them. To use the missile you simply need to create the motion of throwing it once it locks onto an opponent. The ink can be used by making the motion of pressing a button. Grabbing the soda can and shaking your fist will give you a soda ride and a very generous boost during a race.
One thing Sonic Free Riders has going for it is the amount of available modes to play. The Grand Prix mode is where most gamers will spend their time at first. This single player game type is basically the story mode for the game. Though story is a word I am throwing quite loosely here. From what I could gather, Robotnik has created a World Grand Prix and has challenged Sonic and his band of furry do-gooders to race and find out whom among them is the fastest. Enthralling stuff to be sure. To start the Grand Prix mode all you need to do is pick one of the available three person teams and race against an opposing computer-controlled team across different maps with varying challenges.
Some challenges are pretty straight forward for example, get first place in just one lap or collect a certain amount of rings under a set time. Others, however, can get pretty aggravating. A good example was when I had to play as Knuckles and the goal for this particular “race” was to get to the end while destroying a set amount of obstacles. To complete this task one would only have to make the motion of punching at the object before hitting it. Now, recall the mention of lag I made earlier in this review. The biggest problem I have with the Kinect is that you need to make a motion at least a second beforehand and in Sonic Free Riders where you are often moving too fast and have no time to hit the object before running into it. And no, before you ask, running into an object to destroy it doesn’t count; trust me I’ve tried (many times).
After each race a cutscene will play. The cutscenes are designed to imitate a T.V. screen featuring an irritating Chao announcer who interviews the participants and tallies their reactions on the results of the race. In a strange decision, however, the cutscenes are nothing more than static pictures of the characters with voices dubbed over them. Why it was decided that a game based on high-speed action would have such boring cutscenes is beyond me. It doesn’t help that the voice acting itself is also pretty annoying as well. Luckily, you can skip past all cutscenes just by pointing your finger at the screen.
If you don’t want to bother with the main story and just want to jump in and race, Free Play is there for you. The game doesn’t include a very large map collection with only six maps to choose from, but you can change things up with different race modes. In Free Play you can choose between a simple race against other players or computer players, or play different game modes such as Collect Rings or Damage Survival. In Collect Rings all you need to do is, well, collect rings while racing against others to the finish line. Damage Survival is for the more violent racers. To win, all you need to do is to use weapons against the other racers until their health meter is empty or until time runs out.
There are many multiplayer modes in Sonic Free Riders. If you have a friend you can either play split screen races or Tag Race where two players can race at once. The players have to actually place their palms together and perform in tandem in order to make turns and perform jumps and tricks. If holding another person’s hand an entire race sounds too uncomfortable you can also play Relay Mode which can support up to four players at once. In Relay Mode, two players alone or with two partners can race on a track until reaching the end of a lap where they will need to switch out with the other player. I found Relay Mode to be among the more enjoyable game modes and it would have been nice to play it online but unfortunately it’s offline-only.
Players can take the Free Play races and race modes online with Xbox Live. Once in the menu, players can either choose Quick Match to enter any race right way or create their own. Jumping in and finding a race is pretty simple but I would have liked to have seen more options when creating a match. Beyond choosing the number of laps and players, there really isn’t much else that can be customized. Being able to choose available weapon types or customize game modes would have been a nice addition, but unfortunately options here are a little sparse. You also can’t change much after making the match which means that if you want to change anything you will need to back out of the lobby and make a new one.
Rings are used as the form of currency can be earned by gathering them during races. The rings can then be exchanged at the Shop for new gear such as boards, hover bikes, or upgrades. Each board has its own stats and special abilities such as longer flight time, and some of them give a bonus when you complete a race a certain way. Before each race you can choose a set of two Gear Parts as bonus perks to add to your board. Gear Parts can give you the extra boost that can give you the win. There’s a part for higher max speed, better cornering, higher jumping power, and more. Additional Gear Parts can be bought at the Shop.
If Sonic Free Riders wasn’t on Kinect, it probably would have turned out to be a fairly decent game. Maybe not the quintessential Sonic racing title, but it would have been far more functional that what it is right now. The Kinect gives players a very sharp learning curve and continued hindrance of functionality that prevents the game from being as fun as it could be. Perhaps the designers will take what they have learned here to fashion a far better Sonic Riders in the future, but they are not there yet.
[xrr label=”Rating: 6.5/10″ rating=6.5/10]
+ Hoverboards, yay!
– Hoverboards — They’re attracted to walls
– Kinect lag/lack of function creates a steep learning curve…
– …which never ends
– Weapons are lame
– Only 6 tracks
– Lack of online options