Sonic Riders is the upcoming racing game from Sega starring its spiky blue mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. The game puts a different spin on the racing formulas Sega has tried with the venerable mascot. You won't find yourself steering a cart as you did in Sonic Drift or racing on foot as you did in Sonic R. This time out, Sega is putting our boy on a futuristic skate/air board that will send you riding the winds as you attempt to make it to the finish. We pinged Sega to see how this is going to work in practice and to get a look at some of the tracks in the game.
The core gameplay in Sonic Riders will revolve around flying about on your air board. The high-tech board is powered by, wait for it, air. Your board will contain an air tank, which will serve as fuel for basic propulsion as well as the various tricks you'll be able to perform. When you're moving at regular speeds, your tank will run down slowly. However, when you perform special moves, such as an air slide or an air boost, your tank will empty faster. To refuel, you'll have to pick up assorted items spread out on the track that will refill your tank to varying degrees. If none are handy, you'll be able to refuel by performing various tricks or controller inputs at specific times or by simply hitting an "air pit," which are pit-stop-style areas you can roll into when you're in a bind.
The trick system in Sonic Riders involves three mechanics: grinding, trick zones, and turbulence. Grinding is exactly what it sounds like--the ability to ride a pipe or rail--and it offers you a higher racing speed for as long as you stay on. Trick zones are areas you'll find at set points on each track in the game; they act as springboards that let you perform any of the available trick actions. The various tricks you'll be able to perform will revolve around how far you jump--determined by how long you charge the jump button--and how well you time your button presses. Turbulence is a unique take on the concept of "drafting" normally seen in car-based racers. In Sonic Riders you'll see that when opponents travel at high speeds they'll leave a trail behind them. You'll be able to hop in and surf inside the turbulence and even pass the opponent who created it if you angle yourself properly. In some cases you'll even find trick areas that will cause you to automatically perform tricks to increase your speed and fill your air tank.
As for where you'll be honing your racing skills, Sega gave us a look at some of the tracks in the game. The four tracks are Metal City, Splash Canyon, Egg Factory, and Sand Ruins. Metal City is a bustling metropolis with a car-filled freeway and massive high-rise buildings. Splash Canyon is a dizzying collection of waterfalls, waterwheels, and caves in the great outdoors. Egg Factory sends you through Dr. Eggman's robot factory, which features blast furnaces and conveyor belts to make things interesting. Finally, Sand Ruins offers mountains of shifting sand peppered with temples and tombs.
Sonic Riders is currently slated to ship early next year for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.