Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity Review

Gravity isn't the only thing this mediocre racer is missing.

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No: In Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, it still doesn't make sense that Sonic the Hedgehog would need to race upon a hoverboard. That's like Cyclops from the X-Men buying a laser gun, or Iceman a snow cone. And even though there are a couple of speedy thrills, with only a two-hour campaign, overbearing plot, and lame course design, you need this hoverboard racer about as much as Wolverine needs a new set of Ginsu knives.

The story is obviously ludicrous. After all, at the core Sonic games have always been about the battle between a talking hedgehog in sneakers and a fat, mad scientist. But Zero Gravity is ludicrous in unexpected ways. The game begins with a rampage ripped straight out of I, Robot, of which Sonic and company are caught in the middle when an ancient artifact they stumble upon turns out to be a prized possession of the robots' mother. The team investigates, and quickly crosses paths with Dr. Robotnik, who swears he has nothing to do with the calamity, to which Sonic says, "Well I guess for now we'll have to buy that Eggman isn't involved."

Bumping into things while flying makes you go faster. Figure that out.

Yes, it's that head-slappingly stupid. Even worse, when you finally discover that Eggman is involved, it's revealed that the reason he's trying to gather the artifacts and stop the robots from rampaging is so that he can...cause the robots to rampage. But wait, it gets worse. The artifacts are part of this crazy legend involving the Babylon Rogues (a rival hoverboarding team composed of--what else?--birds), and they eventually lead you to a place referred to as "The Crimson Tower," which is, of course, blue.

Not only are the plot and dialogue bad even by Sonic's standards, you have to sit through huge chunks of this garbage every time you complete a race. Ironically, the story mode itself is very short, and only takes about two hours to beat. You simply jam through a handful of courses, bang your head against whatever hard object is nearby during the cutscenes, and then, suddenly, the credits roll. After that, your only option is to race through survival, time attack, or world grand prix mode, which earns you credits to purchase "Extreme Gear."

The racing itself is all over the place. The basic Wii tilt controls are imprecise, and it's easy to find yourself ping-ponging between walls. You can and should use the D pad, although you can't disable the tilt controls. This means that if you're tilting the remote at all, you'll drift as though you were driving a car with bad suspension. As a result, the Wii version is distinctly less fun to play than the PS2 version. Still, there are a couple interesting ideas at work. If you need to make a real sharp turn, you can hold a button, which slows you down but lets you rotate freely. Once you're pointing in the direction you want to go, you release the button and burst off, as if you were fired from a slingshot. This is an interesting mechanic that is put to creative use in only one level, where you must make hairpin turns over a cliff. The only way to pull one off has you actually hanging in space, before dashing back onto the road. It's thrilling when it works, but it only works half the time. You're also likely to shoot yourself down into the abyss, or up into the ceiling, both of which cause your racer to reset.

Slingshot turns are also complicated in that they use energy points. These are accumulated when you make jumps. Jumping is simply a matter of hitting a button as you go off a ramp. The later you hit the button, the more energy points you get. These can be spent on either turns or dashes. If you dash, you move much faster and actually gain additional speed by running into objects (you didn't misread that). However, if you use all your energy on a dash, you'll eventually come to a tight corner, attempt to jump turn, and be stopped dead in your tracks because you were out of juice. Lots of games penalize you for overusing boost, but none this obtusely.

Speaking of obtuse, brace yourself for this next bit about hoverboard power-ups and shortcuts. You see, every board has its own selection of abilities that can be activated in each race if you collect enough rings, which are scattered throughout every course. Take the first board in the game, for instance. If you collect a small number of rings, you'll activate a permanent speed boost. Collect some more, and you'll activate the ability to rail grind. Get 100 on top of that, and you gain a boost to your energy points. By the way, these don't carry over from race to race. Also, there are lots of different types of boards, with lots of different powers.

It certainly looks like a Sonic game.

But rather than catalog them all, we'll focus on three: grind, wheel, and air. Each of these powers correlates to a type of shortcut. If you can grind, the rails are open to you. All you have to do is jump on one, and you're on your way. With wheel, you can crash through obstacle-laden detours. However, the wheel is generally terrible, and its shortcuts are the worst. And if you have the air, you can fly off a ramp, through three rings, and past your competition. While the concept of three different types of shortcuts is interesting, in practice, none of them are much fun, and they sometimes take longer than the normal route.

The graphics are mostly fine, and in a couple of spots, the game manages to convey a real sense of speed. The sounds aren't bad, either. Some of the music is catchy, and it's nice that the characters talk smack every time you pass a rival. Still, the game's overall lack of content makes it one of the last things you'd want to spend 40 bucks on. Even though it manages to capture the occasional burst of Sonic speed, there isn't enough content in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity to keep you entertained for more than two or three laps.

The Good
Goes fast at times
Slingshot turns are interesting
The Bad
Slingshot turns are also frustrating
Super short
The story is bad even by Sonic standards
Not particularly worth replaying
Tilt controls are awful
4.5
Poor
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