Sonic Free Riders Hands-On

We find out what happens when Sega’s racer swoops onto Kinect.


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Sega’s upcoming Sonic Free Riders marries the Japanese publisher’s iconic mascot with Microsoft’s upcoming motion-control peripheral. The game is based on the racing games that had Sonic riding the wind on an air board. The twist for this latest entry in the series is a control scheme built around Kinect. We had the opportunity to see how the game handles when Sega brought by a work-in-progress demo for us to try.

Sonic Free Riders features many of the characters you'd expect.
Sonic Free Riders features many of the characters you'd expect.

The game still finds Sonic and friends, both old and new, racing against each other on futuristic tracks peppered with shortcuts to discover, coins to collect, and power-ups to use against the competition. The demo we tried offered just a slice of what the final game is set to include. We were able to pick from six characters that included Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, as well as the new bird characters introduced in the series. Each of the characters featured a selection of air boards that you can pick for the race with unique handling. The demo only featured one track, Dolphin Resort, which ran above and below an ocean that featured plenty of dolphins.

The basic game mechanics are still true to the previous games, with some tweaks. At the moment, the game does not feature a drafting mechanic to let you pick up speed and overtake an opponent. It appears that your only method of increasing your speed is by collecting rings and triggering a speed boost that will charge over the course of a race. Power-ups will still play a part in the action, although our demo didn’t have the full array of items to use that will let you cause trouble for the competition. The bowling strike lets you toss a bowling ball on the course that grows to a massive size. The tee shot lets you use a trusty golf club to hit balls at your opponents. Octo ink lets you create ink hazards on the track that will block your competitor’s view if he or she races through it. Finally, the target torpedo lets you fire off a homing missile at nearby racers that packs a mean punch.

Racing in the game takes some getting used to, even for those who’ve played the previous entries, due to the game’s Kinect control scheme. You’ll stand as if you’re on a board when a race starts and twist your upper body to steer. Jumping will require you to crouch to charge and leap up to execute. If you land on a grind rail, you’ll need to use your upper body to keep your balance as you travel. The motions change up when you’re in the underwater portion of the level, which requires you to just use your arms to swim and get your racer out of the water and back on the track. You’ll use the same logic when using the power-ups you collect as they’ll have you making pretty logical motions. To use the bowling strike, you’ll need to crouch and move your arms like you were bowling. The tee shot has you going through the motion to hit a golf ball. Octo ink and the target torpedo require you to move your arms like you’re throwing a football. If you run through an octo ink splotch that darkens your screen, you’ll be able to move your arms like you’re cleaning off a window to restore your vision. Overall, we’d have to say that the game’s control scheme works as advertised most of the time, although there is the requisite new peripheral quirkiness.

Hoverboards may not work on water, but they clearly work under water.
Hoverboards may not work on water, but they clearly work under water.

While it’s still early, Sonic Free Riders looks to be taking good advantage of the new Xbox 360 peripheral. Due to the fairly literal control scheme, we don’t see players having a hard time picking up how to play regardless of their skill level. Some veteran gamers who have been raised on using controllers may take a little longer to get used to the input system due to the game’s unique control approach, but it seems to work well. We’ll be curious to see the modes, characters, and tracks that wind up in the final game as Sonic Free Riders heads toward its November release. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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