STAFF REVIEW of Sonic Free Riders (Xbox 360)

Friday, December 17, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Sonic Free Riders Box art Ive always been a big Sonic fan, I even suffered over the past years with every new Sonic game being worse than the last somehow. Sonic 4 then came out and was actually good; so here I thought that the curse had been broken and Sonic could start to regain his former and long lost glory. Well, it looks like Sonic couldnt even star in two consecutive games that were good. Im beginning to wonder if Sonic owes Sega money or something and thats why they hate him all these years.

Sonic Free Riders on paper sounds like an awesome idea for a game (and to showcase Kinect). You use a hoverboard like in Back to the Future or Reboot to race and jump against other players while collecting and using unique powerups. Yup, on paper that sounds like something Id definitely be interested to play. Free Riders features Sonic (obviously), Tails and Knuckles, but the rest of the crew that you most likely dont know the name of (or simply care) are also here such as Jet, Wave, Storm and more. Amy, Shadow, Eggman (Dr. Robotnick damnit!) are also included, but you wont care once you play the game.

The most important aspect about a racing game is obviously its steering controls. Without good steering whats the point in making a racing game right? Seems like someone forgot to tell Sega this as its somehow the most broken and awkward aspect in the whole game.

You play Free Riders as if you were on a skateboard or snowboard, standing perpendicular to your TV. To steer you lean your body forward or backwards at the waist and in theory this should make you turn how you wish. In theory this would have worked if the game knew what I was trying to do. Leaning forward will eventually make you turn but by that point youve already hit a wall or something else. Leaning backwards (even while bending your knees) is going to absolutely kill your back in a few short races as well. Your racer will also randomly sometimes brake for no reason out of the blue as well when you are trying to turn. Now Ill admit, I dont have the ideal 6-8 feet of clear play space in my living room that is suggest for all Kinect games, but every other one of my Kinect games have never had any issues even remotely close to the experience in Sonic Free Riders. Its simply broken.

The menu system is clunky and you navigate it by essentially using it like an old rotary phone (thats if it works) and voice controls are also included for those not as nimble. The issue with the voice controls is that you arent taught what the commands are (like saying select instead of the option) so essentially they are useless unless you want to try and guess what they are.

There is a training mode that will teach you the basics of the game but I wasnt actually able to pass one of the tutorials because it wouldnt recognize my actions or jumping properly. This doesnt bode well for a first impression of a new game by any means. After many retries and even moving my couch to make more room, I gave up and went right into the main modes hoping it would only get better from here.

Before every race it puts you into a quick 5 to 10 second race which I believe is to calibrate you and see your range of motion before the race, but the controls in here dont work that well either. I tried standing still, leaning as far as I could without falling and nothing seemed to help at all with the sloppy controls. And yes, youll need to do this before every single race and event.

So other than leaning, there are a few more controls that youll need to be aware of as well. You can kick dash like you would on a skateboard to speed up, but good luck if it recognizes what youre doing and actually works. Youll need to crouch and then jump to do stunts, but you cant actually pick the stunts you perform in any way. Sometimes youll get an A+ rank and others youll get a C for no apparent reason. Holding your arms out to the sides will let you catch rings as you zoom by (which is almost a saving grace for the game as more rings allow you to level up and boost skills) and to break you face forward to the screen as if you would want to stop on a snowboard.

So you finally got all those controls down in your memory? Good, now youre going to need to learn and memorize a whole new set of movements to use the items you get on the race track. There are lots of items to use against the other racers and almost every item has its own unique way of using and activating it. Again, on paper this sounds great, but in practice, youll be flailing your arms trying to figure out how to use that soda can item (you shake it like you would a real can of pop by the way, and then you ride it. Yup.). Torpedoes are used with a thrown motion, underhand for balls, and even tow hands are needed to throw basketballs over your head all while you are racing and fighting to keep your balance to try and steer. Youll even need to wipe the screen to clear gunk used on you which doesnt help when youre leaning as far back as you possibly can.

There are a decent amount of modes included in the game but I really only touched on two of the main ones due to the frustration and back pain after playing for a short time. World Grand Prix mode is essentially the story mode but its completely uninteresting due to it being just a sideshow of still screens with the character to go along with the horrible voice acting. Pick your team and compete against the others in races, time attacks, coin grabs and more. Tag Race is the other mode for two players and if you thought the controls for a single player were a mess, its more than doubled with a second player and also included very awkward motions for co-op play that dont help the matter either. You are also able to take it online and play with up to 8 people, but after one laggy race online and seeing that the majority of other racers were also wall riding due to the horrific controls, theres no need to.

Youre going to be constantly retrying events and races over and over because of the absolute abysmal controls in Sonic Free Riders. I understand launch games with a new technology arent always going to be the best, but in this game its simply broken. Other Kinect games work great and are responsive without doubt; this is definitely not one of them.

With ring collecting and extreme gear upgrades, this should have been a fun racing game for Kinect; instead, its an unresponsive mess that flat out doesnt work. Did no one test this game and see that its broken? I was taught that if I dont have anything nice to say then dont say anything at all, so Ill end this review here.

Overall: 3.0 / 10
Gameplay: 1.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10



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