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Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity Review

Sonic Riders Zero Gravity is an odd sequel choice. The first game had a lot of things that appealed to Sonic fans but its’ complicated control scheme became its’ downfall and another Sonic game is lost into obscurity. From a personal opinion, Sonic Riders was an immensely appealing game, with charm, vibrant colour and the speed a Sonic fan desires. The only things that really let it down was its’ drifty turning circle and short game length. So, can Sonic Riders Zero Gravity improve on the original game’s shortcomings?

Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The game has set itself up with another light-hearted adventure with the Babylon Rogues. A shooting star crashes into Sonic’s planet. The meteorite (conveniently shaped like a bracelet) gives Sonic the power to control gravity in order to propel him forward and make sharp turns with speed. Unfortunately, the Babylon Rogues are about in order to steal Sonic’s meteorite as well as 4 others that have fallen around the place. Not only that, but Dr. Robotnik (Eggman) is after the meteorites as well, as he is using them as a source of power to run his robot army. In usual Sonic fashion, things get a bit apocalyptic but it all works for a great boss battle.

Before we start this review, we must make sure that no-one goes into this game using the Wii Remote controls. There are two different styles of motion control that are equally frustrating and a general nuisance. The first is the horizontal mode of play. This one works the best out of the two. Tilt the Wii Remote left and right to steer and flick it up sharply to activate and deactivate the gravity dive. It’s this choice to add the gravity dive with a Remote flick that causes most of the issues. It feels very unnatural and steering your character in the air is incredibly bizarre.

The vertical control scheme is exactly the same except you don’t tilt the Remote to steer. You point it at the screen and use a cursor to steer. Point it to the left; you go left. Point it to the right; you go right. This was the most ill-advised control scheme added to the game. It just doesn’t work. Stick to the Gamecube controller and you’ll have a lot more control over your character and essentially, a lot more fun.

The control scheme has considerably changed since the first game. The air gauge is gone and the drifty cornering system is gone. Cornering is now done using the gravity control, which allows you to slow down time, adjust yourself for the corner and then shoot off at incredible speed. You can also use the same technique to ride on walls for shortcuts. Using the gravity control uses up the new gravity points gauge which is filled by tricking. Tricking has been simplified to pressing the jump button off ramps. The later you jump, the bigger the trick. The game’s biggest selling point is the gravity dive which you use on the tracks’ straights in order to propel forward at lightning speed and grind off objects that you’ve brought with you in order to perform Meteor Bursts (AKA speed boosts). Another addition is the ’gear change’ system which sees you gaining rings in order to gain a higher top speed, unlock your gear’s specific action (grinding, flying or obstacle smashing) and then a bigger gravity points gauge.

This all sounds overly complicated and it will be at first. Luckily, Sonic Riders Zero Gravity begins with a controls tutorial instead of having to consult the tutorial movie in the first game. Once you pick up the control scheme you soon begin to appreciate just how much fun Sonic Riders Zero Gravity really is.

The courses are laid out similarly to Sonic Riders. Each set of characters (Heroes or Babylon) have a set of courses with the Babylon courses being slightly altered versions of the Heroes ones. Like the original, the game feels a bit light on courses and they all suffer from a lack of originality. Once you realise all courses have specific short-cuts for grinding, flying, smashing or wall-riding, you soon learn to look out for them. This will nearly always give you the upper hand on your opponents and you never really feel the need to learn the courses in order to do this. With a similar amount of courses as the previous game, this also means the length of the game is nearly identical to the original. Don’t expect more than a weekend’s worth of play time.

So what do you do after you complete story mode? You do the same thing as the first game; collect rings to buy new gears. This can be done in a number of ways, Normal Races, Time Attacks and the EX World Grand Prix. There are also Mission Races to complete in Story Mode. Finishing them all unlocks some very special characters which are brilliant SEGA fan service. You’ll have to do this yourself to find out!

Speaking of fan service, there are 2 courses which demand a large amount of your attention. These 2 bonus courses are called 80s and 90s Boulevard and they imitate Akihabara (Tokyo’s electronics district). They are scattered with billboards for old-school SEGA games and spotting them all is a real treat. These courses are a SEGA fan’s wet dream. The detail and effort on display in these courses is a fantastic memory of the Sonic games of old, which had you rushing past beautifully drawn scenery that you never quite had the time to admire.

On the other hand, multiplayer is a bit of a let down. Among the typical multiplayer modes are 3 new survival modes; Relay, Ball and the standard Survival Mode. Survival Relay is exactly what it says on the tin; you form a team of 2 to 3 players and face off against another team of the same amount. Then you simply race as you would in single player except you take each lap in turn. This mode works the best out of the three as long as you can find some friends who are willing to learn the controls. Survival Ball is a game of hover-board football which is immensely uninspired and overly complicated. Survival Mode simply sees you put in an arena with other racers in order to throw objects at each other to score hits. This is also another uninspired attempt at a Sonic Riders styled death-match game. The wide turning circle makes this very difficult to aim objects at other characters and it soon degenerates into frustration.

However, the main game itself is a fantastic improvement over the original title. The only problem with the game as a whole is it’s completely over the head of its target audience. 3+ is a bit generous. I’d also find it hard to believe a 7+ gamer could tackle the controls in Zero Gravity. This is the problem with the Riders games as a whole; they’re only going to appeal to long time Sonic fans who ALSO have an interest in extreme sports titles. This leaves the game completely lost on newcomers to the series as well as long time Sonic fans who have no interest in an extreme sports racing title.

But at the end of the day, if you liked the first Riders game you could do no better than to pick up the sequel. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s beautiful to look at and includes an incredibly solid racing engine which only complements the gameplay even further.


Written by Sonic Yoda on 26/01/2010

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