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Games You May Have Missed: Sonic Riders

Hello everyone, and welcome to the second installment of the “Games You May Have Missed” series. The first game in the series was Pokémon Colosseum, and was covered two weeks ago (http://www.leviathyn.com/2016/07/12/games-you-may-have-missed-pokemon-colosseum/). For those who are unfamiliar, this series aims to cover the games that might have been overlooked. Games that I think were better than their aggregate scores showed, more replayable, or simply did not achieve superstardom or cult status in the market. This installment will cover the 2006 release Sonic Riders.

Sonic Riders was a multiplatform release that aimed to capitalize off of the success of Mario Kart, or at least fill a similar niche. The game could very well be considered a predecessor to the more successful “Sonic and All Stars Racing” series. However, the Sonic Riders series scrapped the kart idea, instead having the Sonic franchise characters using hoverboards across various levels. The hoverboards utilized air as a fuel source, and had to constantly be replenished by way of using various tricks while travelling. This mechanic ultimately created one of the best and most challenging things about the game.

While it created a great smoothness and sense of speed when played well, it was quite complex to obtain mastery of, and it was a turn-off to a lot of potential players. Fortunately, Sonic Riders is salvaged slightly in that it came before the industry-wide adoption of online multiplayer, so it did not need a large player base to thrive. But ultimately, why play Sonic Riders when Mario Kart: Double Dash existed? It was a much easier game, it had a better battle mode, and it had a smoother unlock progression.

All of these are valid points, but they miss a key component. While Sonic Riders was trying to be a racing game involving a famous platforming star, there are a few things that make it stand out. First off, the game had a class system unlike the one implemented in Double Dash. While the class system in Double Dash was useful for figuring out stats like speed, acceleration and the type of kart you can use, it’s more of a hindrance than anything. It never really felt too essential to determining the outcome of the race, and it mainly just meant that you couldn’t have a kart you wanted because you were lighter or heavier than the class required.

Just like in Double Dash, there are three classes: Fly, Speed, and Power. All three of these classes had radically different ways of going about a track, meaning that the class you chose had a real and tangible impact in how you went about the game. Fly was able to use large ramps and fly through rings across the stage, avoiding mayhem and saving fuel. Speed was able to utilize ramps all over the stage to fly around at a high velocity, and Power was able to punch through cars, barrels, and other obstacles to take straightforward shortcuts to victory. So unlike Mario Kart where you were playing character X and slightly larger character Y, you had a very satisfying feeling in flying around as Tails, combining tricks and zips as Sonic, and powering through as Knuckles.

Secondly, and most importantly, when mastered, the game is a fast and fun experience that can rival that of Mario Kart. The ability to combine tricks and jumps smoothly is very important, as well as timing boosts and attacks on enemies. This is where the air meter mechanic shines. In each race, characters progress from level 1 to level 2 to level 3. As you collect coins you level up, you gain more air for your air meter and your attacks do more damage. Additionally, tricks are a very vital portion of each race. There are a plentitude of ramps in each map that allow for tricks, which will replenish your fuel (provided you stick the landing), putting you at a huge advantage and ensuring you can spam your boost and attacks. So each race isn’t simply about getting from point A to point B, but getting there while collecting coins, avoiding hazards, and comboing tricks. If you run out of air, your character actually dismounts their board, greatly slowing down. The character will only re-mount once enough air is accumulated. Irritating if you were in the lead.

For new players though, this is something that is very frustrating. A lot of the times when I was introducing the game to someone who was new to it, it ended with a lot of frustration. The game has a loud beeping noise when you are out of fuel, and seeing person after person pass you is extremely irritating, especially with no rubber banding items like in Mario Kart. The game could stand to do a much better job at being approachable, and in having a tutorial system that quickly and sufficiently explains the key concepts of the game.

Now for other aspects of the game, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The game has a quick play mode, a story mode, a battle mode, and a shop in which to spend the coins you gain from each race. These coins are used to buy the various hoverboards (or “extreme gear” as they are called). I personally am not a fan of the name “extreme gear” as the board designs are pretty generic looking, and just scream out as an attempt to be unnecessarily edgy. This is where the games’ age comes in, as its 2006 release was a time where the franchise was searching for a post 2-D Sonic identity in a game industry still trying to mature too.

However, despite the slightly ridiculous name, there is a good variety of extreme gear which helps to keep things fresh. Each of the game’s sixteen characters have their own unique board (some of them even have two) and this variety allows for some nice customization options.
Speaking of the characters, the game’s roster is pretty solid. Fan favorites like Dr. Robotnik, Sonic, and Knuckles show up, as well as new characters called the “Babylon Rogues” which include; Jet, Rogue, and a few others. These characters all have a cool design to them, and I wish they were featured in more games personally. Additionally, other SEGA favorites like AiAi and Nights show up as unlockable characters.

Next up, the game modes, which are a bit of a mixed bag really. The survival mode in the game sucks. There’s not really another way to put it. It’s a novel idea, and the maps did have some thought put into them, but the biggest gripe I have about it is that it’s very difficult to eliminate your opponent, and unlike a map which has a smooth path, these circular maps create stop-and-go gameplay which, simply put, aren’t fun.

The story mode follows Sonic as he globe-trots across various maps racing the Babylonian Rogues. Graphic wise, the story mode isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. The same can be said for the voiceover acting. As for the story itself, it’s moderately charming. The end twist is kind of cute, and the characters (albeit one-dimensional) combine to provide some semblance of a struggle and of urgency in their racing.

As for the game maps, they are pretty cool in all honesty. The soundtrack accompanying the game is fitting and often times is a nice accompaniment. The maps all have different paths for the characters, and the textures are detailed and vivid. There are sixteen tracks in the game. These consist of ten main tracks which have a day and a night version, three boss courses, and three bonus courses.

As for the main tracks, the night versions aren’t simply re-skins, but often have whole paths that are blocked off and changed. It truly feels like a new twist, and it’s very, very well done. It reminds me a bit of Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, where they take the original gen V games and add a whole bunch of new stuff to them. The bonus tracks are also fantastic: my favorite is “Sega Carnival” which features aspects from all sorts of Sega franchises.

Ultimately, the game is far from perfect, but it’s also much better than a lot of people gave it credit for. On the surface, the high difficulty curve, the average graphics and voiceovers, and the lackluster battle mode is enough to make people not want to play it. And I get that. But it also misses what makes this game shine. It’s like going into a pizza place and judging it based on their salads. The game shines in its progression via the story mode, the excellence of the maps, and the smoothness of the game once mastered. Overall, it’s a 7.75/10, and it’s a game that has aged well. Not perfectly, but far, far from horribly.

That’s all for this edition, did you play the game when it came out? What do you think of it? Do you have any games for us to feature in future installments? Please let us know in the comments below, and I’ll see you next installment.