Sonic Free Riders Review (360 Kinect)

Game Review: Sonic Free Riders
Release: November 4th, 2010
Genre: Kinect Platformer
Developer: Sega of America
Available Platforms: 360 – Kinect required
Players: 1 local, 2-4 local, 2-4 local co-op, 2-8 online multiplayer mode
MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: E

Part of an impressive 16 game launch line-up released in tandem with the Microsoft Kinect hardware, Sonic Free Riders is Sega’s foray into motion controlled gaming on the Xbox 360 console.  The game is third in the Sonic Riders series coming in as the follow up to Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.   Dr. Eggman is up to his old tricks again and creates a World Grand Prix event to draw Team Sonic, comprised of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles, in to compete against three other teams for supremacy.  Of course the real reason behind the event is to gather data on the racers in order to use the data to program his robots.  I will say that the plot got a bit lost in the translation of the opening sequences.  It really didn’t help either that the opening cut scenes were a series of pictures being displayed while voice-over dialogue explained the details.

If you have played either of the previous games in the Sonic Riders series, you will have a pretty good understanding of what to expect in this game.  If you have not, the game does a good job explaining the different game modes and offers an extensive tutorial on how to play.  The tutorial section guides you through the different movements you’ll need to employ in the game to do such as how to race on your Extreme Gear.   Think of it as a hoverboard, similar to what was seen in Back to the Future part 2.  The tutorial section also presents the movements you’ll need to use to perform air tricks as well as how to turn, break, use items, and collect rings.  Depending on how quickly you adapt to the motions required, you may find yourself repeating a tutorial a number of times until you get the movements correct.  The time you spend in the tutorial, however, will be well spent once you move into the core of the game and compete in the races.

Once you get into the actual game play, the movements you learn in the tutorials will make a bit more sense when you combine them together.  To immerse you in the game, you will actually be standing sideways like riding a skateboard.  Turning your body forward will apply the brakes causing your movement to slow to a stop.  As you are racing around the track, you’ll notice the familiar rings that must be collected.  There are a number of ways in which to capture the rings.  Many will simply be in the open where you just have to race over them.  Other rings will be on the outside of the track requiring you to extend your left or right arm depending on which side of you the rings are on.  Still other rings will be above the track requiring you to raise both hands above your head to grab them.  The motions for these ring capturing sequences works pretty well, provided you get your hands in the correct position fast enough.  Throughout the tracks, there will be jump points that require you to physically jump to perform an air trick and fill your boost meter.  Other movements that you will encounter are dependent on which action item that your character picks up throughout the race.  These items are distributed through the race and have different actions that they perform as well as a different motion to activate them.  One of the items is a torpedo which targets another racer causing them to crash.  Another item is a soda rocket that requires you to move your hand like you are shaking a can of cola.  Once you build up the right amount of pressure, the character opens the can and hops on like they are riding a rocket.

The game also features bikes that behave similar to the Extreme Gear board.  Instead of facing sideways to ride the bike, you face forward with your arms extended like you are holding on to the handlebars of an actual bike.  The other movements are almost identical to the hoverboard with the exception of the braking, which requires you to turn sideways.  While the bike was an interesting vehicle in the game, the requirement to have your arms extended in front of you can be tiring after just a short period of time.  However, unless you plan on playing for hours on end, you should be able to complete a race or few before you can’t hold your arms up any longer.

As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to upgrade your Extreme Gear board by purchasing various upgrades from the Gear shop.  The board features two slots that you can place Gear Parts in to change the performance of the board.  There are a variety of gears that can give abilities from increasing the size of the air tank to allowing you to grind on rails to an invisibility skill that lets you avoid attacks from other players.  Adding in this customization lets you fine tune the Extreme Gear board to give you different abilities depending on how you want to race.

What I enjoyed about the game was the fact that it felt like a complete experience and not like a compilation of different parts.  Plus, it features familiar characters from the Sonic world and just has a familiar feeling to it.  The game modes are varied and allow for a number of ways in which to play the game.  The main mode in the game is the World Grand Prix mode discussed earlier.  Other offline modes include the Free Race where you can race against computer controlled riders in three different race formats.  The Time Attack mode is where you race on a track against the clock.  For local multiplayer, you have the option of the Tag Race where you partner up with another player.  The Relay Race allows you to assemble a group of four players to compete in a 2v2 race.  The addition of local multiplayer game types, both competitive and cooperative adds a nice depth to the game. With the online multiplayer mode, you can play on your XBox against up to 7 additional players.  With the amount of choice, you have a great deal of options whether you want to get a quick play session in, or go for a lengthier session by competing in the World Grand Prix mode.

The difficulty I am having in coming up with an idea to improve the game might not be the game’s fault at all.  The placement of the Kinect sensor, my body position, and the lighting in the room all played a part into translating my body movement to in-game controls.  What I did have the biggest issue with was that the movement of my body to turn was really sensitive.  Even a slight movement caused me to turn too much and end up going to a part of the track that I did not want to be in.  The other issue that I had with the game came from doing the air tricks that required me to jump and often turn my body to perform the movement.  The game would lose the tracking of me and what I thought was a proper jump and movement combo resulted in a sub-par trick   Again, the difficult part in determining whether the game is at fault or if I was doing something wrong is complicated because of the motion controls.  In a normal game using a controller, I pretty much can tell if I made a mistake or the game is the issue.

Paul’s final say:

Going into this game, I didn’t really have any expectations to form an opinion beforehand.  The game makes full use of the Kinect hardware and you will be doing a fair bit of moving while you play.  Definitely take the extra time to make sure your play area has enough clearance so that you are not bumping into furniture or other items.  Forgiving the lack of animated cut scenes and the sort of annoying host robot, Omochao, there is a surprisingly fun game held within.  Sure, there were a few times when my actions weren’t being tracked accurately, but overall the responsiveness of the Kinect sensor in translating my movement into the game worked.  If you are a fan of the Sonic games or are looking for a solid title to make use of that spiffy new Kinect sensor, you will find some enjoyment in Sonic Free Riders.

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