Review by Johnus Maximus
Sega’s most iconic character has returned with a sequel to 2006’s Sonic Riders. This time around Sonic and friends can increase their speed and manipulate the race track with the help of gravity controls. Despite an awkward control system, the game boasts a decent mix of tracks, characters and game play modes and is a fairly decent racer with which to pass time until Mario Kart Wii is released. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity was released in February for Wii and PS2.
Not having played any of the three previous Sonic racing games, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this title. I’ve always been a fan of the Sonic platform games (one of my all time favourite games is Sonic CD), and found that as far as non-realistic racing games go this one wasn’t too bad.
Upon starting the game it’s worth taking the time to learn the techniques in the Tutorial mode, as not only are they going to be the bread and butter of how you play, but you’ll also be able to use this time to determine which of the three control styles you hate less. You can either hold the wiimote horizontally (twisting forward/backward for speed and tilting left/right for turns), you can hold it like a normal remote (guide an on-screen cursor to control speed/direction) or you can nip into your box of retro gaming periphery and use a Gamecube controller.
Each of the 3 control types have their flaws, when using the horizontal style I found it difficult turn in the right direction and I was constantly losing speed, with the vertical style the cursor can wander off screen which can sometimes cause issues, and the Gamecube pad requires you to push up/down on the stick to accelerate/brake, which interferes with your turning somewhat.
Once you’re satisfied you know the controls and you’ve completed the tutorial, you can choose to play one of the many available game modes. There’s quite a lot squeezed into this game – the first thing I did was play both of the single player story modes. The first story follows Sonic and his friends as they unravel the mystery behind the meteor pieces that have granted them gravity control, the second follows the same story, but from the perspective of the Babylon Rogues and their leader Jet the hawk.
Despite good character acting, the storyline itself is quite disposable, the characters just go from one crazy situation to another and always end up having to have a race to resolve their conflicts. If you are a fan of the recent Sonic games then you might not find the storyline as uninteresting as I did, fortunately you are able to skip the cut scenes if you find your interest waning (or if you get freaked out by the characters oddly large hands and feet).
Success in the story mode simply requires that you achieve either a certain position or better in the race, or that you beat the required number of laps within a specific time. The difficulty level isn’t that high, the game usually flashes up an on-screen symbol to tell you when you should perform a jump or a gravity move, and any difficult spots that hold you back are easily remembered and beaten the next time around.
Marty McFly was never this fast
The racers have a mish-mash of styles as each character is mounted on a hoverboard, hovercar, motorbike or other similar contraption. As you race around the course, collecting gold rings allows you to upgrade the vehicle you are in, gaining speed boosts or the ability to utilise shortcuts specific to that vehicle type. Certain turns on the courses are only achievable using the Gravity Drift move, which lets you turn in a bullet time style and then shoots you out at speed in the direction youâ€™re facing.
The other special move up your sleeve is the Gravity Dive which, providing you have sufficient gravity power to do so, creates a black hole ahead of you that sucks up parts of the scenery, which you bash into to slingshot yourself forwards, giving a massive speed boost on the straights. Using this ability is fun and can clinch a victory if used correctly.
Repeat plays of the story mode will be necessary for completionists, as the scenarios are replayable, with a variety of goal targets to meet and in doing each of these you can unlock extra characters and vehicles. You also cumulatively collect rings in each race, which can be used in the shop to buy even more vehicles, which have different skills and abilities. For Sonic Racing masters, there is a time attack mode in the Normal Race section that allows you to post your best times and download ghosts (physical record of other players racing, silhouetted for guidance) from the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
Now as there have been plenty of Sonic games over the years, there are also plenty of characters to choose from. The character roster in this game starts out with seven available characters from the Sonic series – Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Wave, Jet and Storm – and boasts a further eleven unlockables, which include more Sonic characters – Shadow, Silver, Dr Eggman, etc – and also characters from other Sega favourites, such as NiGHTS and Billy Hatcher, so there is enough diversity to allow players to find a favourite style of racer.
If you have some friends round and want to get them playing too, there are plenty of multiplayer modes readily available to choose from. The first mode is Free Race. In this mode, you can include up to 3 friends, providing you have sufficient control devices, and pick any of the unlocked characters, using any of the available gear, and race on any of the unlocked levels using the standard rules.
There are a few things about this mode which can be annoying. Firstly the enemy AI is really good, to the point where my friends could not keep up, so rather than a race to be first it was always a battle to see who wouldn’t take last place. Secondly, as there is so much going on in the background and on the track, when the screen is divided into smaller portions it becomes a lot harder to concentrate and identify the short cut areas where each players speciality can be used.
1.21 gigawatts of electricity powers Amy’s board
An additional mode in the Normal Race section is the World Grand Prix, where you and one other friend can compete in the series of races that make up both the Sonic Team and the Babylon Rogues storyline. Again, this plays in exactly the same way as normal, but only having to split the screen between 2 people means it is a lot easier to see what is happening.
As well as playing against your friends in a normal race, there are also a few battle modes and these are all playable for up to 4 people, CPU controlled players will make up any deficit where necessary. The first, and most fun, game is the Survival Relay, which is a relay race where two teams face off, each player running one lap. This can be played with 2 humans vs 2 computer players, 3 humans vs 3 computer players and also 2 humans vs 2 humans.
The next game mode is the Survival Ball, sadly this does not mean you have to don a fancy frock and twirl around on a dance floor, rather you have to use your mastery of gravity to try and bounce a great big ball into one of the various goal spheres located around the playing field (of which there are three) to score the most points before the time runs out. It is not very easy to play, and as usual the computer controlled characters do a far better job of playing than you do.
The final available multiplayer mode is the Survival Battle, and this is a straightforward game, where you and your opponents race around a small course (again, there is a choice of three) collecting power ups and weapons with which to dispatch your foes. If you’ve played Mario Kart before then you’ll have a good idea of what this mode entails, it is quite a fun, fast game to play.
Rounding off the games content is the Extras menu, which has a small amount of bonus content that you unlock during the course of playing. The Theater allows you to watch the 3 main cut scenes in the game (opening, closing and another one from near the end of the game), the Audio room lets you listen to any of the games music, which is a reasonably good mix of techno/rock music, neither irritating nor inspiring, and finally, the Gear Gallery allows you to look at all the unlocked items and their respective skills and abilities.
So that’s whats on the shiny disc from Sega, looking back at my experience of it I’m happy to say that it’s an okay game, but nothing more. It could have been a fantastic game had there been the inclusion of online play, which is certainly not out of bounds for the Wii, or had some of the more annoying kinks been ironed out of the wiimote control system. If you’re looking for a light hearted one or two player racing game, then Sonic Riders Zero Gravity is worth a look, otherwise steer clear and wait for Mario.