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Sonic Free Riders


The Kinect Game that Doesn't Work with the Kinect.
Iím always suspicious when publishers (and also the developer in this case) put their marketable iconic characters into games that really donít have anything to do with them. In this case, Sega wanted to release a hoverboarding game in time for the launch of the Kinect and simply attached Sonic to the game for instance brand recognition. Unfortunately, this often occurs because the game is going to be terrible and selling it with a notable character may be the only way to sell copies of the title. The loose narrative in the game is around a hoverboard competition that Sonic and crew are competing in and that Dr. Eggman is sponsoring for reasons unknown at the outset. There are 4 teams competing in the hoverboard competition, each led by Shadow the Hedgehog, Jet the Hawk, Amy Rose and of course Sonic. Each team has their different motivations, but nothing really new or interesting to the Sonic universe.

sonic free riders racing

Unfortunately, Sega did an absolutely horrific job of implementing the Kinect into the control scheme for Sonic Free Riders. I say that because they made it nearly impossible to lean to the left or right while on the board. To say that the camera tracking is poor is an understatement. I found myself nearly falling over just to get the board to slightly turn either way. I spent more time dragging against the wall than staying on course. In addition, jumping has a noticeable lag and requires every crouching time to get it just right. Tricks are also nearly impossible, most of which require ridiculous movement to pull off. Iíve been snowboarding in real life several times before and this game doesnít capture that feeling in the slightest.

Oddly, the portion of the motion controls that actually worked most of the time donít have anything to do with your board. For instance, Sonic has to swim through a giant tube of water in one level and the game requires you to do arm swimming motions to race through the drink. There are also elements similar to Mario Kart that allows you to pull off offensive maneuvers against the other racers like hitting them with a club while passing them. Along the track, you will find rings to collect, just like a regular Sonic game. These rings allow Sonic to travel faster along the track, but can also bring you back to the stock speed when you lose them by screwing up. At the end of the race, you can use the rings you collected to purchase faster boards or upgrades that will help you win future races.

sonic free riders jet skipping

While the story mode is experienced through the Grand Prix mode, Sega also included a Free Race mode for the tracks that you have already raced and Time Trials for setting new course records. The game also allows for local co-op, but itís even harder to lean in the room when thereís someone right beside you. I found myself bumping into my competitor more often than not. Modes in co-op include Relay Race for switching off legs of a race between players and Tag Race that pits you against the A.I. with a partner. Strangely, thereís no option for competing directly against a local player, perhaps avoiding the obligatory conclusion of players messing with each other while in the same hoverboarding space. You can go online to play against others via an 8 player online match, but good luck finding anyone to play against. The online user base is non-existent for this Kinect launch title.

Graphics

The graphics engine in Free Riders looks quite ugly compared to the bevy of recent Xbox 360 titles and it makes me wonder how much effort was put into this adaptation for the Kinect. There are a variety of framerate stuttering issues and odd graphical glitches as well. A couple times, I flew into a barrier, got stuck and then was inexplicably awarded the trophy for winning the race that I hadnít completed. The only thing that the visuals are really able to convey well is a sense of speed. But the dated look to the in-game graphics and the laziness of the developer to use stills for cutscenes makes you think this game belongs on the PS2 or original Xbox.

sonic free riders catching up

Audio

The voice work in the game will make you want to shatter the game disc. Itís a dual problem, half the issue being terrible voice actors and the other half being childish, clichťd writing. Alternatively, the music and the sound effects are classic Sonic most of the time. You will still hear the distinct ding when collecting rings and much of the music seems heavily influenced by the soundtrack of the original platformers.

Conclusion

If itís not clear by now, Iím not recommending that anyone get suckered into purchasing Sonic Free Riders. Itís very clear that Sega did little QA on the final product before shipping it to meet the Kinect launch date and the end product is an absolutely mess. Frankly, itís one of the worst Sonic-branded titles that Iíve played in years. Sadly, there really is no great boarding title that shipped with the Kinect launch as Adrenalin Misfits is also shovelware. Do yourself a favor and skip over Sonic Free Riders. Iím betting that EA will come along and revive the SSX series as the Kinect continues to gain in popularity.



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