Many attempts have been made to re-ignite the flame in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. A number of the efforts in the seventh generation of gaming have proved unsuccessful, with many of them expanding the recognisable mascot into new genres, including RPG and racing. Sonic: Free Riders is the latest attempt, utilizing Microsoft’s Kinect technology.
The Kinect technology for Sonic: Free Riders requires players to lean their body left and right to control their rider, as well as kick movements in order to increase speed and jumping to perform tricks - earning more boost. The game makes very good use of the technology, though you can’t help but feel more could have been done to maximize its usage.
Sonic: Free Riders plays out similarly to Mario Kart Racing, Crash Team Racing and other similar titles in the mascot kart racing genre. Players assume the role of one of the regular Sonic characters, each of which are split into teams of three. Such characters include Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, Jet the Hawk, Shadow the Hedgehog and more. Additional characters are also available to unlock by further playing the game.
Similarly to Sega Superstars Tennis, each of the characters has an “All-Star Move” which can be used during the race if enough “Air” has been obtained through completing air tricks (jumping and spinning off ramps). The All-Star Moves, such as Sonic’s speed boost and Knuckles’s strength, give each character a more unique personality, which is quite important when selecting a character to play as.
The game also includes Avatar support, allowing gamers to see their virtual-self tearing up the Sonic environments. Importing your Avatar into the game takes a matter of seconds and is a great inclusion, adding a more personal touch to the game.
As well as the incorporation of familiar characters, Sonic: Free Riders also contains the usual Sonic-related items and features, including collecting gold rings during the races. Collecting enough rings can increase the player’s level during the race, enhancing the player’s attributes in order to obtain a better finishing position. However, being hit by an opponent’s weapon causes players to lose a number of their rings.
As you would expect from a game in the genre, players are able to collect items which can then be used in order to boost the player’s current position. There is an array of items including boosts, homing missiles and mines, each of which is activated by a various hand/arm movement, depending on the item. This creates the sense that the player is actually in the game, something Microsoft wanted to achieve with Kinect and something that has been achieved in this instance.
There are six different race tracks within Sonic: Free Riders, each of which covers a different environment containing themes such as ocean and a haunted house. Each race track has been well designed to incorporate the game’s unique gameplay and the modelling is reflective of the Sonic style regular players to the series know and love. Nevertheless, a greater number of tracks wouldn’t go amiss. While players can unlock more tracks by performing well in EX World Grand Prix (the game’s main mode), the more casual gamer may feel the selection available is lacking.
EX World Grand Prix is an event held by Dr. Eggman (Sonic’s rival) offering prizes of cash and treasure. However, the true motive behind the World Grand Prix is to gather data from all his players to program into his E-10,000G robots. This is the game mode that players will spend the majority of their time on, completing the various missions on offer – consisting of races, ring collections, scoring points from air tricks and more, providing enough variety for players to keep them occupied.
The remaining single player game modes include: Free Race and Time Attack, both of which provide players with adequate entertainment and value. However, it’s the game’s Tutorial that proves particularly useful. With Sonic: Free Riders using a control system like never before, it’s a good practice tool and way for players to get to grips with the game’s mechanisms.
As for multiplayer, Sonic: Free Riders has support for it locally and over Xbox Live. On the same console (room space permitting), players can have up to four human players in the Relay Race (competitive) and Tag Race (co-operative) game modes. Meanwhile, over Xbox Live, the game modes are Normal Race, Ring Collection and Damage Survival (in which the player with the most points when the time runs out is crowned the winner). Whereas the game modes over Xbox Live are to a decent standard, there’s a distinct lack of players waiting around in lobbies, which isn’t a promising sign considering the game’s recent release.
Graphically, Sonic: Free Riders is of a decent standard. The detail and light colours within the game is a true representation of what gamers expect Sonic to be, and SEGA has managed to capture this well. The audio provides players with a pleasant soundtrack that makes for delightful listening whilst playing the game. Accompanied by the voice-acting and the ever so familiar sound of the rings, are further examples that this title has been well-developed.
To conclude, Sonic: Free Riders makes a good launch title for Kinect, utilizing it well, though you can’t help but feel more could have been done with the technology. Whilst it initially lacks in content, this is a game for those casual racing fans that aren’t looking for anything overly intense.
David Wriglesworth is a Northern lad with a passion for gaming, who graduated from the University of Lincoln with a BA (Hons) Journalism degree. If you can drag him away from the consoles, you can probably find him Tweeting or watching Coronation Street.