Iain “Retro” Stewart


Long ago, Sega brought us the Sonic Drift series, and then later, Sonic R. Both racers featured our favourite true blue hedgehog and an assortment of back up characters racing in tournaments - Drift had them in carts, and Sonic R had them mostly running. Sonic Riders brings this idea of the Sonic racing game back, and puts a spin on not just Sonic racers, but the entire genre of ‘Racer’ completely. As this time, Sonic and friends are mounted on air powered hover boards. (Known as “Extreme Gears” in the game.)

On playing the game, the plot resides around Doctor Eggman hosting a tournament of Extreme Gear racing with Chaos Emeralds as both the prize and stakes for all racers. However shady things are afoot as he has hired his own team of highly able racers! Storm the Albatross, Wave the Swallow and the “Legendary Windrider” Jet the Hawk. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles enter in hopes of preventing Robotnik’s plans, finding themselves having to overcome a new style of speed in order to even stand a chance of winning. However below this darker things are afoot, to be revealed later in the game.

Before we look at the racing itself, the game has many first impressions to make on us. On turning on the console, the player is treated to a stunningly well done hand drawn animation of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles racing with their new foes in Sonic Riders, the Babylon Rogues. And directly after hitting ‘Start’ we are instantly lavishing in yet another cut scene, but this time it is a CGI opening movie put together by Blur Studios (The same company who has produced animations for Shadow the Hedgehog, among other games). As per usual, the quality was without a doubt some of the best ever seen in a game.

On the subject of graphics however, once in the game (and in most of its cut scenes) the character models are quite below par considering how long Sega has had to work on them over the years since Sonic Adventure was released. (Although it is, thankfully, an improvement on the quite dire models in Shadow) There are some saving graces however. Sonic Riders uses a very ‘cartoon’ style to its models, and they often have bulging heads and mouths, with large feet and hands. Although at first glance this seems like animator error, you quickly see it’s quite nicely done in areas. But overall however, you will be travelling too fast to properly see these models, with a rather generous motion blur around everything to smooth it all out.

Sound wise, Sonic Riders – like Sonic Rush- takes a unique variation, deviating from the ubiquitous guitar rock to put forward a pumping DJ styled soundtrack that quite suits the atmosphere of this very fast paced game. Not all sound is decided by the music however, and the effects in game are very nice. From the banter between racers as they overtake each other and slam one another off the track, to the nicely added in retro sounds such as the “act ending” chime from Sonic 2 when you click certain buttons. That said, the sound is nothing to run home shouting about. Although there isn’t anything wrong with it, there is nothing particularly special when you compare it to some of the tracks performed by Crush 40 and Hideki Nagamuna.

And now for that all important bit - the gameplay itself. When it comes to this, Sonic Riders stands apart from other games for being innovative and unique in terms of racing. First off to say, Sonic Riders is not a game you will pick up and complete on your first day (unless you are a real hardcore non-stop gamer), as the difficulty is very high with no way of decreasing it. This may perhaps put some gamers off Riders; however on the majority it isn’t difficult to a frustrating degree. Looking more to actually playing it, Sega has put in the “air system” that governs all play. You have a bar of air that slowly decreases as time goes on, more quickly as you boost, drift and attack others; this can be increased by tricks or stopping at an air station, among other ideas. Being economical and resourceful with your air supply is absolutely crucial to winning a race lest you wish to end up running. The races do tend to be much more furious than other games, with attacks and overtaking flying everywhere, as the three character types (Speed, Flight and Power ala Sonic Heroes) make use of their abilities to get ahead of the competition. It is very easy to go from 1st to 8th multiple times in a race and still finish well up in the rankings, such is the furious nature. And for those players who don’t find races challenging enough…there is always Mission Mode with well over 50 missions to complete for Gold in to prove their abilities in all areas as the ultimate Extreme Gear Rider!

The gameplay continues over a large variety of maps, most of them divided in two based around the same theme, particular pleasures to play are Sand Ruins, Night Chase and the wonderfully Sega reference filled “Sega Illusion” track. Racers are again from a wide variety, with Sonic and friends, newer characters like Rouge and Cream and even a few hidden characters that I will not reveal, but merely say that long term Sega fans are in for a treat!

Although the single player is quite short (but tough) the multiplayer is where Sonic Riders really is. With such extra modes as “Tag” (whereupon 2 racers team up to race together and stay close to finish before another team) or “Survival” which quite simply is a VERY high speed chase after an emerald. The only real letdown is the inability for Riders to make use of the Xbox’s LAN potential, or even more painfully, non-compatibility with Xbox Live or Sony’s Netplay services.

Sonic Riders is definitely not perfect, some faults remain. However by the very nature of this game, it does win through on that all important factor - the one of fun gaming. Playing it is an absolute joy after the rather sub par outing of Shadow not too long back, and it has the replay ability to last you a long time with tons of unlockable content and an ace multiplayer. For these reasons, Sonic Riders advantages easily speed ahead of its faults making it a solid and loveable 3D outing for our furry friend.


Just plain fun!
Excellent multiplayer.
Huge amount of unlockables. Innovative and smooth gaming


Graphics could have been better. Lack of online support.

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Used without permission. Published bi-monthly by the Sonic the Comic online team. This comic is only available on the internet.