Sonic Free Riders - KinectESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Requires Kinect Sensor
Online Multiplayer: 2-8
25MB to Game Save
In-Game Dolby Digital
I have to admit, I was one of the biggest Kinect sceptics around prior to its launch. I questioned whether the slick machine with the black piano finish would be a fad. I also questioned whether Xbox 360 gamers would embrace it. Well, after about a week spent playing with the Kinect and all its offerings, I have to say I am quite impressed. Kinect Adventures (the game that came with the Kinect) blew me away with its responsiveness and with how much fun I had. So when Sonic: Free Riders arrived at my home office I was curious to see how one of Sega’s most beloved characters would play out on Microsoft’s new family friendly machine. Read on to find out.
Visually speaking, Sonic: Free Riders is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, Sonic and all his friends such as Tails, Amy and Knuckles look great. They move fluidly and are easily recognizable. The game's environments are full of colour and represent everything that makes Sonic a household name. On the other hand, I was disappointed with the game's cut scenes. The majority of the cut scenes included visual stills and looked like comic book cut-outs. I found this to be quite a let down. I just expected quite a bit more considering the game is not exactly the deepest game I have played in years. Instead I found myself wanting to skip the scenes.
Overall, Sonic: Free Riders is a good looking game and runs very smoothly. Yet at the end of the day, the visuals come across very average.
The audio in Sonic: Free Riders is about what I expected. The familiar Sonic music is once again very prominent in the game along with all the familiar Sonic sound effects such as the sounds of collecting coins, jumping or going over a speed ramp. There is nothing incredibly original about the game's sound effects and nothing really stands out on its own. The game's sound stays true to the Sonic brand and the familiar sounds will be embraced by Sonic fans. Some of the voice work suffers at times but let's face it you are not hanging on every word when it comes to Sonic: Free Riders' storyline. As with the game visuals, Sonic: Free Riders' audio package also stands as very average.
At its core, Sonic: Free Riders is a racer of sorts that allows players the ability to step into a virtual hover board and race around a track in Mario Kart-like fashion. That is essentially the ‘meat and potatoes’ of this game. Sonic: Free Riders is the third game in the Sonic Riders series. The main difference this time around is the controllers are out and in its place is the motion sensing interactive experience that is the Kinect. This time around you have to get off your hump, jump on Sonic’s board and start gliding. It’s a game that certainly has potential to be a fantastic launch title for Sega and Microsoft. Yet the game's responsiveness issues seem to overshadow what could have been a terrific experience.
When you first fire up Sonic: Free Riders, you are greeted with an innovative menu wheel. To navigate through the menu reels, you have to raise your hand above your shoulders and place the blue pointer on a menu item. You then flick your wrist as if you are rotating a wheel. Once the item you select is brought to the foreground, you use the pointer to grab the icon and then move the pointer over to a blue panel. Sounds simple in theory but is anything but. Often the menu wheel seems to have a mind of its own. I often found myself frustrated as the option I wanted to select would simply whiz on by. My 8-year old daughter also encountered the same difficulties. So needless to say, our Sonic: Free Riders experience was off to a bad start.
The menu wheel has several options. There is an offline mode which contains several modes without an online connection. The options menu is where you can make changes to various settings. The shop is where you can visit Omochao’s shop to purchase new Extreme Gear and parts. The Xbox Live menu is where you participate in races with Xbox Live friends and send your record times to online leaderboards. Finally the ‘My Data’ section is where you can check your progress, best times and records. Everything is nicely laid out and is simple enough to navigate. The only problem is getting there sometimes can be tasking.
I spent the bulk of my time with Sonic: Free Riders in the offline mode. As I indicated above, Sonic: Free Riders is essentially a racing game like the other Rider games and does not contain the Sonic single player campaign where you trudge your way through various levels and engage in boss fights at the end of the level. This being said, Sonic: Free Riders does have a story of sorts in a mode that is called the World Grand Prix mode. In World Grand Prix you can enter as one of four teams consisting of various Sonic characters. Advancing in the World Grand Prix is accomplished by completing in various races which will unlock additional teams and characters as well as tracks and rules in other race modes. There is a story told in between races during the cut scene stills but not many will be paying attention to this as the enjoyment in the game comes from riding on your board.
Riding your virtual board is easy enough as the game takes you through a comprehensive tutorial. This is where you learn all the ‘ins and outs’ of riding aboard Sonic’s virtual board. After the Kinect measures your body positing and gauges where you are standing, you are set to begin the various lessons. Things in the tutorial seemed to go smoothly until I hit the tutorial where you have to perform a power jump combined with a 180 degree turn. For some reason the game would just not respond to the way I was jumping. Maybe this has something to do with my somewhat large frame but here is where I had issues with some of the game's controls.
The game is controlled by using your body to navigate your character through the course. Actions include bending your body forward and back to steer; kick motions increase speed; and jumping to perform tricks earn you more boost. Again it all seems straight forward. Unfortunately, far too often I found the game did not respond to my actions. Steering can be cumbersome and having to bend your back just to turn almost crippled me at one point. Jumping is finicky as the game does not seem to accurately read your 180 degree jumps.
In addition to riding boards you can also ride bikes, which is a nice little addition to the series. Riding bikes is no different than riding the boards. So control wise there is no difference here. As you race around the track you collect rings in typical sonic fashion and this is accomplished by sticking your hands out to your side or above your head. By collecting enough of those gold rings, you can increase your level during each race, which enhances your attributes. Sonic: Free Riders also features power-ups and weapons that each require specific motion actions to activate. For instance, throwing a missile is accomplished by moving your arms as if you are throwing a baseball. Performing a bowling strike is accomplished by swinging your arms as if you were actually bowling. All in all, these action items add some enjoyment to the races but its not enough to make up for some of those responsiveness issues.
In addition to Grand Prix, there is also Free Race, Tag Race and Relay Race. In Tag Race, you can team up with another player and work together to gain valuable boosts and special abilities to help you win. In Relay Race, you and your friends can form teams and take turns racing a lap on the same Gear.
As you progress along in the game, there are various unlockables which gives the game a decent amount of replay value. For instance, there is a total of 20 customizable Extreme Gear (boards and bikes) for each character. You unlock these in Grand Prix mode or purchase them in the game’s shop section as you accumulate rings during your races. Each board and bike can be customized and enhanced by more than 20 gear parts that can boost your speed or enhance your tricks. There are also special skills you can unlock for each character.
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