Sonic Free Riders Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Nov 03, 2010

Sonic Free Riders brings Sonic and his pals (and some not-so-friendly types) together to compete in the World Grand Prix and other race modes. You can dominate the track and get bigger and badder Gear, or you can race with (or against) friends both online and off. Plus, you're doing it all with your body, and nothing more.

The Pros
  • Learning the board controls is actually fun
  • Has voice control menus
  • You can trade in your gym membership
The Cons
  • Sensor gets very finicky
  • Playing the game is tiring
  • Steep learning curve

Sonic Free Riders Review:

I’ll be honest. After getting burned by Sonic Riders years ago, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this game. In fact, I went in to play it with a sense of dread. I thought I might be able to stall by playing around with the Kinect menus and recalibrating the sensor a hundred times, but eventually I had to dive in. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it.

Don’t Neglect The Omochao!

When you start up Sonic Free Riders, the robotic, propeller-headed Omochao will take you through a multi-step tutorial. Don’t skip it! This is where you’ll learn the basics in the game, and you can repeat it as often as you want. Do this. Watching someone play might seem intuitive, but there’s a lot going on: leaning left or right to turn, leaning forward to speed up, back to slow down, crouching before jumps, reaching out to grab rings, kick dashing, switching stances … it’s a lot to learn. Omochao’s voice might get annoying (and thankfully, there’s an option to shut her race commentary off), but the tutorials are worth it.

Once you learn the basics, you’ll take yourself into some races and learn how to string everything together. Cornering, kick dashing, and jumping are definitely the skills you want to nail quickly. Nothing slows you down more than ramming into the side of the level, or failing to dodge an obstacle, and hitting a jump at the proper moment can really boost your score. Spend time getting these down, and you’ll quickly excel in the other races and modes. There’s a lot more to the game, but these building blocks are essential.

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Preparing For The Big Time

Once you’ve advanced past the tutorial, you’ll start your career as a racer. The game’s longest and most robust mode is the World Grand Prix, which pits you against other racers and/or the computer in different modes. There are cutscenes at the beginning and end of each race (which you can skip by holding out your hand in a “stop” motion), and a whole story plays out this way. With the Grand Prix alone, the game is definitely in the 10+ hours range, and even more if you try and trick out all of the racers.

There’s a Shop in the game at the main menu where you can spend the hard-earned Rings you’ll come across throughout the tracks, and this will allow you to buy upgraded Gear (Board Gear = hoverboard, Bike Gear = air bike), or add “Parts” to your Gear that give you different skills. Each Board Gear has two slots for parts, while a Bike Gear has one. With the Board Gear, the Part you have active depends on whether you’re standing normal, or “goofy”.  Parts can be anything from Max Speed Up to Invisible, and they provide much needed boosts to the game.

How Does It Play?

I have a love/hate relationship with this title. When it works right, I love it, and when it gets fitful, I hate it. It’s not easy to hate that cute little blue furball, but when his game starts not recognizing you, you want to strangle him. It’s not a Kinect problem, because the sensor will work fine with other games, but when you’re in Sonic for some reason, things can go haywire. If anyone happens to cross behind you, forget about it. The game goes wonky and you’ll have to completely leave the sensor (and stop all background motion) before hopping back in. Extremely frustrating.

But when it works … it works! It’s actually a lot of fun to ride through these tracks, some of which are incredibly gorgeous, trying to beat your fellow racers. There are powerups a-plenty, ala Mario Kart, and you grab things like a giant soda can, shake it up and ride on it, or a bowling ball which will allow you to mow down your fellow racers.  All of that is both fun and rewarding, but like I said … when it works. To make it does work, you’re going to want to clear out a lot of space. Goodbye, coffee table. Sonic asks for a steep sacrifice.

Sonic, Do My Bidding!

One thing you’ll discover quickly in Sonic Free Riders is that you can navigate through the menus hand swipes or voice commands! None of the other Kinect launch titles offered us the chance to advance through menus with our voice, and this was a feature I loved. Barking “Select!” at my Xbox and having it load the next course was fantastic. You can flip through multiple options, move forwards and backwards, make selections.

Pretty much everything except “Pause.” For the love of pete, I could not figure out how to pause this game, other than by pulling up the Kinect menu with the default post (right hand down by your side, left hand held out at a 45 degree angle). Incidentally, this was how I found out you could skip cutscenes. I was flailing my hands around and shouting “PAUSE!” so I could go to the bathroom. Who knew.

You’ll Definitely Pay To Ride

No one rides for free, right? In the case of Sonic Free Riders, that’s definitely true. Except the currency you’ll be paying with is actually sweat, and in some cases, tears. Maybe even blood. Kinect wants you to know that “You are the controller,” and nothing hammers that point home more than an extended period of time playing this title. Unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’ll be sweating by the time you finish your first full race, and just the tutorials alone will have you breathing hard. Not that America couldn’t benefit from a little more workout, but dang.

Should  A Learning Curve Be This Steep?

While I’m not a spry 14 year-old kid, I definitely have the moves that should be able to skate Sonic around the track easily enough, but many times I was dumbfounded to be running into walls, missing jumps that I seemingly nailed spot-on, or completely failing to snag rings, despite my outstretched hand. What mocked me more was Sonic onscreen, with his hand down by his side. Why does the Kinect Sensor not play well with this game!

Ideally, you shouldn’t have to work incredibly hard to play basic courses, because no one (and I mean, no one) wants to relive Battletoads. Sonic’s problem isn’t difficulty, but in the fact that sometimes the Kinect just didn’t seem to handle what we were throwing at it. Granted, that was about 20% of the time, and the other 80% were spent in pure enjoyment.

But ultimately, the snags were enough to pull this down from a 4 to  a 3. Young kids will especially enjoy playing this game, although the same difficulties may frustrate them as well. If the wrinkles could be ironed out, this is a game with a lot of depth, and more fun that you’d think.

Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?