Oh dear. SEGA seems to be at it again. If Shadow the Hedgehog wasn't bad enough, we now have Sonic Riders. As the title suggests, this is a hover board racing title set in the Sonic universe that features all the main Sonic characters. Sadly, this suffers from some of the worst controls in a racing game since Sonic R on the SEGA Saturn and looks barely good enough to appear on current-gen systems.
For a racing game the story is actually quite convoluted, but makes little to no sense. Eggman is involved as always, all the Sonic gang is there, and Chaos Emeralds are the key to everything, but other than those key points it's all rather confusing. You get the odd piece of CG video, but for the most part the game engine is used for cutscenes, with the characters displaying wonderfully awful voice acting and looking so deprived of polygons that you'd swear similar models could have been achieved on the Dreamcast.
There are numerous race modes for the lone player, and race and battle modes for up to four players, but the controls will get in the way no matter which mode you play. These hover boards simply offer little to no real control, with the best comparison being to a game like SSX, but that would be totally unfair on EA's rather excellent snowboarding title. As long as you're going in a straight line you're fine, but cornering is a totally different matter.
'Holding a shoulder button will give you extra control in a corner, but I still wouldn't call it cornering...'
Holding a shoulder button will give you extra control in a corner, but I still wouldn't call it cornering, with your character doing his best to crash into every trackside barrier. The only time you can really take a corner with confidence is when you're riding on the turbulence of another rider, which effectively makes you stick to a trail behind them. There's the odd section on each track that takes control totally out of your hands too, with the left analogue stick being used to increase your speed. While not really fun, these sections do at least give you a few moments without having to worry about cornering. With the whole thing feeling broken it's hard to imagine how anyone at Sonic Team felt the game controlled well.
To be fair the game moves at a breakneck pace, but even this isn't as great as it could be. To boost you need to use air, which has its own meter. If this air runs out your character will get off his board and run, ruining the sense of speed. You can use the many pit stops to replenish your air or pull off tricks to give you air boosts, but it's not an ideal system. The pit stop stations are placed so that it's often hard to avoid them, meaning you'll be forced to momentarily stop when you have no reason to.
Visually the game looks seriously dated, with a blocky look to environments and characters. The frame rate is generally smooth, but given the less than spectacular visuals there really shouldn't be any slowdown whatsoever. When playing with numerous players in split-screen things aren't nearly as smooth, which makes the game even less enjoyable to play. Track designs aren't the best either, with numerous blind corners not being ideal for fast moving hover boards.
As already mentioned, the voice work is pretty awful, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for a Sonic title. It often sounds comparable to a particularly poor children's TV show, complete with dire music and laughable dialogue. With production values like this you have to wonder if SEGA even cares about Sonic any more.
Sonic's days as the industry's poster boy are well and truly in the past, and if SEGA's last few efforts are anything to go by, they don't really want him to regain his past glory. How and why the company continues to churn out such rubbish is a mystery, and even the biggest Sonic fans must be starting to lose their patience. Like watching a sports star who's past his prime and doing himself no justice carrying on, you have to wonder if Sonic should give up the game for good.