Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity

One has to wonder why, when Sonic Riders pretty much tanked, Sonic Team thought it was worth making a sequel. Much like the original game, players must ride around intricate courses using custom hoverboards called Extreme Gear. There are plenty of gimmicks within each stage to take advantage of in order to take the lead, but one of your own techniques is to control gravity, allowing you to corner effectively and even take alternative paths on walls or ceilings.

Premise
The story takes the Sonic universe and appears to make a completely new canon entirely on its own. Investigating a rampage of uncontrollable robots from the Meteotech corporation, Sonic and his homies (Tails and Knuckles if you needed reminding) stumble across a gravity-controlling device that holds the key to all the destruction.

Cue hammed up storyline, including a scene where Sonic challenges Knuckles’ crown as ‘Gullible Git of the Week’. For some reason the characters are wearing ‘radical clothes’ like it’s 1993 again, and the rivalry between Jet and Sonic tirelessly rears its head. We know they’re rivals, but do the stand-offs really have to be so cheesy? Eggman’s role, along with the ending scene of Team Sonic’s story (Eggman a bad guy!? Never!) are good parts to an overall cringeworthy affair.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE SCENE: Eggman getting buggered by his own computer. Not literally, mind.

Presentation
Even though Sonic looks like a deformed bean pole and his friends don’t look much better, we like how vibrantly animated the cutscenes are and the whole package looks pretty neat. The graphics are your standard Wii/PS2 fare, but the locations and gravity effects makes it look all the more interesting. Using gravity control results in a brief slowdown before shooting off round the corner in a stylish fashion, with the soundtrack speeding up with you – an awesome effect. We love the world map but can’t stand the confusing and hard-to-read menu screens.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE BIT: Seeing Jet again. He’s a dickhead, but we like him.

Sound
There are some good nods to past Sonic games in Zero Gravity’s sound design, not least the classic ‘ring’ sound during a loading screen. The soundtrack has always been a pleasure to listen to in Sonic games, and this is no different. The presentation of the game complements the techno beats and rock riffs pretty well, and the return of old favourites Fumie Kumatani and Kenichi Tokoi help add some spice to the proceedings. Cashell does a decent job of the title theme here, and Runblebee comes back with a re-jig of Catch Me If You Can to great effect. Runblebee in non-cheese shocker!

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
FAVOURITE TRACKS: Gadget Round, The Core.

Gameplay
Sonic Team have chopped and changed the system, with mixed results. You no longer have to keep ‘Air’ to stay on your board, but you do have a Gravity control meter that maxes out as you perform tricks all the same. Tricks are made by simply pressing jump at a ramp – no control stick spazzing necessary. This we feel kind of kills the excitement of landing and performing jumps, and combined with the lack of a cornering ability (you have to use your gravity control), Zero Gravity somehow feels more shallow to play than its predecessor.

Characters no longer have Speed, Flight or Power attributes, which make them all play pretty much the same; said abilities are engaged in different Extreme Gear. Collecting rings on the track allows you to upgrade your vehicle (in real time!), so you won’t be able to use Tails’ flight pads until your second or third lap for example.

After some time you get used to the changes (using a Gamecube controller on the Wii version obviously), but beyond that the game still feels rather clunky and unresponsive. Cornering using the gravity control requires a knowledge of where those corners are, as you’ll need to activate the power five metres from the actual turn. And while a good idea in theory, only a handful of courses really take advantage of the walls and ceilings idea, and the obvious nature of their existence doesn’t offer the level of freedom that you initially thought.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE PART: Doing Gravity Dives.

Longevity
The Story Mode was an engaging play-through, even with the gammy cutscenes and awful plot. For some reason though Sonic Team made this mode too easy to complete, and once you’re done you find yourself really looking for an excuse to continue playing. You do unlock Eggman’s Mission Modes (found in the Story Mode, in case you got lost like us) but these are boring and don’t keep you for longer than ten minutes. You can collect rings in levels and use them to buy an unnecessary number of Extreme Gear. Or maybe you won’t, because it’s pointless.

Added bonuses like the 1980’s and 1990’s SEGA towns are pleasant surprises (even if they get their own franchise dates mixed up), but they ain’t no SEGA Carnivals. Multiplayer is good for a quick romp in Survival Mode, but beyond that there are better two-player games around. On the Wii you have online leaderboards, but just like Mario & Sonic it suffers for doing things in an awkward and roundabout way. The game does win for having Billy Hatcher as a hidden character though.

JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Down
FAVOURITE TIME-WASTER: Learning the courses with a friend in Survival Relay.

FINAL WORDS
YOU’LL LOVE
+ The character animations in the cutscenes, even if they do look odd.
+ Hearing the music pump as you speed out of a corner.
+ Not having to deal with Air.
+ Gravity Diving and grinding off objects at speed.
+ Courses are much more fun and interesting to play through.
+ Twice as many courses, as Babylon Rogues’ don’t copy Team Sonic’s tracks anymore.
YOU’LL HATE
– That the Story Mode is as good as it gets, and it’s way too short.
– Feels like the soul of Sonic Riders has been ripped out with control changes.
– Gear Changes, and the reliance on Extreme Gear for abilities.
– Characters now have no special attributes – what’s the point?
– An extra 20 quid for broken waggle? No thanks – get the PS2 version.
– Doesn’t take advantage of the wall and ceiling route potential. Where are they?

Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.