Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (Wii, PS2) Retro Review

Here's a special early morning treat for you guys. Before SuperPhillip Central came to be, I wrote reviews exclusively for GameFAQs. This is one of my earliest reviews that was never published to this site. Now, it is here for your reading pleasure. The name of the game is Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, and here's my seven-year-old review.

The Blue Blur Rides Again

The original Sonic Riders came out late in the life of last generation. The title was mostly panned by critics but enjoyed by many for its slick visuals, fun racing, and complex courses. Fast-forward to two years later, and Sonic has once again traded in his running sneakers for an airboard with Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity. Now is the Sonic Riders sequel easy to pass up, or is this one title that will pull you in?

Strange meteorites fell to Sonic's planet christening in a ruckus of rampaging robots all over the world. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are found speeding in a hovercar towards one of the meteorite's crash sites when suddenly they're ambushed by some robots. Turns out Sonic has one of the stone rings that fell down, and this is what the robots are after. However, this isn't an ordinary ring-- it has the power to control gravity. Now Sonic and the gang are out to find out why these robots have all of a sudden gone berserk.

You can play Zero Gravity with one of three different control schemes. Unfortunately, two of them involve motion controls which really don't give you the preciseness that you need in this typCube controller, and there's really no contest on which to choose. This review will reference the GameCube controller.

There's plenty of new content of abilities to make Zero Gravity much more different compared to its predecessor. Those days of worrying about air are over. Now you have Gravity Points which are gained by performing tricks and depleted by initiating a gravity move. The power of gravity can be used by every character, and every character can harness that power in one of two ways. The gravity control is used by holding a button down which will slow everything (except other racers) down. You can then turn on a dime, let go of the button, and then boost in the direction you're facing. This is perfect for navigating those sharp corners on a track. There's also the gravity dive which is great for speeding ahead of the pack. In certain straightaways you can leap off falling debris to gain speed and gravity points to pull off impressive feats of aerial acrobatics. Confused? Fear not. Those new to the Sonic Riders series can feel right at home as there's a welcomed tutorial mode so any beginner and get into the game at their own pace.

In Sonic Riders, the character you chose defined the type of racer they were-- speed, flight, or power. However, this time gear dictates which characteristic you are, so choosing a character is basically more aesthetically pleasing than technically. Most gears have three abilities that need to be unlocked in a race by collecting rings. When the required amount has been collected, you can change your gear to add a bonus to it-- such as the ability to grind rails (speed), soar through aerial rings (flight), or storm through obstacles and walls (power). Each track has its own ability-specific shortcuts, so choosing the appropriate gear is recommended.

Like Sonic Riders, there's sixteen different tracks to speed through. However, again like Sonic Riders, eight of the tracks are altered versions of the original eight tracks. Though this gripe is much less apparent in Zero Gravity thankfully. There's two sets of tracks-- one for the Heroes team (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) and one for the Babylon Rogues (Jet, Wave, and Storm). These tracks range from convoluted caverns to a futuristic city in Megalo Station, from an Aquatic Capital to the insides of the mysterious company of Meteotech. Regardless of which you play in, each track has a myriad of shortcuts, hidden secrets, and areas to score bigger air and higher trick scores. Although you won't be mashing buttons like in Tony Hawk, all you'll need to do to reach higher platforms and score huge is press the A button at the right time as you trick off a ramp. Timing is everything, and it's the difference between nailing an "X" rank trick and screwing up for a "C" rank trick.

The majority of your playtime actually won't be in the story itself. Both story modes can be sailed through within a couple hours' time. It's a small bummer, but at the same token if you play a racing game for the story then you play chess for the hot king on queen action. Chess porn aside, various mission open up as you progress through the story. You'll be racing for high times, trying to bust off as many tricks for points as possible, chasing an out-of-control car, trying to keep up in a race with Team Sonic, grinding on as many rails as possible-- you get the idea. There's a wide array of missions to choose from-- seven for each track multiplied by the sixteen tracks, and you get the idea of how much playtime you'll be investing in. Plus, you're ranked much like Sonic Riders, but instead of gold, silver, and bronze, you're awarded Extreme, Super, and Normal. Hmm.... I bet there's a really cool prize for beating all the missions as well as beating them all on Extreme, yes? And even if you're done with all those missions, you can still try to get on Sega's online leaderboards or download a staff ghost to compare times against. Sadly, there's no online play which is really a disappointment. It would have game this game even more "legs".

While you're not tearing it up on the tracks, you'll most likely be marveling at the impressive visuals. Unfortunately, for the Playstation 2 version, it suffers from some bad framerate problems and the controller is a tad uncomfortable for this type of game. Regardless, the Wii version runs at a silky smooth framerate. There's occasional pop-up of background objects, but mostly it's nice to gawk at. Voice acting is done by the same 4-Kids crowd which is a blessing or a curse considering who you are. Musically, this soundtrack is more rock than the mostly techno of the original Riders. Nonetheless, it still gets you into the game all the same.

Many have complained that the Sonic Riders series is too slow. Well, as we've seen from the PS3/360 versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Team isn't competent enough to make a fast 3-D Sonic without it being a glitchy mess, so there has to be a compromise. Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is currently my favorite racer for the Wii, and it has a lot of meat to it as well as some stuff for the hardcore fans of Sega as well whether it be the cool final two Sega-themed tracks or the inclusion of unlockable racers like Amigo (from Samba de) and everyone's favorite egg-roller, Billy Hatcher.

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity may not set the world on fire, and it's done little justice in persuading to people that motion controls will work for every genre, but for what you get is an incredibly fun racer that's just over a little too soon. With some added polish and perhaps just a tad more speed, it could have pulled in some new fans instead of more critics.

[SPC Says: 7.0/10]

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