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While speed has always been a key element to the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series, surprisingly the blue hedgehog and his friends have only starred in five racing games over the years - most recently in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity for both the Nintendo Wii (reviewed) and the Sony PlayStation 2. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, racing games set in Sonic's universe have not always been well received. In fact, the Sega Saturn title Sonic R was once labeled the worst game in the series by popular gaming website Screwattack, and the GameCube version of Zero Gravity's direct predecessor, Sonic Riders, currently has an aggregate score of just 63.1% according to GameRankings.com. So does this latest attempt by Sega reverse the trend? We attempt to answer this question before you play Sonic Riders with this review.
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As has been the case in many recent Sonic games, there are two different paths to play through in this game: the Heroes Story, which stars Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and the gang, and the Babylon Rogues story, which stars the characters first introduced in the original Sonic Riders, Jet the Hawk, Wave the Swallow and Storm the Albatross. Both stories are very similar in that strange meteorites have fallen from the sky and caused robots to malfunction and become hostile. As it turns out, objects known as Arks of the Cosmos are behind the strange occurrences, and while Sonic and his friends are just trying to investigate and stop the robotic rampage, the Babylon Rogues are trying to acquire them. Of course, it just wouldn't be a Sonic game is Eggman didn't get involved somehow as well, and yes, the heroes need to deal with their longtime nemesis as well. Truth be told, the whole thing seems rather weak and pointless, serving merely as an excuse to set-up various racing challenges for the characters.
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Just like in the original Sonic Riders, Zero Gravity features vehicle-based racing. The vehicles are know as gears within the context of the game, and there are six different main types. For example, certain characters use hoverboards, others use bikes, some can utilize skates or flying vehicles, and so forth. There are different routes that different vehicles can take, thanks to their different powers. For examples, bikes can crash through obstacles, the flying types can glide through the air after launching from a catapult ramp, and still others can grind on rails. Ultimately, though, the concept is the game -- get from the start to finish as fast as possible while fulfilling any other mission objectives you might have along the way. In addition to the two Story Modes, you can play a one to four player normal race, a single-player time attack mode, a relay race, and battle and ball-related minigames.
There are three different control schemes players can use -- one which requires them to hold their Wii remotes vertically, as normal; one that requires turning it sideways, ala Super Paper Mario; and the third makes use of the Nintendo GameCube controller. Inexplicably, the Classic Controller is not supported. On the plus side, some of the more annoying elements of the original Sonic Riders, such as the need to recharge air, have thankfully been removed, making this game much easier to pick up and play than its predecessor. Also, there are some cool new tricks as well, including the use of a move called Gravity Dive to make contact with obstacles and give you a speed burst. That said, despite the added minigames and that fact that you can unlock other classic Sonic and Sega characters (including Shadow the Hedgehog, Blaze the Cat, Amigo and Billy Hatcher), this is still essentially just a racing game, and it remains a rather short and shallow one at that. To top it all off, the game doesn't support online multiplayer competition -- the one thing that might have saved it from a mediocre score. There just isn't a whole lot here to keep you excited or hold your interest.
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Graphics and Sound
The intro sequence to the game is phenomenal, and the in-game graphics are noticeably better than the first Sonic Riders game. Some of the special lighting effects are impressive, and the frame rate is quite good as well. Switching gears and moving on the audio side of things, Zero Gravity contains a lot of voice acting, and it's pretty decent for the most part, but the music and sound effects are fairly average on the whole. There's nothing wrong with them, per se, but they won't exactly impress either.
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Before you play Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, know that while it is far more user friendly than the first game in this Sonic spinoff series, I still can't say I was crazy about it. There are several deeper and more exciting racing and boarding titles out there, and I can't see this title appealing to fans of, say, SSX or the Tony Hawk series of games. Likewise, while longtime Sonic fans will probably enjoy this game for a while, but I can't see this taking the place of the original Genesis titles or the Sonic Adventure games in their hearts. So in the end, this is at best a novelty, nothing more than a potential rental and yet another entry in the ever-growing list of failed Sonic the Hedgehog racing games.
Do you have more comments to add before readers play Sonic Riders? Be sure to visit the comments section below.