Sonic Free Riders makes one thing clear from the second it loads up: this is not the Sonic the Hedgehog of yesteryear but instead the one from more recent entries in the series, complete with sidekicks and cheesy tacked-on attitude. If that is something you can’t get past then steer clear as it only gets worse the deeper into the game you get.
Now with that said, Sonic Free Riders is definitely a unique experience. While it is essentially a kart racer, the integration of Kinect makes the entire game feel brand new. Unlike some of the other Kinect launch titles, Sonic Free Riders actually makes great use of the sensor. In fact, the game shines brightest when the gameplay changes into a whole new physical motion such as wiping steam off the screen or clinging to the bottom of a train. These sections make Sonic Free Riders stand out from a standard kart racer while at the same time really showing off the Kinect functionality.
Unfortunately, that’s where the successful Kinect integration ends. That’s not to say that it never works in the standard gameplay, just that for about eighty percent of the game it’s a bit broken. At any given time the controls will either over-respond or give out completely. It can make for some incredibly frustrating races as you fight to make everything work all while watching the computer players fly by effortlessly.
This becomes less of an issue in multiplayer as every racer is handicapped by the same control problems. Ironically, this makes it a better experience than the core game. Unfortunately the online infrastructure is a nightmare and the lobbies are already fairly barren. Add to that the need for a massive open space for any offline multiplayer and it becomes next to inaccessible.
Sonic Free Riders does offer a surprising customization feature by allowing you to redeem rings collected in races for new boards and gear. Each piece of gear offers a unique benefit to the player once it is equipped. This gives the game much more depth than you would expect from a similar title but for some unknown reason they can’t be used in the main Grand Championship mode where they’re needed most. The gears could go a long way towards compensating for the control issues when competing against computer opponents so denying players access to them feels like a mistake.
Finally, Sonic Free Riders is not a great value for the cost. The title simply recycles the same content repeatedly to add to the overall quantity. The competition grows stale quickly with only three different event types; race, time trial, and ring collection (with the exception of one trick event in the Grand Championship). The main career mode itself is only ten events which is really quite short. There is a second path through the Championship as a different team but both paths offer the exact same events, just with different characters. When you add this to the inaccessibility of the multiplayer it doesn’t offer much content at all.
Sonic Free Riders can offer some real fun when everything comes together and works properly but those instances are rare and the rest of the time the game can be very frustrating. The lack of content also makes it quite a steep purchase.
Dec 2, 2010