What was once a great and respectable franchise has now become a dumping ground for half-baked games. Sonic Riders straps the world-famous, sonic-booming hedgehog onto a hoverboard in the hopes of creating a blow-your-hair-back, thrill-a-minute mix of Mario Kart and snowboarding trickster SSX. It's fast all right. And loud, too. But everything else that matters (control, course layout, decent multiplayer ... you name it) comes up dead last.
The various hoverboards, or "Extreme Gear," constantly move forward, thanks to a steady supply of air flowing through the board's holding tanks. As you race, the air gauge slowly drains, while busting out mid-air, Tony Hawk-lite tricks keeps the tank full and the board zooming ahead. If you run out of air during a race, you gotta hoof it to a pit stop while the seven other riders fly past.
There are three types of contestants in Riders: grinding, flying and smashing. Though you're all zipping through the same course (now available in jungle, desert and floating garden models), there are places where each type can break through a shortcut. Knuckles, for example, can basically plow straight ahead and demolish rocky obstacles, while Tails can opt to launch off a ramp and soar over the whole mess.
Well, that's the idea. The side paths maybe shave a few seconds off your race time, but maintaining any sense of speed or momentum is almost impossible. The loose, floaty nature of the hoverboards has them sliding all over the track, usually off the edge of whatever loop-filled, corkscrewing course you're racing on. Clipping a corner or bumping into a wall can bring your 200mph screamfest to a complete halt - yet another way to rob any feeling of acceleration.
With such an emphasis on tricks, you'd think there would be a lot of them to aim for. Not so much. Tricks can only be done while in the air, and use just the control stick. No extra buttons, no deep combos to string together, nothing like that. Just hit a ramp, get some air and wiggle the stick around until you land. As shallow as the racing is, the trick system is equally lacking. It's all very hands-offish; you spend more time watching than playing.
There is one other place to gain some trick points, and that's while riding someone else's turbulence wave. The boards are ripping through the air so fast, it would seem, they're literally creating tides of air that you can swerve into and coast through the course. The problem with this airy wake is that you tend to get trapped in it and can miss a shortcut you noticed on the previous lap. Even worse, the turbulence can dissipate in the middle of a sharp turn and dump you right into a wall ... or into a pit of fire. The upside? Riding the wave doesn't chew up any air in your tank.
So basically, everything Riders attempts to do, fails. There are new boards to buy and some admittedly sweet hidden characters to unlock, but the game's more frustrating than it is fun. It doesn't matter which system you game on, they're all victim to the same broken 'boarding problems.
The multiplayer modes try to shake things up by strapping restrictions on the race, like having two players share one air tank, but still handle like a drunken hovercraft. Sonic fans may fill their need for speed here, but everyone else, please walk on.