Created by Sonic Team / Rated E / 1-4 Players / Wii Remote (or gamecube controller) / MSRP $50
Review written by Ray

It’s getting old, SonicTeam. There are only so many times I can write this same review I’ve been doing for the last five years. If there somehow wasn’t before, then this is most certainly the nail in the coffin for SonicTeam. I awarded the first Sonic Riders with a mostly pleasant review for its unique gameplay, thrilling pace, fierce difficulty, and rewarding unlockables. Only two years later, SonicTeam somehow manages to screw up all four of them.

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While I agree that putting Sonic characters on hoverboards is an incredibly strange choice, I’ve always viewed it as using Sonic as an excuse to introduce a new style of racing game. So when I first learned of this sequel, I was ready to see them take a mostly winning formula and smother plenty of extras on top. More courses, more characters, more boards, better graphics, etc. So you can imagine my surprise to discover an unneccessarily significant revamp to the gameplay, instead of tweaking what worked before..

The original game was built around the newly introduced turbulence system. By doing mid-air tricks and grabbing item boxes, you would keep your hoverboard up and running. Run out, and you’re forced to take on the race by foot until you earn more or simply find a recharge station. You could use your turbulence for boosting and taking sharp corners, but all that excess turbulence was left behind as a trailing wave of air other players could take a smooth ride on. It was a style of racing that worked well once you understood the dos and don’ts.

Well, this sequel scraps all of that and replaces it with Gravity Control. What the reasoning was for taking it out, I do not know. What I do know, is that simply tweaking the old formula would have been a better choice, for Gravity Control doesn’t quite mix with gameplay remnants left over from the last one.

To take a sharp right turn, activating Gravity Control is a bit like bending code in the Matrix: you slow down time, turn mid-air to the direction you want to go, and then release to blast forward as though you never stopped moving. It’s a very interesting concept that probably had more possibilites when they dreamed it up during development, but something about it just never settles quite right. Perhaps its the feeling of going from full speed to stopping time….. tuuurning…. and then going full speed again. Or maybe it’s the weak graphics that don’t make the effect look compelling enough. Then again, it may only be "cool" for a short while before it simply gets old.

The only other addition is using Gravity Control to free fall. If there is an incredibly long stretch ahead of you, shaking the Wii Remote changes the gravitational pull so that it’s in front of you – causing your character to fly foward as if they’re falling. If large objects are in the way, you’ll use the side of them to boost off of. This is a pretty fun addition as well, but it also wears off quickly. Soon you realize every course has one very long portion of the track designated for this use. Boosting in the previous game was quick and cheap – you could use it anywhere as long as you had the extra turbulence for it. This time, the setup for this free fall is so lengthy ("Here we go….. UNLEASH GRAVITY!), you’re almost forced to wait for the right stretch to use it on.

Zero Gravity tries so hard not to lose its original focus by keeping other gameplay elements intact, but small changes to even those really start to hinder it from becoming a truly winning formula. The speed, fly, and power attributes for taking special types of shortcuts are still intact, but they’ve been moved from character-specific to hoverboard-specific. In addition, you can only enable these skills by upgrading your hoverboard mid-race once you have enough rings. In other words, Sonic can only grind rails if he has a board with that ability and he earns 40 rings during the race. Perhaps I’m simply spoiled from the last game…

It may not seem like much has been changed from my explanation, but it’s one of those situations where you have to play it to fully understand how different the title feels. Even after ten hours of play, I still felt as though I was missing something. It felt very slow and incredibly easy. I popped in the original just for comparison, and immediately wished I wouldn’t have. I couldn’t believe how much more intense and exciting it was than this sequel. The original was lightning fast, filled with stiff competition, had a character select screen you could actually see detail on, and had nearly the same amount of everything.

Sonic Riders put out a good amount of Sega fanboy treatment including a few surprising Sega characters, such as AiAi (from Super Monkey Ball) and Ulala (from Space Channel 5) but this time they’ve been removed and replaced with two others. Why replace? Have we forgotten that the Wii Disc is much bigger than a Gamecube disc? Or are we cramming everything on a PS2 disc and then porting the game over? The only real "new" characters added are Silver the Hedgehog and Blaze the Cat. Sure outdid themselves with those two characters….

The same goes for the courses. Instead of adding more, or doing them even better, they’ve simply settled for doing the same amount and not making them any more interesting. It’s hard to beat the well-designed classic Sega Carnival stages from before, but the ones included here don’t even seem like they were trying. On top of all of this, Mission Mode is near-identical, the boards aren’t anything we haven’t really seen before, the story is just as pathetic – if not worse, and both survival ball and survival battle are basically broken. The only real welcome addition I have is the ability to race against the ghosts of other players in the world rankings.

It’s depressing to see this game end up being worse than the original. It makes me worry about how sequels for both Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams will end up, if they can’t even get a simple racing game to be up to par with what it was two years ago.

Verdict: Fun in places, but losing focus. Pick up the original in the bargain bin instead.

7.2/10
Reviewer’s Completion: "Extreme" Rank on all 112 Missions / All 18 Characters Unlocked / 44 Boards Collected

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