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Sonic Free Riders review: Board to death


On paper, Sonic Free Riders probably sounded pretty cool. Actually, on second thought, it probably sounded like a cheap and easy way to make a Kinect launch game. I can see the instructions to the developer: "Hey guys, you know that third game in the universally panned Sonic Riders series that we shelved a few years back? Well, take it, make it work with Kinect just well enough to get past Microsoft, and get it out the door by November 4th. But don't, and we can't stress this enough, put any work into making it worthwhile."

Or at least that's what one would imagine transpired after devoting, as I did, entirely too much time to this mind-numbing mess of a game.

Gallery: Sonic Free Riders (11/4/10) | 17 Photos

Did I say "mess?" Okay, good, because it is. Here's the gist: you control Sonic (or one of his myriad pals and enemies) as you race through various venues on hoverboards (or hoverbikes), hurling weapons at opponents, collecting coins, grinding on rails and generally going very fast. See, it sounds cool. It may well have been, if it weren't for the fact that the simple act of turning (let alone doing so with any accuracy) requires more effort than whatever promise the overall concept had is worth.

Before every race, you take part in a sort of short pre-race, during which you weave between cones in what seems to be an attempt to calibrate the game to your range of motion. In my experience, it didn't appear to lessen my need to contort my body and make sweeping, exaggerated arm movements in order to feel like I was only vaguely in control of my character.

Not content to stop there, the game demands that you kick as if you're riding a skateboard to boost (those still haunted by Tony Hawk: Ride can stop here), crouch and jump off of the floor (an act that, more often than not, doesn't register) to perform tricks and make all manner of motions in order to use power-ups (e.g. a golf swing that, unsurprisingly, doesn't quite work).

The result is the equivalent of patting your head while rubbing your stomach while riding a unicycle. At best it's clumsy and frustrating, at worst you'll simply end up screeching to a halt unintentionally. This will happen, or you'll hit something, and the computer-controlled racers will go zipping by, blissfully unhindered by the same control scheme as you. Lucky devils.

To its credit, the game is colorful.

If you couldn't tell, I am not a fan of Sonic Free Riders. Video games are, at least at a basic level, supposed to entertain and provide enjoyment. In this case, the fun begins and ends with whatever you can imagine the experience could have been like.

This review is based on a final retail copy of Sonic Free Riders provided by Sega.

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