Sonic the Hedgehog is likely one of console gaming's most beloved characters and has been the mascot for Sega for many years. A host of games featuring the speedy blue rodent in red-and-white runners have graced a variety of platforms to date and not all of them have been hits. Pack-ins like Sonic Adventure and even the original Sonic were incentives to buy a Dreamcast or a Genesis. But as one might expect, there have been a few misses such as Sonic Spinball and others. Regrettably, the new Sonic Riders fits in very well with the cluster non-hits and even though it's fun for a little while, the depth of gameplay simply isn't there.
The basic premise for the title is that Dr. Robotnik (Eggman) wants to host a race in which riders must collect the Chaos Emeralds. So he enlists a few friends to help him win the "Ex World Grand Prix". You then begin a series of races to defeat the Babylon rogues, who aren't really bad guys, but have allied themselves with Eggman (you'd think Knuckles the Echidna would have forewarned them!) Without giving too much away, the story is definitely a little far-fetched and probably won't be the main incentive to play this game. The voice acting within the story scenes is also dreadful and not intended to appeal to anyone above five years of age. I suppose the only redeeming factor is that - in true Sega tradition - Tails gets dissed in this game. At least that's something to look forward to.
Besides the story being problematic, there's not a lot of depth to the gameplay. There is a story mode that basically has you competing in races against the Babylon Rogues until you beat the game, but there are other modes that try to spice up the action a bit. A 'survival mode' is offered which pits you against several other riders to see who can last the longest. Players may also choose mission modes that allow one to accomplish a specific task during a race to gain new unlockables. Yet another style of play in this game is tag mode, which utilizes the game's air meter and shares it between you and a friend. The air meter allows you to make the board go faster and is also the way to perform tricks. While these are all fine, the real problem here is the gameplay itself. A lot of the time it feels as if there's an invisible wall preventing your character from turning the board. And the whole play experience feels incredibly awkward. In some stages, the enemies are incredibly easy and in others they're nearly impossible to beat. And sometimes, it just feels like you have no control over how well you do.
There are some redeeming aspects to the game however. For instance, players have different special abilities that they can employ during a race in order to get ahead; in some races the only way to win is to use the correct ability at the right time. These include grinding to flying through rings or even kicking enemies out of the way. The air meter also plays a part in the game since you can use it for a boost to your board that lets you perform tricks when going over a ramp. Mind you, the combos are done automatically and all you have to do is run off the ramp with a high enough speed to get the animation. It's a shame this gives you no advantage since the AI has infinite air and can keep up with you all the time.
By beating the game, you'll win a couple of unlockables such as new boards and even new stages. As you complete more of the other gameplay modes, you can gain even more unlockables such as bikes and other characters. The highlight however is the Sega carnival stage, which incorporates many aspects of other games such as Samba de Amigo and Crazy Taxi. So that's your biggest reward in Sonic Riders: A glimpse of better games from Sega's halcyon days.
As a last note, I should mention that I love the Sonic series. I've been hooked ever since the Genesis days, but this game is really not up to snuff. There is some fun to be had with multiplayer, but even then, that's not going to last very long. This game is either extremely kid-oriented to the point of madness or simply a poorly designed game, which is a shame since so many games based on mascots - i.e. Mario - tend to do well. The premise behind it is actually a good one and even the storyline can be forgiven, but the gameplay is simply abysmal. As much as you may love Sonic, you're better off with games like the SSX series or Amped for your boarding needs.