|Series||Sonic the Hedgehog|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Microsoft Windows|
|Release||PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox|
Sonic Riders[a] is a 2006 racing video game for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in which the player controls characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog series on hoverboards. In the game's 16 tracks, the player competes against characters—either controlled by computers or other players—in story and battle modes. It was developed by Sonic Team and Now Production, published by Sega, and released in February 2006 in Japan and North America. It was released in Europe the following month and for Windows at the end of the year. A Game Boy Advance version, developed by Backbone Entertainment, was cancelled.
The game was produced in commemoration of the Sonic series' 15th anniversary and was the first Sonic racing game since the 1997 Traveller's Tales game Sonic R. Sonic Team wanted to make their own game that was superior to any previous Sonic racing game. It was designed to appeal to fans of Sonic and extreme sports video games; the development team did not take inspiration from any prior games. Sonic Riders was also the last Sonic title produced with the involvement of Yuji Naka, who left Sega shortly after its release.
Sonic Riders was released to mixed reviews, although it did sell well and was branded under the GameCube and PlayStation 2 bestseller lines. Reviewers were critical of its sloppy gameplay, loose controls, and inconsistent design; some praise was directed at the visual style and the sense of speed while racing. Overall, they deemed it a lackluster game—both within the Sonic franchise and the racing game medium—that had its highlights but ultimately fell to its shortcomings. Despite the mixed reviews, two sequels, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (2008) and Sonic Free Riders (2010), were developed and released.
Sonic Riders is based around characters racing each other using devices known as "Extreme Gear", anti-gravity-equipped vehicles consisting of hover boards, hover skates, and hover bikes. Players compete to finish three laps around a racetrack before their opponents and complete the race in first place. Each race features up to eight characters competing. A key component of gameplay is the air tank, displayed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Air serves as the fuel for Extreme Gear, and is depleted gradually as the race goes on. Characters can also perform a Boost, which will give them a sudden burst of speed at the cost of a significant amount of air. If a player boosts into an opponent, their character will attack and stun the opponent for a brief period. Air is also more quickly spent using techniques like cornering, which allows the player to round sharp turns with ease, and building tension before a jump, which involves using the air to propel the player higher off of ramps. If a player runs out of air, their character will start running on foot; this prevents them from boosting, attacking, cornering easily or using charged jumps. Players can refill their air by performing tricks when jumping off ramps or off opponents' slipstream, with higher-rated tricks sequences restoring more air. Players can also collect rings scattered across the track; collecting a certain number of rings will cause their character to level up for the remainder of the race, increasing the strength of their attacks and extending their maximum air capacity.
Sonic Riders features sixteen playable characters, including guest characters from Nights into Dreams, Space Channel 5, and Super Monkey Ball. Each individual character has different statistics, altering their performance slightly in races, though some characters are restricted from using certain types of Extreme Gear. Characters are divided into one of three classes, each with different abilities: Speed, Power, and Fly. Speed characters can grind on rails, which grants increased speed and air. Power characters can break certain objects, giving the player a boost and additional air. Fly characters can fly through rings, boosting the player further into the course. Each race track features multiple shortcuts that can only be accessed by characters of a specific class. Players can spend the rings they acquire at the in-game shop to purchase new Extreme Gear, each of which possesses unique statistics and properties.
The game includes eight unique areas, each with two track variants, for a total of sixteen tracks. Nine tracks are unlocked through progression in the game's story mode, while two must be unlocked by winning Gold in both the World Grand Prix tournaments, in which players race through five consecutive tracks and attempt to get the highest overall score. The game's Story Mode is divided into two campaigns, whose events intersect with one another: The "Heroes" story, focusing on Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles; and the "Babylon" story, focusing on the Babylon Rogues, consisting of new characters Jet the Hawk, Wave the Swallow, and Storm the Albatross. In each campaign, players take part in consecutive races with predetermined characters, and must take first place in each race to continue the story. Completing the Heroes campaign unlocks the Babylon campaign, which includes an epilogue in which the two stories converge. Up to four players can also compete in the game's single race and battle modes.
Jet, leader of the thieving Babylon Rogues, observes the Key to Babylon Garden, an artifact and family heirloom said to unlock the secrets of their Babylonian ancestors. Doctor Eggman arrives and claims he can use the Chaos Emeralds to make Babylon Garden rise, asking for the Rogues' help in retrieving them. The Rogues agree and steal an Emerald, but run into Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, who were also looking for the Emerald. Sonic gives chase, but Jet escapes with the Emerald. The next day, the three see Eggman on a digital billboard advertising an Extreme Gear race known as the World Grand Prix, with the Chaos Emeralds offered as the grand prize. When they realize that the Rogues are participating, Sonic and his friends enter as well.
Team Sonic and the Rogues compete in several races, but during the last race, Wave sabotages Sonic's board, allowing Jet to defeat Sonic and win the Grand Prix. Jet uses the Chaos Emeralds to make Babylon Garden appear, hoping to discover the legendary treasure of the Babylonians. Eggman steals the Key from Jet and heads for the garden, with Amy Rose grabbing Eggman's ship in an attempt to stop him. Sonic grabs a new board and pursues Eggman, but Jet challenges him to another race, seeking to defeat Eggman first. The two arrive at Babylon Garden and find Eggman, who is holding Amy hostage. Combining their powers, Jet and Sonic manage to retrieve the Key and Amy.
Jet uses the Key to open a secret door, leading the Rogues inside a Babylonian ruin. Team Sonic follows them inside, where they encounter the Babylon Guardian, a giant creature tasked with protecting the treasure. The two teams defeat the Guardian, causing a chest to appear. Eggman returns and demands they give him the treasure, but passes out in confusion upon discovering the treasure is only a carpet. Using the Key, Jet manages to make the carpet fly, revealing that the carpet is an early form of Extreme Gear. Team Sonic and the Babylon Rogues go their separate ways, with Jet promising to race Sonic again one day.
Takashi Yuda, on Sonic Riders's gameplay style.
Sonic Riders was developed by Sonic Team and Now Production for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Windows, and Xbox in commemoration of the Sonic series' 15th anniversary. The game was directed by Kenjiro Morimoto and produced by Takashi Yuda. Series co-creator Yuji Naka served as executive producer. Sonic Riders was the last Sonic game that Naka was involved with; he resigned to form his own company, Prope, shortly after its release to focus on original games. Yuda said Naka provided input at the beginning of development and additional advice as the game progressed. The game features animated cutscenes by Production I.G and runs at 60 frames per second.
The game was the series' first racing game since Travellers' Tales developed Sonic R in 1997. According to Yuda, in the years after Sonic R's release, Sonic Team received many requests from fans for another Sonic racer. Though he played and enjoyed Sonic R, Yuda believed Sonic Team, "who knows Sonic best", should make another game that was superior to any previous Sonic racing game. Yuda also did not want to make a conventional racing game, instead desiring a dynamic, unique style of gameplay that would allow the player to perform tricks. Being able to do this in a car was illogical; Sonic Team noted that surfing and snowboarding were more flexible. As the concept had a heavy emphasis on air, hoverboards were chosen since they could work in any environment and still be fun to use.
Sonic Riders was primarily designed to appeal to fans of Sonic and extreme sports games, while the multiplayer modes were included for casual gamers. Yuda has said Sonic Team did not take any influences from prior Sonic games, reasoning they wanted to create a truly new experience that was unlike anything else from other Sonic games. The characters were chosen based on how relevant to the game's story they would be. The game's antagonists, the Babylon Rogues, were created because Sonic Team wanted to include "Air Pirates" as Sonic's rivals. Yuda considered them best-suited for Sonic series racing games, and noted Sonic characters are usually designed with one specific storyline in mind. Levels were designed to be "crazy" but still feature classic Sonic elements.
The score was composed by Tomonori Sawada, Fumie Kumatani, and Kenichi Tokoi. Two vocal themes were written for the game and performed by the artist Runblebee, "Sonic Speed Riders" (written by Sawada) and "Catch Me If You Can" (written by Runblebee). Yuda said the music was written to be "fast paced and give you that heart pounding feeling you should have during a high-speed race". A soundtrack album, Sonic Riders Original Soundtrack "Speedbeats Grand Prix", was released in March 2006.
Sonic Riders was announced in the September 2005 issue of Famitsu, before being showcased at the Tokyo Game Show later that month. The console versions were released in North America on February 21, 2006, Japan on February 23, 2006, Europe on March 17, 2006, and Australia on March 23, 2006. The Windows version was released in late 2006. A Game Boy Advance (GBA) version was developed by Backbone Entertainment but never released. According to artist Keith Erickson, it used an Out Run-style game engine and was supposed to launch at the same time as the other versions. Sega of Japan learned of this version and requested that Backbone add more 3D elements but keep it on the same production schedule. This would have required the engine to be completely rewritten, something Backbone considered impossible, so Sega canceled it.
According to the review aggregator Metacritic, Sonic Riders received "mixed or average" reviews. Throughout 2006, the game sold 930,000 copies. The GameCube and PlayStation 2 versions were later branded as part of the Player's Choice and Greatest Hits budget lines, indicating strong sales.
The game's presentation received mixed reactions from reviewers. GameSpot thought the visuals were well-produced and praised the brightly colored levels and character models, but noted frame rate drops and thought the environments looked "kind of drab and muddy" when the gameplay slowed down. GameSpy agreed and cited the graphics as one of the best parts of the game. IGN was more conflicted: they praised the graphical effects and backgrounds, but were critical of the blocky geometry and blurry textures and thought it was not as pretty as competing games. Nintendo World Report (NWR) also called the graphics inconsistent. Of the game's music, IGN and GameSpot agreed it was just generic Sonic melodies, but IGN wrote the game had "a few surprisingly ambient and worldly tracks that ... better fit with the themes of the different locales." NWR called the soundtrack fitting.
Reviewers criticized or had little praise for the core gameplay and controls. GamesRadar+ derided the loose, floaty physics engine, writing it caused cheap deaths. Eurogamer thought the premise showed promise and worked well as races started, but found it ultimately became messy, complicated, and convoluted. IGN lamented that the game was "neither a full-fledged racer or an engaging snowboarder, but a shallow compromise of both." They also found the hoverboards were technically pointless when considering that Sonic is fast on his own. GameSpy described the gameplay design of racing, attacking opponents, and performing tricks as inconsistent: "Most games quickly prioritize these actions for you based on results," they wrote, "but Sonic Riders seems to yield similar results no matter what".
Still, the game's sense of speed was generally praised. IGN wrote "Sonic Team has done a solid job of delivering on speed and anarchy" and cited the pace as making races unpredictable and fun. GameSpot agreed and described the turbulence-riding as inventive. Eurogamer thought the speed was exciting and wrote it reminded them of the original Sega Genesis Sonic games. GamePro was more critical, agreeing with Eurogamer the speed was exciting but feeling that it made the game feel "more like a surreal rollercoaster ride than a game". Difficulty maintaining speed was noted by many reviewers. GamesRadar+ called it "almost impossible... Clipping a corner or bumping into a wall can bring your 200mph screamfest to a complete halt", and Eurogamer wrote it was the game's biggest flaw. The pitstop system was especially criticized; GameSpy wrote it made no sense for a Sonic game, and GameSpot said it sucked the fun out of Sonic Riders.
Overall, reviewers deemed Sonic Riders an average entry in the Sonic franchise. IGN believed it was an improvement from the series' previous game Shadow the Hedgehog and would be fun for Sonic fans, but was nonetheless found its design choices questionable and felt it simply existed to cash in on the popularity of snowboarding game franchises like SSX. GameSpot said the game was occasionally entertaining but suffered from lackluster gameplay, and GamesRadar+ thought it proved that the once iconic Sonic franchise "has now become a dumping ground for half-baked games."
A sequel to Sonic Riders, titled Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, was released in 2008 for the Wii and PlayStation 2. A third title, Sonic Free Riders, developed by O-Two, was released as a launch title for the Xbox 360's Kinect peripheral on November 4, 2010.
Archie comics adaptation
The Archie Sonic Comic issues #163 and #164 include a loose adaptation of Sonic Riders, even using the same art style used in the game's title sequence. Two characters are also seen riding Extreme Gear in issue #173. Bark the Polar Bear and Bean the Dynamite also use Extreme Gear in the Archie Comics. The Babylon Rogues make appearances with their Extreme Gear and Airship in Sonic Universe issues 23 and 24. They also have an arc in Sonic Universe issues 33–36.
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His last Sonic game was Sonic Riders in 2006, after which he left Sega to form indie dev Prope.
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