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Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Well, I guess this is progress of a sort. Last year Sega released Sonic Riders - a rather mediocre attempt at combining the general style of the kiddie Kart racer with hoverboards, stunts and a certain well-known hedgehog plus entourage. This year Sega releases a Wii sequel, but this time it's not merely average or uninspiring. Instead, it's actually quite wretched.
I know - I'm probably being mean. Nobody could have intended this game to have come out this way. While manufacturers of similar kiddie-friendly efforts are content to stick a bunch of cutesy characters on a collection of generically themed tracks, Sega has actually gone to considerable effort to add new features to the gameplay and frame it all with a story. Basically, Sonic and his mates get embroiled in mysterious goings-on with meteorites and a sinister robot factory, and the only way they'll get to the bottom of it all is through the unusual investigative medium of racing. Taking to the air above a selection of tracks on hoverboards, each member of the team has his or her own chance to shine in a race against the robot menace. Come first and it's onto the next stage of the adventure. Come second, third or anywhere after that, and it's back to the restart menu for another crack.
Obviously the fact that our heroes are riding on hoverboards gives the game a little more spice than the average cookie-cutter Kart game, but Sega hasn't been afraid to ring further changes. First, our chaps can pull stunts over the many jumps on the course - timing the press of the stunt button gives you different results and different rankings. Also, by collecting gold rings you can upgrade your ride on the fly, enhancing specific attributes or opening up new routes through the course. On the subject of these, each track is packed with them, some being simple side-passages, others being complex sequences of bumpers, jumps and swings that can give you an instant leap on your rivals.
Nor is the Zero Gravity subtitle just for show. The big thing this time around is Sonic's discovery of a peculiar object that enables the team to harness the powers of gravity. Don't get too excited. What this actually means in practice is that a) your rider can press a button to activate a kind of slingshot device which enables you to brake and catapult him or her around tight corners and b) by storing gravity points through the correct use of stunts, he can also employ a ‘gravity dive' speed boost, which throws objects out of the way and propels you at high speed above the track.
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