Now, I’m guessing that all this stuff sounded good during the briefings, meetings and presentations that must have taken place early on in the development cycle, and in many respects Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is a perfectly competent game. The graphics aren’t exactly stunning – I could have been told that this was a 2004 GameCube game and only the odd water effect would have made me bat an eyelid – but a few of the tracks have spectacular stretches, and the character modelling and animation is up to the usual Sonic standard (albeit not the standard of the Wii-specific Sonic and the Secret Rings, which remains the Hedgehog’s most visually attractive game). The music is also pretty good if you’re a fan of the silly Sonic school of eighties Rock. If I hadn’t actually played the thing, I might think it was a decent enough title for the kids.
Unfortunately (for me) I have played the thing, and it’s only when you have the controller in your hands that Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity falls apart. You control the game ExciteTruck style, holding the Wii remote horizontally and tilting it left and right to move left and right and forwards and backwards to accelerate and brake. Unfortunately, here the controls don’t work so well – half the time you’re tilting the remote almost vertical to get around a corner, the other half you’re over-correcting and bouncing from wall to wall to wall. I hoped this was something I’d adjust to with time, but several hours into the game I started to suspect that it might not be all me, but that the controls simply aren’t sensitive enough to cope with the game’s twisting tracks. I’ve been told that it’s more playable with a GameCube controller plugged-in but a) I don’t have one to hand and b) call me strange, but shouldn’t a game work properly with this system’s default controller?
The track design doesn’t exactly help either. Each one is full of places that can catch you or slow you down for a vital split-second, and while the idea of having different routes available to different characters with different vehicle upgrades is quite a good one, actually triggering an alternate route is usually more a case of luck than judgement.
Combine the above two factors with a third – the fact that your robot rivals go like the clappers, make use of secret routes and never make a mistake – and you have a recipe for intense frustration. I like to think that I’m reasonably good at racing games, but Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity had me stymied time after time after time. Even when I did proceed, I always felt it was more a case that I’d fluked it this time, rather than I’d learnt the track or upped my game. The simple fact is that unless you master the controls and understand all the quite complex game mechanics, you haven’t got a hope of getting anywhere in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity. Making races this tricky then expecting you to finish first, or else, simply doesn’t make any sense at all – and remember that this is a game aimed at kids!