Sonic Free Riders Review: Freedom at a Cost

by Conro Norock
  • Developer

    Sonic Team
  • Platforms

    Xbox 360
  • Publisher


It is my understanding that when you die, you go to one of three places: Paradise, Purgatory, or Inferno. It is also my understanding that each of these realms created a motion controller for mortals to play shitty sports games with. From heaven, the Wiimote. From purgatory, the Playstation Move. And from the depths of Hell, the Microsoft Kinect.

Sonic Free Riders is a "new" entry in the apparently popular Sonic Riders series. It continues the baffling trend of Sonic racing games where the fastest thing alive decides to drive something that is absolutely slower than he is. It is also only playable with the Microsoft Kinect. This should already look like a recipe for disaster to you.

Side Note: Our usual press kit site had watermarks over the images for this game. Instead, I have decided to make my own.

Let's just dive right in

To begin with, you can't use your controller for anything. At all. Everything is controlled by Kinect. The turning. The boosting. The menu. The skipping of cutscenes. Pausing, I assume, although I never figured out how to actually pause. I just had my character stand awkwardly in the middle of a track. Then maybe they'd boost. Who knows.

I've never played a Sonic Riders before, but I expect it has a rich and detailed story, with many complex moral choices. Which is why this really basic story of Eggman pretending he's a king and starting a racing competition is such a breath of fresh air with its incredible simplicity. Between races, Omochao, the robot hint guy from Sonic Adventure 2, interviews the racers. It's actually some pretty good characterization, I must admit. I didn't really give a shit about Omochao, or anyone on Team Rose, but I actually liked them in this. A combination of Laura Bailey's mini-Risette voice and good writing, I suppose. On a side note, at least two characters are voiced by Laura Bailey, and another two by Kate Higgins, who, as Wave, sounds exactly like Laura Bailey.

That's the good news

Onto the gameplay. The racing and trick mechanics are pretty fun, actually. At least, when the planets align, and the Kinect is at full spiritual power and can correctly read all your movements. Other than that, good luck. I don't know if I'm supposed to lean way back, keep my arms straight, or what to turn. Sometimes one method works and one doesn't, sometimes they both do and sometimes my character slams headfirst into a brick wall. Items are on the side of the track, and you have to hold out your arms to grab them. It's great when the arm doesn't reach out, it's even better when the horrible turning keeps you an inch away from the items when it DOES. To boost, you make a kicking motion with your back leg. If the Kinect doesn't pick it up, you kick again. And again. Until your leg is sore. To earn tricks and more boost, you crouch down before a ramp, then physically jump when on it. The better your timing, the better your trick rank. It goes all the way up to S and S+, which I still don't know why those became better than A ranks, but whatever. If you spin in midair, like you, jumping, in your room spin, you get more boost, I think. Again, it's hit or miss if it registers when it's supposed to. And that can send your S+ trick all the way to an X rank. What the fuck is an X rank you ask? Buddy, you're asking the wrong guy.

That's about all the tutorials tell you. The rest you figure out by waving your arms wildly until something works. Powerups all use different movements to trigger. Sometimes your screen gets dirty, and you have to physically wipe the screen to clean it. Some stages have things like mine carts, or jet skis, and good luck realizing how to control those in a heated race. A blue figure may appear to show you how you're supposed to do something, like during a gliding mission, but lord if I know how to control my altitude with my arms out. Flap 'em? Point 'em up or down? Apparently, there's motorcycle Gears as well. Turning too much on these brings you to a complete stop, which is nice when the first mission you use one is one that ends as soon as you go below a certain speed threshold. Good luck figuring out what went wrong!

This may look like bad, but it's better than the game.

At the end of a particularly heated race, if you're like me, an average out of shape Sonic fan, you're going to be tired. You're going to be sweaty. Your boost kicking leg is going to hurt like a motherfucker. That's when you stop. The game has hit its peak now. Do not be like me, and continue to play. My legs feel like they could snap at any moment. There's one last final story, but who even gives a fuck. I sat down after beating Sonic's story, and somehow that triggered skipping the cutscene. This game wants you to suffer.

Actual photo after losing a race Me after losing a race

And nothing brings this home like the FUCKING MENUS. JESUS CHRIST. Kinect games seem to have an obsession with you making swooshing motions on a menu to move through it. You can see it in JonTron's Star Wars Kinect review. Now, I want you to imagine the menu from that, but at an angle. Not even a horizontal line they give you, but a menu at a fucking angle. Alright, fine. I mean, it's a bit more inconvenient but whatever, it's still manageable. Until you realize that unlike everything else on a Kinect menu, you cannot select options by holding your hand over it. You have to DRAG the option to the corner. WHY? It also will not acknowledge your dragging for most of the time, either. You have to wait until your pointer is glowing, which might take a second, or five minutes. Again, nobody really fucking knows with the Kinect. And this is EVERY MENU. EVERY ONE. It is some of the worst UI design I've ever seen.

Another SEGA classic

Which is a shame, because without the Kinect it'd be a pretty alright game. The levels look like mostly they were stolen from Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing, and there aren't many powerups, but it's a decent racing game that might be fun with friends or online. If you didn't have to use these fucking motion controls. On a related note, I haven't been able to test two player or online, but I'm still pretty sure I'm the best goddamn Sonic Free Riders player on this planet.

Essentially, go get Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity or something. I've never played it, but I can pretty much guarantee it's the same thing but playable.


Article Summary

The Good

  • Good voice acting and characterization
  • Uses X Ranks
  • Omochao

The Bad

  • Uses the Kinect
  • Probably just Zero Gravity

Literally no other Sonic game is as physically draining.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm both an ironic and unironic Sonic fan. I suppose if you have a lot of patience, and are in shape, and feel like trying to beat the gripping story, you maybe could get this. Or Kinectimals. Or anything else.

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