Sonic the Hedgehog spin-off racing series, Sonic Riders, returns in the form of "Zero Gravity", a sequel to the 2006 original. Unlike your standard racing game, SRZG actually has quite alot of story.
Sonic and friends have been alerted about crazed robots from "MeteorTech" attacking the city of Megalo City. The heroes set out to retrieve the legendary artifact known as the "Ark of the Cosmos", an item that has the ability to control gravity. The artifact has been split into pieces and its up to the team to find them all before the Babylon Rogues can get their hands on the goods.
Essentially SRZG is a kind of futuristic hover-board racing game that doesn't quite feel like a car racing game nor does it feel like a snowboarding game, its somewhere in the middle. It's also crystal clear from the very first intro sequence that the game takes huge visual influence from the extremely pretty, SEGA developed, F-Zero GX.
The game is shared between two groups of characters, those on Sonic's team, the Heroes and those part of the Babylon Rogues captained by Jet the Hawk. The usual sidekicks are here, with a grand total of 18 playable characters. Whilst characters do vary slightly, its not really a major feature of the game, sticking with Sonic keeps things simple.
Story mode is also split in half, first you play through as the Heroes, which tells the story of Sonic and his gang, then as the Babylonians where you learn what the other group was upto during the same time period. The story is told with some rather nice, but pre-rendered, cut scenes that always ends up with you needing to race for some reason or another, winning that race will then progress the story.
You can either play SRZG with the Wiimote (ala Excite Truck) or a Gamecube controller, because we're old fashioned we elected to use the Gamecube controller, to give a much more familiar racing feel. Actually, that's a total lie, the Wiimote controls are crap and the Gamecube ones are good, simple as that.
We'd usually at this point jump straight in to some racing and skip the help section, however there's one big problem with SRZG, the controls are rather complicated. After a few desasterous attempts at winning a race, I caved and went to seek guidance from the tutorial gods. Having not played the original, I can't tell you how much I needed the tutorial in this game to understand what the knuckles is going on.
Let me break it down and give you the highlights (yes, there's more than this)..
1) Starting the race - this is done by actually walking backwards, then forwards so that you cross the line just as the countdown hits zero. 2) Trick jumps - whenever you come to a jump, you need to hit the button as late as possible to perform an in-air trick and earn yourself some "gravity points". 3) Gear changes - these are power-up/upgrades you must manually enable during the race by collecting a certain amount of stars. 4) Grinding - one of those said upgrades used to grind, Tony Hawk style, into the lead. 5) Gravity turns - performed using a trigger button to slow down time and dart around a hairpin corner. 6) Gravity dive - used to plummet forwards and bizarrely crashing into large objects speeds you up.
You see what I mean? You can't possibly pick-up-and-play with this game. With that said, once the lengthy tutorial was completed I did feel ready to roll and understood everything perfectly.
Once you finally understand what's going on you'll soon get somewhere with story mode, progressing through the two halves of the game. There are 7 tracks per side of the story, that's 14 in total. Each of these tracks, which range from botanical gardens to futuristic factories, has one main race and 4 extra events. It seems these events are just simple challenges which act as a rather crude and simple way to add longevity to a racing game.
The tracks are generally very good, very varied and nearly all of them ooze with SEGA futuristic style, when coupled with the excellent soundtrack Sonic Riders soon becomes quite an enjoyable experience even if it does have an unrealistic feel. The action on-screen gets quite frantic at times but never reaches the highs of "intense racing" you might find in other speed junkie titles such as F-Zero GX or Burnout.
Once you come to the end of your quest, your thrown into one final show down in a rather bizarre boss race where you attack the boss with your gravity dive, smashing into him again and again until the prize is yours. Completing the game unlocks a whole host of extra chaff including two bonus tracks which will make any SEGA fanboy wet his pants. Basically the two tracks, titled 80s Boulevard and 90s Boulevard, are a homage to all things SEGA, the two tracks both are littered with SEGA related billboards and memorabilia ranging from Streets of Rage all the way to Crazy Taxi, an excellent, but nerdy little touch.
Graphically SRZG is decent, in fact the whole futuristic style of the game will be impressive and visually pleasing to most. However these views might not be echoed by a hardcore Sonic fan, I'm not sure the game quite holds enough "Sonic-ness" to please the fanboys. General presentation is overall good apart from a few strange menu choices, especially in the tutorial mode.
It seems FAR too many other publications have rushed to slam this game (shame on you), judging it because its not exactly what they wanted from a Sonic racing title. In fact, they probably only played the game with the Wiimote, you seriously need to use the Gamecube pad here. We however felt it was important to rate this for what it is, we accept its not a solid racer nor is it an adventure game, but played with an open mind it can become pleasurable.
After gaining a full understanding of the controls using the Gamecube controller Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity can be a very enjoyable title, its certainly not a fully fledged racing game nor is it anything like a snowboarding game, it sits somewhere in the middle of the two genres. Sonic fans might be annoyed with another spin-off title but if embraced correctly they should still get alot out of this latest incarnation. Far from perfect, but a good effort by SEGA, given time and understanding it's thoroughly enjoyable.