Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity

Review: Who needs airboards when you've got supersonic legs?

Sonic's airboarding racer first appeared on GameCube almost three years ago, earning double respect for not being a Mario Kart ripoff and for looking incredibly similar to the admirable F-Zero GX, also from Sega.

Unfortunately, it wasn't amazing to play, and the short-term appeal of its good looks and speed soon gave way to the irritations of a clumsy boost system, confusing track design and repetitive on-rails sequences.

While we were surprised to see it getting a Wii sequel, given the existence of the similar but superior Sonic And The Secret Rings, there was at least enough potential in the short-lived original to suggest that Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity might have something to offer beyond another excuse for a character outing.

Massive waggle lagging

Things don't get off to a great start, with a hopelessly unfriendly tutorial introducing some fiddly, unresponsive controls. You have to tilt the remote a ridiculous amount to make the airboards corner properly, at which point they move with all the grace of a container ship with a two-mile turning circle.

Using the D-pad instantly gives you more control, but unless you keep the remote perfectly level the airboard will always drift slightly - the tilt function can't be turned off. Switching to a GameCube pad, if you have one, is the best option. The Wii classic controller isn't supported.

To compensate for the sluggish handling, there's the ability to slingshot around corners using magic gravity powers, which is an upgrade of a similar system in the original. Simply hold a button to enter slow motion mode, reposition so that you're facing the right direction, and release the button to launch forward at full speed - hopefully not straight into a wall. Doing this also picks up bits of debris from the track and flings them forwards, which is a nice effect even if the obstacles often land right where you wanted to go.

You can't just use the gravity power whenever you like, as it consumes vast amounts of the energy that you accumulate by doing stunts. Stunting is easy enough, as you just have to press a button when you're about to fly off a ramp - the later you press, the more energy you earn.

However, if you use up this boost power too quickly you'll find that some parts of certain courses are practically impossible to navigate without that gravity slingshot. There's no way you can get around a 90-degree corner without it.

Pumping the controller up and down activates a turbo boost, which also burns energy and makes your airboard even less controllable. It's only of any use on long, straight bits of track, and the game will actually tell you when it's safe to use it. It doesn't warn you to save juice for the corners, though.

There's a separate upgrade system for each type of airboard, activated by collecting rings from around the course. Starting with a simple speed upgrade, the ultimate goal is to collect enough rings to allow you to access shortcuts, which are available once you get a special ability, such as grinding rails or powering through objects.

The annoying thing about this system is that you have to start from scratch on every course, so the shortcuts are usually available only on the last lap. Not that they make a huge difference to your times anyway, but it would have been nice to have some sort of cumulative upgrade system, so you didn't have to start out so weedy every time.

Horror story

The story mode is over in the blink of an eye, and is memorable only for its embarrassing cutscenes and truly terrible plot. You control a different character in each race, taking on a bunch of rolling robots that look like Star Wars rejects.

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