Sonic Free Riders
Sonic Free Riders looked like one of the most promising Kinect launch titles. It’s got everything to make full use of Kinect: a “Back to the Future” hoverboard, fun characters from the Sonic series, the possibility to jump, duck and dive, race against time or other opponents, and all of that supported by a team of experienced devs.
Starting with the tutorial is an absolute must. Without spending time on practising the right moves Sonic Free Riders is an impossible game that many gamers will throw in the trashcan as fast as possible after two laps and countless encounters with the wall. The saying “practise bears art” in our mind, we bravely set forth, hoping the game would improve as you get along.
Quickly that hope became frustration when Sonic (and later on the other characters) cheerfully decide to neglect all your body commends and prefer slamming into a granite wall instead of making a light turn to the right. Clearly something is off in the controls of our blue hero and his friends. Kinect gamers will know by now that the controls only work in optimal condition in some games after tons of calibrating, especially when playing during daytime when to sun tends to turn, but let’s be honest: there’s limits to how many times you want and can (re)-calibrate. Not that it makes any difference.
The game as such isn’t innovative and pretty straightforward. Be better than your opponents and beat them in racing any crazy track while doing some tricks or by collecting a number of objects (like golden rings). With other objects you can build up speed or slow down the opposition. All very classic and as such you would think not a lot can go wrong, but… frustration can turn into rage and anger to finally end up with you quitting this game altogether.
Sonic Free Riders is a school example of how incredibly important a correct controller setting is. And as the entire Kinect concept is about you being the controller… some more time could have been invested in that. Sega’s software – I deliberately say third party software and not Kinect itself – is incapable of turning body movement into an accurate control system for the game.
Continuously calibrating through the X360 & Kinect doesn’t help. The game also has some in-game calibration that starts before each race but we wonder why it’s there as it doesn’t do much either.
For completeness we need to mention that there are several game modes present that might be fun if the software would be able to translate you moves accurately. The characters can be improved by buying items with the golden rings you collected and next to that the game does help your physical condition and agility so I’ll be sure to start it up again a few weeks before I go on Winter holiday to practise my board moves a bit.
Conclusion: a promising and fascinating game with high replay and party game value that completely fails thanks to completely shitty controls. If Sega could fix this with a patch then it might still be worth something, but without the controls working properly this game isn’t even worth to be taken out of the bargain bin.