Sega's speedy blue mascot is a talented little thing. Having turned his spines to everything from platforming to fighting, Sonic has found himself to be a veritable jack of all trades, although it should come as no surprise that racing remains one of his fortes, underlined by the latest entry to the Sonic Riders series, Zero Gravity.
Hoverboards don't work on water... unless you've got power
Set months after Future City's World Grand Prix competition of the first game, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity follows Sonic, Tails and Knuckles as they seek to find out the reason behind usually subservient robots going on a rampage. In possession of a strange meteorite which enables them with a powerful anti-gravity force, our heroes aim to discover answers behind the robotic chaos and this new trinket - which means crossing paths with some familiar faces on the way.
It also means engaging in a racing extravaganza over 16 courses where you're thrown into various tasks to help solve this enigma. With hi-tech equipment and hoverboards in tow, you're given a character to race with against a number of opponents - the aim being to come first, collect a given number of rings littered around the track or achieve any other objectives in order to complete each mission.
As the story mode progresses, each track splinters off into different and more challenging objectives before eventually dividing into two separate tales as professional thieves, the Babylon Rogues, enter the fray. This means you don't just control Sonic and his friends, but also the likes of Jet the Hawk, Wave the Swallow and Storm the Albatross - a nice touch, made even nicer by the extremely well created cutscenes which depict the story.
Zero sugar, maximum Sonic
True to Sonic's abilities, Zero Gravity is fast. Extremely fast. Whether speeding against robots or other characters from the Sonic universe, the game never lets up from zipping you along at hyperkinetic velocities that see the use of motion blur and other great effects to present nothing less than an utterly convincing sense of speed.
Races can change in the blink of an eye, and the well designed tracks which include features such as loop-the-loops, water slides, vertical drops, hairpins and moving obstacles (to name but a few across the wide variety of settings) are so busy it's impossible not to be impressed by it all, especially given the fantastically detailed and colourful visuals that remain at a rock solid frame-rate throughout.
Increasing the excitement is the excellent inclusion of anti-gravity powers which can be unleashed at certain times around the track. These allow the ability to slow things down in a bullet time style effect before performing a tight turn and shooting off at high speed, or even creating a temporary miniature black hole which provides a speed boost by sucking you towards it.
Feeling a certain need...
All these mechanics work well to make each race as exciting and dynamic as it could be, perfectly complimented by how the environment changes each time you use your anti-gravity powers - surrounding objects hover and break, the screen warps and the music slows down before speeding back up and changing to reflect the extra urgency, drama and pace. It's very well thought out.
Consideration for the player is something that Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity has a large respect for. While the opening games can offer a bit of a challenge, everything soon becomes fun once you settle into the controls, which is something made much easier thanks to the tutorial mode that aids you in the techniques of controlling your vehicle.
Add that to a multitude of modes such as World Grand Prix, Time Attack, and the battle/sport oriented Survival, 18 different characters, around 60 different upgradeable vehicles including bikes and yachts, and multiplayer modes against up to three friends and you have a package that should keep you racing until the wee hours and beyond.