The Kinect launched with three racing games in its lineup: Microsoft’s Kinect Joy Ride, Konami’s Adrenalin Misfits and Sega’s Sonic Free Riders. While the three are different in many ways and none are the showpiece of the system, the best of them would obviously benefit from sales and success this holiday season.
Sonic Free Riders wins this battle. Barely.
The game, a sequel to the Sonic Riders games, has you leaning back and forth on an imaginary board to control your character and steer through tracks full of items, rings and boosts. Here’s where it earns the respect it does. The control scheme feels much like playing the old Top Skater arcade games, with steering feeling very similar and jumps off ramps graded in the same way. Leaning forward to speed up feels right, and causes the necessary difficulty in turning that should come from wanting to go faster. It’s a visceral experience, and it’s clearly better than Adrenalin Misfits‘ implementation of a similar scheme and Microsoft’s “pretend you’re holding a steering wheel” approach.
Unfortunately, Sega did more things.
Because it apparently wouldn’t be a racer without items, Sega put in soda can rockets you shake up to activate, bombs you set off by pushing your hands together and bowling balls to, well, bowl at other racers. It’s all very distracting and adds little to the strategy.
The challenges of the single-player campaign are silly and don’t have much staying power to them, and we have been unable to, throughout the launch week, connect with anyone for an online race. And it’s understandable, since it’s a game best played locally and on a system with new, hot titles with many fewer flaws.
Also, be prepared for the least functional menu navigation system we’ve seen. You have to swipe your hand diagonally across the screen at a specific angle to change menu items and swipe the other way to accept. There’s theoretically a voice control available as well, but we haven’t gotten it to work. It’s at times like this when we really wish standard controller support would be patched in for menus. Playing a game with your body is fun, and it doesn’t become less fun if you’re able to more easily navigate to the mode you want.
Free Riders wins the battle for table scraps, but if someone comes through with a cleaner, smoother racing title, it’ll be knocked off the podium.